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France and South Africa

Enhanced political dialogue

The Franco-South African Strategic Partnership was restarted in 2008/2011 by President Sarkozy’s visit and later by that of President Zuma. It consists of several forums on global challenges (climate, international financial issues) and African crises.

President Hollande’s visit (14-15 October 2013) intensified this relationship. South Africa was the last BRICS Member State visited by the Head of State. The French President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs also attended the funeral of Nelson Mandela on 10 December 2013. In parallel, the French and South African Presidents meet on a regular basis on the sidelines of major international summits.

The French Minister of State for Foreign Trade visited South Africa on 7-8 April 2015, followed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development on 21 November 2015, ahead of COP21.

Redefining French-South African cooperation

The French cooperation network in South Africa covers all key areas of French influence in terms of culture, science, research, health, universities and language issues. Support for capacity-building remains a guiding principle for French cooperation, in view of the huge education and training needs South Africa still faces.

Recapitulation of the French Cooperation and Cultural Action Network in South Africa

Aside from the French Development Agency (AFD), the French cooperation network in South Africa is run by some 30 expatriate French Foreign Ministry staff (and some 15 staff recruited under local law and coming under a financially autonomous establishment (EAF). It has a budget of approximately €1.7 million from the "Programme 185" for the year 2015. The network is structured around the Cooperation and Cultural Action Service (SCAC) of the French embassy in Pretoria and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in Johannesburg. It is made up of:

  • six cooperation attachés covering the sectors of culture, science and technology, the French language, publishing, the audiovisual industry and health (adviser). The jurisdiction of the latter two extends to Southern African countries;
  • fourteen Alliance Française centres. The main ones are located in the six largest cities in South Africa (Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elisabeth) and Lesotho (Maseru). They are headed by a director seconded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAEDI) and International Development and regularly subsidized by the embassy’s SCAC. The Director of the Alliance Française in Johannesburg is also General Delegate of the Alliance Française (DGAF) for Southern Africa;
  • six international technical experts seconded by MAEDI to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD, 2 experts), South African universities and research centres (3 experts, with one in charge of technological cooperation and innovation) and the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), to disseminate the French language among South African diplomats. The French network also included an international technical expert on police cooperation until the closure of the Enhlangano Priority Solidarity Fund (FSP) project, in cooperation with the South Africa Police Service, at the end of 2013;
  • IFAS-Research, a French Research Institute Abroad (IFRE) for South Africa and the Subregion, which conducts its own research programmes and implements the bilateral relationship in the field of social sciences and humanities;
  • a significant presence of French public research bodies, with an IRD/CNRS/CIRAD joint representative office in Pretoria and some 20 researchers from these bodies with postings or long-term missions;
  • a civil society fund (FASC): €500,000 awarded by MAEDI in 2014 for a three-year period, in support of NGOs specialised in the sectors of local good governance, human rights, gender and LGBT. The network also includes two French secondary schools directly managed by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE), totalling nearly 1500 students in three schools in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

The French Development Agency (AFD) also has a regional office in Johannesburg, covering seven Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. In the context of the Partnership Framework Document 2011-2014, the AFD targeted three priority sectors for action: infrastructure development (water, transport and energy) and promoting sustainable and integrated urban development as well as global public goods (energy efficiency and renewable energy development). It committed a non-sovereign loan of €415 million. The AFD is now working on its Country Strategy 2015-2018 which aims to support green growth and reduce inequalities. In 2015, AFD operations reached €300 million, half of which was guaranteed by the South African Government.

Cultural, academic and scientific relations between France and South Africa

  • In the cultural field, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) remains a key partner recognized by the main South African festivals in the fields of dance, plastic arts, music, books, film, etc. The diverse cultural events organized by IFAS together with Alliance Française centres take place year-round and have a significant impact in South Africa. Every year, IFAS organizes a highlight cultural event in partnership with a network of partner companies, including TOTAL and Standard Bank, like "The Nights" by the Ballet Preljocaj company in 2014. The 2016 highlight event is an ambitious Matisse exhibition in South Africa. The Cross Seasons France-South Africa in 2012 and 2013 were a highlight of the bilateral relationship and the first such exercise for France with an African State. They made it possible to organize almost 30 exhibitions, 75 artistic creation workshops, 50 film screenings, 100 concerts and 250 performances of theatre and dance. The closure of the South African Season in France in late 2013 was an opportunity for France to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, whose death occurred a few days earlier.
  • In the scientific field, France has become South Africa’s fourth-largest partner with over 650 articles co-signed by scientists of both countries in 2013. This figure, which increases 20% on average per year, illustrates the dynamism of this collaboration in all scientific areas. Collaborative projects are increasingly regional in scope, both in Europe and in Africa, in particular under the stimulus of EU funding. This collaboration is governed by an intergovernmental agreement signed on 28 February 2008. However, France still ranks ninth only in terms of South African student numbers. In general, South African student mobility abroad remains very low compared to other emerging or African countries, with fewer than 6500 per year, of which 140 in France).
  • Support for training and capacity-building in South Africa remains a guiding principle for French cooperation, to meet South Africa’s huge needs and the priorities of our attractiveness policy which is based around three training and research centres in the field of engineering sciences, including the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) which has a field office in Cape Town and Pretoria. French experts are present permanently in these centres which are based in previously disadvantaged universities of technology. Two of these centres are in partnership with the French companies Schneider Electric and Dassault Systèmes, and are supported by the French Ministry of National Education.

At the multilateral level, France is contributing 12% (US$55.7 million over 2014-2016) to the budget of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for South Africa ($464.8 million).

Adequate bilateral economic relations based on a "balanced" partnership

French exports to South Africa amounted to €1.804 billion in 2015 and South African exports to France to €841 million over the same period.

Thus, with a trade surplus of almost €1 billion in France’s favour, South Africa is a key partner. While the French market share is decreasing in terms of trends, it remains significant at 2.3% of the market and France remains South Africa’s fourth-largest European supplier.

The bilateral relationship also profits from the more than 300 French companies established in South Africa, including 29 CAC 40 listed companies, covering almost all industrial and service sectors and fully respecting the rules imposed by local authorities on local content (for example, 65% in the transport sector) and positive discrimination (employment, training). In this respect, the companies are actively contributing to the country’s industrialization, allowing South Africa to climb gradually upmarket despite its still strong structural constraints (in particular the weakness of the education system).

France is thus the 13th-largest foreign investor in South Africa, with a stock just below €1 billion but expected to increase in the medium term in relation, in particular, to the historic contract signed in autumn 2013 by Alstom and the public transport company PRASA, worth €4 billion (with a French share of €400 million), for the supply of 3600 trains by 2025.

With US$301 million paid in assistance in 2013, France is among the main bilateral donors after the United States (US$479 million). With cumulative commitments totalling €1.2 billion over the past five years, South Africa is one of the French Development Agency (AFD)’s top intervention countries. The prospect of opening an African branch of the future BRICS countries’ development bank could be accompanied by new opportunities for cross-financing targeting sub-Saharan Africa in particular. It should be noted that South Africa is a member of the BASIC group of emerging countries as regards climate issues, which made it a natural interlocutor for France in preparing COP21. Finally, at the end of September 2014, South Africa accounted for a Coface outstanding medium- and long-term insurance credit worth €1.4992 billion.

Updated: 26/02/2016

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