The relationship between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Republic of South Africa is considered the cornerstone of the African continent’s stability and development.
Despite the wide spatial distance between the two countries as Egypt is at the north-eastern tip of the African continent and South Africa is at the southernmost of the continent, there are similar geographic and strategic grounds shared by the two nations.
First: Diplomatic Representation
The first South African diplomatic mission to Egypt was established in 1942 as a general consulate under King Farouk, and then it turned into a commission in 1949 after the Egyptian cabinet decision to increase its representation in the Union of South Africa. On May 30, 1960, the diplomatic relations were cut because of Egypt’s support for the liberation movement in South Africa, and its refusal to continue its relations with the ruling apartheid regime.
In October 1993, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with South Africa. The representation offices of the two countries were opened in Cairo and Pretoria. Following the general elections in South Africa in April 1994, the two governments upgraded the representation offices to embassy level.
Second: Political relations before 1952
Since the establishment of the diplomatic relations in 1942 until the revolution of July 1952, the relations between Egypt and South Africa were normal. They were mostly protocol-based. Although there were no issues of political nature between the two countries until 1947 when a major discord arose over South Africa’s position on the Palestinian issue, there were many ties between the two leaderships at that time.
In the framework of the protocol-based relations, there were some ties of a symbolic nature between the two countries, for example, South Africa has exhibited King Farouk Mercedes-Benz vehicle model of 1936, which was given to him by German leader Adolf Hitler as a gift in his wedding ceremony in 1938 in Franschhoek Motor Museum in Cape Town.
The royal vehicle was sold, among other properties of the royal family, after the 1952 revolution to a French vehicles collector and remained in its original condition and by the same original engine without damage. Then, it was auctioned in 2006 in France, and moved to South Africa, where it was exhibited in the Franschhoek Motor Museum.
The Franschhoek Motor Museum in Cape Town is one of the world’s most distinguished museums. It contains a collection of classic vehicles that represent the history of the motoring industry over 100 years. The museum has a variety of cars, motorcycles and bicycles, among them the vehicle of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.
One of the symbolic protocol-based relations in the 1940s was the contacts between the two countries on the body of the father of Shah of Iran.
In 1941, Reza Khan Pahlavi, the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty who ruled Iran in 1925-1979, abdicated the throne in favor of his son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi under the Anglo-Soviet pressure for his cooperation and personal relationship with Hitler. Reza Pahlavi stayed in the Union of South Africa in exile and died in Johannesburg in 1944. After his death, the Pahlavi’s body was embalmed and the colonial powers refused to bury it in Iran, therefore King Farouk, in coordination with the Union of South Africa, moved the body to Egypt and buried it at the royal Al Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo where Princess Fawzia; daughter of King Fouad I, sister of King Farouk and the first wife of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, married in 1939, was buried. The body remained in Egypt for six years until 1950, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi came to Egypt, at the head of a high-level delegation, to take his father’s remains and carried it to Iran via Saudi Arabia.
The lukewarm relationship between Egypt and the Union of South Africa began in 1947, when the apartheid regime voted, among other countries, in favor of the resolution on the partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947. The resolution recommended the establishment of a Jewish state on the land of Palestine. The Union of South Africa was the second African country to vote for the resolution along with Liberia. On May 24, 1948 (nine days after the declaration of the State of Israel), the then Prime Minister Jan Smuts, who was a pro-Zionist, declared the government’s intention to recognize the Jewish state. Subsequently, the Union of South Africa became the seventh country to officially recognize the State of Israel on May 14, 1949.
Third: Political Relations between 1952 and 1970
The Egyptian role in Africa has witnessed a leap since the revolution of July 1952, where Egypt, under the leadership of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, played a pivotal role in supporting the struggle of the national liberation movements in African countries to achieve their independence. The year 1960 witnessed the liberation of 17 African countries. In the same year, Egypt cut off its official relations with the Union of South Africa on May 30 in response to the demands of the representatives of the South African Liberation Movement to sever relations with the apartheid regime and to support the establishment of the democratic country of South Africa ruled by its majority dark skin citizens.
- Mandela in Egypt
In 1961, Egypt hosted the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, who stayed in Zamalek district, Cairo where the headquarter of the African Association existed. The Association was established by Egyptian intellectuals, professors and diplomats in 1956 as a cultural and intellectual forum for those interested in the African affairs in Egypt and was known as the House of Africa. The late diplomat Mohamed Abdel Aziz Ishaq was the real founder of the Association. At the end of the 1950s, the Association included the offices of 29 liberation movements of African countries from the east, west and south of the continent, and Egypt provided them with all kinds of support in international forums. Those offices included the office of the African National Congress (ANC) that was inaugurated by Mandela, and through which he sought to lead the struggle in South Africa to end the apartheid regime.
