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. President Jacob Zuma made a State Visit to France on 10-12 July 2016. In parallel, the French and South African Presidents meet on a regular basis on the sidelines of major international summits, and there are relatively frequent discussions at ministerial level.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development travelled to South Africa on 21 November 2015 ahead of COP21 and the Minister of State for Foreign Trade made the trip on 9 November 2016.

Cooperation to support the emergence of South Africa

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.

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 had a budget of approximately €1.7 million from “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:

Seven cooperation attachés covering the sectors of culture, science, technology and university cooperation, humanities and social sciences (IFRE, the IFAS network of French research institutes abroad), the French language, broadcasting (regional attaché), literature and health (regional adviser).

• Fourteen Alliance Française centres. The main ones are located in the six largest cities in South Africa (Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth) and Lesotho (Maseru). They are headed by a director seconded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI) and receive regular grants from the 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, 1 expert on extractive industries), South African universities and research centres (3 experts, including one in charge of technology transfers and innovation) and the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) (1 expert, to teach French to South African diplomats). Also included are an international technical expert seconded by the Ministry of Agriculture (1 expert), the CCIP-IDF (Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry) (1 expert) and MENESR (Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research) (1 expert), all to support French-South African training centres (F’SAGRI (French-South African Institute of Agriculture), F’SASEC (French-South African Schneider Electric Training Center) and PLMCC (Product Lifecycle Management Competency Centre)). 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 support fund (FASC): €500,000 awarded by MAEDI in 2014 for a three-year period, in support of NGOs specialized 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 1,500 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. From 2009 to 2014, AFD grants totalled €1.2765 billion. In line with the 2016-2019 Partnership Framework Document, the AFD is targeting support for the fight against climate change and for projects with a strong social impact.

Cultural, academic and scientific relations

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 the IFAS together with Alliance Française centres take place year-round and have a significant impact in South Africa. Every year, the IFAS organizes a key cultural event in collaboration with a network of partner companies, such as Total and Standard Bank. The 2016 key 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 theatre and dance performances. 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 had 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 from both countries in 2013. This figure, which increases by an average of 20% per year, illustrates the dynamism of this collaboration in all scientific areas. Collaborative projects are increasingly regional in scope, both in Europe and 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 only ninth in terms of numbers of South African students in the country. In general, South African student mobility abroad remains very low compared to other emerging or African countries, with fewer than 6,500 per year, 140 of whom go to 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 French 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 technology universities. 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 contributed 12% (US$55.7 million between 2014 and 2016) of the budget allocated to South Africa from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria ($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 for France of almost €1 billion, 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 benefits from the more than 300 French companies set up in South Africa, including 29 CAC40-listed companies, covering almost all industrial and service sectors and fully complying with 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 gradually climb upmarket despite its still strong structural constraints (in particular its weak education system).

France is thus the 13th-largest foreign investor in South Africa, with a stock just below €1 billion but which is expected to increase in the medium term due, 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 3,600 trains by 2025.

Updated: 19 December 2016

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