France and South Africa

Enhanced political dialogue

The Franco-South African Strategic Partnership was boosted in 2008/2011 by President Sarkozy’s visit and later by that of President Zuma to France. 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. The French President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs also attended the funeral of Nelson Mandela on 10 December 2013. President Jacob Zuma made an official visit to France from 10 to 12 July 2016. In parallel, the French and South African Presidents meet on a regular basis on the sidelines of major international summits.

Ministerial contacts take place on a relatively frequent basis. On the French side, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development visited South Africa on 21 November 2015, ahead of COP21. The Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism and French Nationals Abroad visited on 9 November 2016, and the Minister of the Economy and Finance visited on 2 and 3 February 2017.

Cooperation aimed at supporting South Africa’s emergence

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.

French cooperation and cultural action in South Africa

The network is structured around the Cooperation and Cultural Action Service (SCAC) of the French Embassy in Pretoria and the Institut Français of South Africa (IFAS) in Johannesburg. It is made up of:

  • 7 cooperation attachés covering the sectors of culture, science, technology and academic cooperation, humanities and social sciences (Institut Français de Recherche à l’Étranger – IFRE, Institut Français research centre), the French language, the audiovisual sector and health care (adviser).
  • 14 Alliance Française branches. 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 Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and receive regular grants from the SCAC. The Director of the Alliance Française branch in Johannesburg is also General Delegate of the Alliance Française (DGAF) for Southern Africa;
  • 6 international technical experts seconded by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs: to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD, 1 expert on extractive industries), to South African universities and research centres (3 experts, with one in charge of supporting innovation and technology transfers), and to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), for teaching of French to South African diplomats. Another three experts are seconded from the French Ministry of Agriculture (1 expert), the Paris-Île-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1 expert) and from the Ministry of National Education (1 expert), all supporting French-South African training centres (F’SAGRI, F’SASEC, PLMCC).
  • 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 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development in 2014 for a three-year period, in support of NGOs specialized in the sectors of good local governance, human, gender and LGBT rights.

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 Agence Française de Développement (AFD, French Development Agency) also has a regional office in Johannesburg, covering seven Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Between 2009 and 2014, AFD grants totalled €1.276 billion. Under the Framework Partnership Document (DCP) 2016-2019, the AFD focuses support on combating climate change and supporting projects with high 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 fields including dance, plastic arts, music, books and film. Every year, IFAS organizes a highlight cultural event in partnership with a network of partner companies, including TOTAL and Standard Bank. An ambitious Matisse exhibition was thus organized in South Africa in 2016. 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. A France-South Africa cultural agreement was signed in July 2016.

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 only ninth 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 6,500 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 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 satellites 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 French trade surplus of almost €1 billion, South Africa is a key partner. While the French market share is decreasing over time, it remains significant at 2.3% 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 CAC40 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 3,600 trains by 2025.

Updated: November 2017

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