The late leader Mandela came to Egypt in 1961 after an arduous journey, walking on foot from South Africa following the footsteps of his predecessors. Mandela was on the wanted lists at airports and crossings, thus he was forced to walk to the south of Sudan on a journey that lasted nearly two months, and boarded a plane to Egypt, where he was received by Ambassador Mohamed Abdel Ghaffar, the Extraordinary Ambassador to the Organization of the African Liberation Movement.
The confidential visit of Mandela was in coordination with the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the then Minister of National Guidance Mohamed Fayek who had a prominent role in dealing with African countries and African liberation movements at the levels of politics, struggle and media.
The late leader Nelson Mandela spent nearly a year in Egypt in the same building of the ANC in Zamalek district.
Since then, the African leader Nelson Mandela has been known by his great love for Egypt and his favorite place; the African Association in Cairo, which was credited with liberating more than one African country from colonialism and racial discrimination.
Mandela returned to South Africa and was arrested in August 1962 on charges of leading military activity targeting to overthrow the government, eliminate the apartheid and seek chaos in the country by supporting armed groups. In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and was transferred to Robben Island, where he spent 18 years, most of them in hard labor. In 1982, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, then to Victor Verster Prison from 1988 to 1990. In 1988, however, the international pressure had been escalated leading to the release of Mandela and his colleagues unconditionally, followed by the call for dialogue in 1989.
After being imprisoned for nearly 27 years, Mandela opted for Egypt to be his first destination after his release.
Egypt had occupied a part of the biography of Mandela, which he wrote during his imprisonment and completed it after his release. He said that Egypt had acquired his imagination as the cradle of African civilization, the treasure chest of so much beauty in art and design, and said that he looked forward to seeing the pyramids and the sphinx and to cross the Nile River, which he described as the greatest rivers of Africa. Mandela added that he was accompanied by his two colleagues in the struggle Oliver Tambo and Robert Resha from Addis Ababa to Cairo where he spent his first day in the Egyptian Museum “examining the artifacts, making notes, learning about the type of men who founded the ancient civilization of the Nile Valley”, referring that “this is not amateur archeological interest; it is important for African nationalists to be armed with evidence to dispute the fictitious claims of the whites that Africans are without a civilized past that compares with that of the West”. Moreover, Mandela said: “In a single morning, I discovered that Egyptians were creating great works of art and architecture, when whites were still living in caves”.
In his memoirs, Mandela pointed out that “Egypt was an important example for us to follow, for we could witness firsthand the program of socialist economic reforms being launched by President Nasser. He had reduced private ownership of lands, nationalized certain sectors of the economy, pioneered rapid industrialization, democratized education and built a modern army. Many of these reforms were precisely the sort of things that we in the ANC someday hoped to enact. At that time, however, it was more important for us that Egypt was the only African State with an army, navy and air force that are equal to those of South Africa”.
Fourth: Egypt and South Africa after Elimination of Apartheid
Limited communication between Egypt and South Africa at the level of governments began in June 1988 when Cairo hosted the meeting of the Joint Commission of South Africa, Angola, Cuba, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The first government communication was made between the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Union of South Africa Pik Botha at the time.
After the release of Mandela in February 1990, he decided that Egypt would be his first destination. The streets were crowded with all his Egyptian and African supporters of all ages. He was perceived by Egyptians as an icon of struggle and freedom.
Mandela was due to deliver his speech at the conference hall of the African Association, but because of the crowds he was temporarily greeted in a small Hall, while his African wife, Winnie Mandela, was on the veranda speaking to the audience who was overwhelmed by her speech, to enable Mandela to access to the hall to deliver his own speech.
In his speech in Egypt, Mandela said “I was keen to come to this place that I have been missing for up to 28 years, to express my thanks and gratitude to this place because it did not forget Mandela and organized the global lobbying group that urged a global boycott of all countries, in addition to sanctions and comprehensive ban on the government of Pretoria, which forced them to release me and 9 of the honorable men”. Mandela also said jokingly that he had come to the meeting with Mr. Mohammed Fayek after 28 years of delay.
- The Return of Relations
The first sign of outreach between the two countries emerged in 1991 when the Egyptian ambassador to Mozambique announced that he would respond favorably to South Africans who request visa to enter Egypt. The relations were formalized at the end of 1993 with the opening of the two representative offices in Cairo and Pretoria, and the announcement of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry of the resumption of full diplomatic relations in October 1993.
In 1993, Nelson Mandela and the former South African President Frederick William de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to stabilize South Africa. After the general elections in South Africa in April 1994, the Egyptian and the South African governments announced the upgrading of their representative offices to the level of embassies. In the same year, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa participated in the inauguration ceremony of the first elected South African President Nelson Mandela after the elimination of the apartheid regime.
