Concluding his visit to four West African countries, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was confident that the tour would be beneficial for South Africa after reaching bilateral agreements with the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal.
Speaking to SAnews in Dakar just before departing for South Africa, President Ramaphosa said his delegation had achieved a great deal while managing to forge and deepen good relations with the four countries.
“This epic journey and tour has been really beneficial. Our ministers have been able to forge good relationships and I have deepened relationships with the Presidents of each country. We’ve been well received and let me say they have been truly brave in receiving us just in the wake of Omicron,” he said.
Explaining the objectives of the tour, President Ramaphosa said that the first objective was to strengthen bilateral ties with all the countries visited.
He said that the ties were there but they wanted to strengthen and consolidate those relationships at a diplomatic and political level and they believe that goal was achieved.
He said that other objectives included consolidating the country’s economic ties with the four countries, along with extending the trade relations in Nigeria and Ghana where there is a trade deficit, due to South Africa buying more from them and therefore it was necessary to strike a balance.
“South Africa has dealings with all the four countries. We wanted to consolidate and strengthen those economic ties and broaden them, make them go beyond various areas and sectors which relate to those countries.”
The President said Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal have a deficit with South Africa. They need to sell more goods so that there is a balance.
He added that he hopes the Free Trade Areas agreement will assist to deepen and extend trade relations between South Africa, West African countries and many more.
“A number of our companies already operate in these four markets, but we would also like to see their companies, Senegalese and Ivorian, Ghanaian and Nigerian companies setting foot on South African soil so that we really have an intra-trade platform all of us. We have proven that we can do it through the integration that we forged during COVID-19, so this trip was also aimed at that,” he said.
“Another objective was to open the pathways for person to person dealings between ourselves and those four countries; to open tourism pathways - South Africa to these four counties and these countries to South Africa. … We also reached an agreement with some of them on migration issues which will enhance tourism and of course they wanted more and more visa relaxation. These are matters we are going to look at,” the President told SAnews.
Implementation of bilateral agreements
The President said he has insisted to his cabinet colleagues that from now on he wants to see agreements that were reached with various countries being implemented.
He acknowledged that in the past they have signed agreements, which were not fulfilled, but this time around he is looking forward to extending the benefits of the country’s relationships with these four countries, way beyond than what they’ve been in the past.
“Now I am insisting that we must implement agreements, in fact I want all agreements that we have signed with all countries to be taken out and dusted up. Look at them because that is where the economic growth of our own country can be engendered. We can look at what benefits there are from these agreements,” the President told SAnews.
He added that he wants relations to be tight and for South Africa to never play a domineering role, and never ever play a role where it thinks it is better than other countries.
Catastrophic year but we soldier on
President Ramaphosa told reporters in Dakar that he had a "catastrophic year" with the COVID-19 pandemic contributing the most to the challenges.
“It has been a challenging and difficult year; COVID-19 has been a huge challenge to all of us in a way that it has gone up and down, given us respite at times. The election campaign was also draining, and the short time for campaigning also added to the challenges,” he said.
“All in all, having been a challenging year, I am still standing and ready for the next fight and challenge while trying to do the best for the people of our country,” he said.
The President said another major challenge which needs to be faced directly and urgently is the unemployment rate that has kept going up partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that his Cabinet is coming up with a number of proposals and strategies of how to address this catastrophe that is facing the country.
“The unprecedented level of unemployment made worse by the pandemic, including the lootings the country experienced in July; all of those things combined have created a catastrophic year but nonetheless I am still standing and ready for the next round,” he said.
The most urgent priorities for the President
Detailing his most urgent priorities as soon as he lands back home, the President said that the issue of unemployment remains a major one.
“I am deeply concerned about the continued loss of jobs, concerned about the slow pace of some of the processes that we are involved in and it is for this reason we say that we are making all efforts to stem this challenge and problem that we are facing as a country,” he said.
In dealing with this, the President said that they will need a number of things, including that one has to hasten the pace of the reforms they have embarked on - issues such as spectrum, electricity, and the ports.
“At the same time, there are other reforms that I have insisted we work on, which are going to open great opportunities for the small and medium enterprises.
“We are working on a clear plan of dressing firstly the low growth of the economy, as well as creating more jobs,” he said.
N3 blockade in KZN an economic sabotage
As one of his number one issues on his agenda, President Ramaphosa has denounced the blockage of the N3 by truck drivers in KwaZulu-Natal, saying it was completely unacceptable.
“To go out and commit economic sabotage on a major arterial route of our economy is tantamount as far as I am concerned, to an economic sabotage and it’s an act that we are going to be coming down on heavily.
“We cannot continue to allow such a situation, and it happened whilst I was here and I gave clear instructions that the road needs to be cleared up and those who are responsible should be arrested,” he said.
The President said that there is obviously a group of people who are disgruntled about the continued employment of foreign nationals and ministers have been in discussion and negotiations and even set up an inter-ministerial committee to be able to address this from all points of view.
“That in itself is going to lead to a finalization and ministers will be reporting to me to see how we can resolve this. Obviously truckers want quick answers on issues that are of great concern to them and we are addressing that, as to avoid a situation like what we saw recently,” the President said.
Source: South African Government News Agency