France and South Africa reaffirm ties | Africa | DW | 15.10.2013
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France and South Africa reaffirm ties

France's president Francois Hollande has wrapped up a two-day visit to South Africa. It focused on trade, African security and included a "very emotional" visit to the house where Nelson Mandela once lived.

France's President Francois Hollande reacts as he delivers a speech during the annual Conference of Ambassadors at the Elysee Palace in Paris August 27, 2013. President Hollande said on Tuesday that France stood ready to punish the perpetrators of a chemical attack in Damascus last week and would increase its military support to the Syrian opposition. REUTERS/Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS)

French President Francois Hollande was on his first state visit to South Africa

In talks on security policy, France and South Africa have agreed that they needed to act quickly to prevent the troubled Central African Republic (CAR) from imploding.

French President Francois Hollande said the CAR was in an "emergency situation" and the nation was still being wracked by violence seven months after a bloody coup. Earlier this year, South Africa pulled its troops out of the CAR after 15 of its soldiers were killed when the Seleka rebel coalition seized power.

France has said that it might increase its troop presence in the CAR to back an African Union force, with France's military mission going beyond protecting French interests in the country.

But during a news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma, Hollande insisted that France's role was not to substitute an African force, "but to assist, support and train."

South African President Jacob Zuma arrives ahead of addressing editors at the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) in Johannesburg June 24, 2013. South Africans appeared resigned on Monday to the inevitability of one day saying goodbye to former president Nelson Mandela after the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader's condition in hospital deteriorated to critical.Madiba, as he is affectionately known, is revered among most of South Africa's 53 million people as the architect of the peaceful 1994 transition to multi-racial democracy after three centuries of white domination.REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH SOCIETY)

President Jacob Zuma described bilateral talks with Hollande as "successful"

Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris, told DW that Hollande's main fear was that "sooner or later very debatable persons may find refuge in the CAR to rearm themselves or just have a break before restarting operations whether in Nigeria or Chad or even Sudan. There is a security threat that could affect CAR neighbors," he said.

France is still heavily involved in security and peacekeeping in its former colonies and this visit to South Africa is seen as part of French efforts to persuade South Africa to play a bigger role in security on the African continent.

Hollande and President Zuma also discussed the unrest in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where South Africa is spearheading a UN intervention force.

This was the first trip to South Africa by a French leader since Nicolas Sarkozy visited the country in 2008.

Trade ties and job creation

Local media reported that Francois Hollande arrived accompanied by his partner, eight ministers and delegation of at least 40 French business leaders.

France clinched nearly 6 billion euros ( $8 billion) worth of infrastructure deals with South Africa during Hollande's visit, which include the building of a thermal and solar power plants.

Troops in charge of disarmement ride through Bangui on September 5, 2013. Authorities in the Central African Republic have begun a new disarmament campaign aimed mainly at rebels who overthrew in March 2013 President Francois Bozize, who had ruled since a 2003 coup. Public Security Minister Jose Binoua said on September 4 the campaign is a response to a surge in robberies, auto thefts, rapes and murders blamed largely on fighters with the Seleka rebel movement. The rebels' leader, Michel Djotodia, was sworn in as president last month, but has so far struggled to restore stability. AFP PHOTO / PACOME PABANDJI (Photo credit should read PACOME PABANDJI/AFP/Getty Images)

After a visit to the CAR, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said "the problem is getting worse"

South Africa has embarked on a multi-billion dollar building spree to set up new power plants that would double electricity supplies over the next two decades.

A deal for the overhaul of South Africa's ageing rail fleet was also finalized. The French firm Alstrom will build 600 trains and 3,600 carriages for South Africa's passenger rail service PRASA from 2015 to 2025. A DW correspondent in Johannesburg, Thuso Khumalo, said a major part of the equipment would be produced in South Africa generating thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

President Zuma described France as a reliable development partner. He said trade between the two countries was showing signs of recovery after the slowdown caused by the global economic crisis.

While President Hollande was signing business deals, France's First Lady Valerie Treierweiler met with South African gay rights groups.

Südafrika Johannesburg SOWETO (South Western Townships) Stadtteil ORLANDO (Spitzname für dieses spezielle Gebiet war und ist WESTCLIFF) hier Außenansicht der von NELSON und WINNIE MANDELA bis 1963 bewohnten Vierzimmerwohnung HEUTE MANDELA MUSEUM an der VILAKAZI STREET (Name nach Unidozent Uni Witwatersrand Dr B.W. Vilakazi 1906 bis 1946) Thema Vilakazi Street ist sogenannte Straße der zwei Nobelpreisträger (Mandela und Desmond Tutu wohnten oder wohnen an dieser Straße) Mandlea hat hier vor 1963 mit Winnie Madnela und Kindern aus der Ehe zur Miete gewohnt (17 Schilling 6 Pence pro Monat) bevor er im Rivonia Trial 1963 zu lebenslänglich verurteilt wurde und nach Robben Island kam Foto: J. Sorges

Now a museum, Nelson Mandela lived in this house in Soweto until 1963

Nelson Mandela

On Tuesday, the French leader paid a "very emotional" visit Tuesday to the small house in Soweto where peace icon Nelson Mandela lived before his 27-year-imprisonment.

"Coming to this house you get the feeling of a fighter, a combatant, a militant who lived here among his own," said Hollande after spending time at the matchbox brick building, which is now a national monument.

Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of Mandela being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with then-president FW de Klerk for negotiating an end to apartheid.

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