Statement by H.E. Jabu Mbalula, Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to Romania
On 27 April 2021 we celebrate the 27th anniversary of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa that we established in 1994, the year of the first free election in our country. It is a day of commemoration and paying tribute to all those who fought and sometimes paid with death for our freedom. It is a day of celebration as well because, for instance, Nelson Mandela, our icon, who spent 27 years in jail for that freedom, voted for the first time when he was 76 years old instead of the internationally accepted 18 years.
It set our nation on a path towards reconciliation, freedom, justice, peace, democracy and an entrenched strong culture of fundamental human rights and Ubuntu. In 1994, led by President Nelson Mandela, we began building a democratic country.
For the majority of South African people, 1994 signified the first steps towards freedom and democracy and gave hope for a better, prosperous future. A better life for all was premised on the restoration of human dignity, respect for human life, creation of decent jobs, building of houses, opening the doors of education and the provision of basic services.
We are proud of progress we have made in forging a common national identity that is built on mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance as well as recognition of our diversity. We have gone far in breaking down the artificial barriers of culture, race and religion that divided us. However, a lot still needs to be done in making every South African an agent of transformation that work for a society free from racial, social and economic class barriers. South Africa has come a long way in addressing the economic, social and cultural challenges created under apartheid. Over the last three decades, South Africans have worked hard to construct a society that serves its entire people.
We celebrate Freedom Day through workshops, conferences, talk shows, sharing what freedom, democracy means to all of us. The whole country gets ignited into a vibrant spirit which also includes celebrations, braai (barbecue), music and dance. We also have cultural activities showcasing our unity in diversity through our different but vibrant cultures played out in our music, dance, cuisine, traditional costumes.
The Romanian – South African bilateral relations date as far back as 1991. We have a lot in common including our friendliness and hospitality. Our two countries enjoy an active, rewarding relationship supported by political, economic and commercial pillars but more can still be done. Both Embassies are working hard to strengthen the relations especially in relation to trade and investment as well as marketing and popularizing the image of South Africa in Romania and vice versa. Our countries have recently found each other, now sharing information, exchanging skills and learn from one another.
In September 2016, a Cooperation Protocol was signed by the Governments of our countries, paving the way for further joint collaboration. Other agreements on Bilateral Relations, Education, Culture, and Science and technology have been drafted. We also hope to have an agreement between the Durban and Constanta Ports which are gateways to Africa and to Europe respectively.
Despite the large geographical distances between South Africa and Romania, significant direct and indirect investment has taken place in Romania, in parallel with a vast increase in bilateral trade between the two countries. The Romania -South Africa Business Association (ROSABA) is helping our Embassy in exploring new areas of investment in the two countries.
In 2019, total value of bilateral trade was 323.3 million USD, which means a growth of 19.10% against 2018. Romania’s exports reached 288.7 millions USD (+ 23.40 %), while imports were 34.5 mil. USD (-7.7%). Trade balance had a surplus of 254.2 millions USD in Romania’s favour.
But the current pandemic severely affected bilateral trade. Thus, Romania’s 2020 exports compared to 2019 recorded a decrease of – 44.4%. South Africa’s 2020 exports against 2019 saw a decrease of – 7.1%
Business relations between South Africa and Romania have risen considerably in the course of the past years. This has been mostly a one-way traffic with substantial South African investment in Romania leading to stronger business ties between the countries and is substantially a result of adventurous South African entrepreneurs looking for business opportunities further afield from Africa and the usual common investment destinations. Whereas Romania was far from the minds of South African business people in the past, the country is becoming better known for the opportunities it offers to foreign entrepreneurs and openness within which to conduct business.
In terms of investment, there are a considerable number of SA companies operating in Romania and a few Romanian companies open in South Africa. SA investment has increased a lot on Romanian market: most of SA companies in Romania operate in real estate sector (development of malls, offices, shopping centres), some others in e-commerce, auto-industry (car batteries), construction sector, pharmaceutical industry, cosmetics etc. For instance, last year and beginning of this year, despite the hostile context of the pandemic, two South African companies (investment funds), opened their business in Romania in the real estate sector. Romanian companies in South Africa operate mainly in electric power sector or renewable energy industry, building wind farms and solar parks.
A lot has been achieved in the education sector. Many academic institutions in the two countries have concluded bilateral agreements that facilitated exchange of students, professors, knowledge and experience.
The West University of Timisoara has strong ties with Universities of the Western Cape, Cape Town and Stellenbosch. It hosts UBUNTU African Study Centre and shares the values of UBUNTU, the all embracing Mandela promoted values of human-ness, integrity, friendliness, warm, hospitality, support and solidarity. University of Pretoria is very actively involved with the Babes Bolyai University of Cluj and its Centre for African Studies. Viable joint projects are in the process to be identified by the two universities. In Iaşi, universities such as “Alexandru Ioan Cuza”, “Ion Ionescu de la Brad” and “Gheorghe Asachi” are willing to cooperate with previously disadvantaged universities like Fort Hare. “Andrei Şaguna” University of Constanţa wishes to establish an academic partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.
Tourism, as a backbone of any country’s economy, also constitutes an important vehicle for deepening relations between South Africa and Romania. More and more Romanian Tour Operators are showing interest in discovering South Africa as one of the destinations of their choice. More and more Romanian visitors descend on our ports of entry to enjoy, among others, South Africa’s hospitality, scenic beauty, culture and lifestyle. Our embassy is working to offer Romanian tourists a pleasant experience in South Africa. In 2019, our embassy issued 2 123 visas to Romanian tourists. Due to the pandemic, in 2020 the number of issued visas dropped to 741.
The European market is very important to us and Romania contributes a lot through the number of tourists that visit SA. The closeness of time zone between South Africa and European countries and our pleasant weather, position South Africa as a preferred destination for both business and leisure tourism for many Europeans.
South Africa is famous for its natural beauty, national parks, wildlife, political history with landmarks such as Robben Island (prison and museum), cultural diversity, highly developed infrastructure and hospitality industry, game reserves, picturesque drives like the Garden Route and the world renowned wines. The underlying principles and values of Ubuntu afford the visitor a taste of our hospitality. For seven years in a row, from 2013 to 2019, Cape Town was voted the best city in the world by the readers of the prestigious publication The Telegraph.
South Africa still maintains restriction measures for tourists in the pandemic context, however travelling is possible and encouraged, under safe conditions. There have been high concerns about a new stem of coronavirus circulating in SA, but due to our Government initiatives and our scientists, the number of new daily cases is declining now. We record about 1000 new cases per day – the average on the last 7 days. Based on an assessment of the current state of the pandemic in the country, the Cabinet decided to ease some restrictions, open local airports to international travel.
South Africa highly values the existing cooperation on the international front displayed by South Africa and Romania. Most of the candidacy requests for support that have been made on both sides have been treated with cordiality and reciprocity.
We can succeed only in cooperation, only working together with our partners in the international community. One of our important underlying African ways of doing things is guided by the spirit of Ubuntu, which translates to: ”I am because you are. You are because I am” (in Zulu: ”Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”). This mutual support has helped us overcome the difficult times of our history and forge long lasting friendship relations with other peoples, with fruitful achievements.
In celebrating the 27th Freedom Day anniversary in Romania as we do today and throughout the year, the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa takes this opportunity to, on behalf of the South African Nation, Government, and people of South Africa, humbly express sincere words of appreciation to all the countries, their governments and their citizens for extending a hand of assistance to South Africans for them to also join the community of nations in enjoying democracy, rule of law, peace and security. This is a debt that our country will never be able to fully pay back and which it will never stop appreciating.