In 1995, a Joint Commission was established for cooperation between the two countries. The first meeting of the Commission was held in April 1996 in Cairo, during which the two parties agreed to push forward the relations between the two countries in all fields, especially the commercial field through opening the South African market before Egyptian goods and to expand the participation of Egyptian companies in the annual exhibitions held in South Africa.
- Third Visit of Mandela
The late leader Nelson Mandela was keen to visit Egypt for the third time on October 20, 1997. That time was in his capacity as the elected president of South Africa and he was received warmly as in his visit in 1991. The visit was described as considerable at the level of strengthening and developing relations between the two countries in various fields.
The visit of late President Mandela to Cairo was the first leg of his tour in North Africa. During the visit, President Mandela was awarded the highest Egyptian Medal of the Nile. The presidential statement of Egypt described Mandela as “A great leader who changed the course of history and redefined the fate of humanity”. In return, President Mandela gave the then President of Egypt the Medal of the Cape of Good Hope and the Great Coast. It was emphasized that Egypt and South Africa are entering the new millennium as partners for peace, prosperity and more equitable world.
In December 1997, the late Mandela stepped down from the presidency of the African National Congress ANC to allow his successor, Thabo Mbeki, to lead the party. Mbeki won the general elections of the ANC in 1999. In the same year, the late Mandela left office and Thabo Mbeki became the president of South Africa, while Jacob Zuma held the position of vice-president after a tough competition with Winnie Mandela, wife of the late Mandela.
Mandela made his farewell speech on March 29, 1999, and he founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation in the same year of his retirement. Its main social goals were to combat the spread of AIDS, promote rural development and build schools. It also targeted to play a role in peace talks in Burundi in 2000, after the civil war which resulted in the death of thousands of victims and displaced hundreds of thousands of refugees, however, Mandela’s mediation in the crisis led to the signing of the peace accord in August 2000. Despite his success in reaching a peace agreement in Burundi, the late Mandela refused to mediate in Kosovo and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to his advanced age, which did not allow him to enter into mediation and to bear the brunt of efforts followed the mediation process.
- Egypt and South Africa after Mandela
The first Egyptian presidential visit to South Africa took place in July 2008 upon the invitation of the then South African President Thabo Mbeki. The visit tackled a number of international and regional issues of mutual interest, such as the situation on the African continent and ways of boosting economic and trade cooperation. Besides, the meeting between the two presidents discussed the latest developments in the Middle East and issues related to Iran, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe, especially in light of South Africa hosting of the negotiations between the authority and the opposition of Zimbabwe. Moreover, a number of meetings between the two countries’ economic officials were held and several economic and trade agreements were signed.
Furthermore, meetings of the former presidents of Egypt and South Africa dealt with a number of key issues, such as achieving food security in light of the rising of global food prices, which constitute a threat to African countries at the time of food crises and famines. The two sides also discussed the mutual vision on the reform of the United Nations and exchanged views on the issue of the expansion of the membership of the Security Council and the African stand towards this issue, especially with the existence of an ongoing understanding and consultation between Egypt and South Africa. The talks also included future cooperation within the framework of the NEPAD initiative taking into consideration the findings of the NEPAD Summit held on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Sharm El-Sheikh in June 2008.
During the visit, a memorandum of intent was signed on cooperation between the two countries in many fields, including the fields of industry, technology, investment, information technology, agriculture, transport, infrastructure development and tourism promotion as well as mineral, oil and gas exploration.
In October 2010, the former South African President Jacob Zuma visited Egypt. The visit resulted in the development of a number of bilateral issues and witnessed the convention of a business meeting between the two countries with the participation of 1,000 businessmen, including 200 from South Africa. The deliverables of the meeting included the signing of four memorandums of understanding and two executive programs for cooperation in the fields of Oil and gas, health and veterinary services, sports and tourism, in addition to a memorandum of understanding between the Bibliotheca Alexandria and the National Library of South Africa.
The two sides also discussed a number of regional and international issues as well as a range of African issues related to conflict resolution, stability in the African continent, support for development and joint projects aiming to improve infrastructure and promote trade and investment.
Fifth: Political Relations after 2011
Since the Egyptian January 2011 revolution, the relations between the two countries witnessed major developments in many stages, especially in the period from January 25, 2011 to June 30, 2013, followed by the post-June 30 revolution and the transitional period that ended with the conduction of the presidential elections in May 2014.
After the revolution of January 2011, relations between the two countries were temporarily frozen due to South Africa’s stance towards the internal developments in Egypt. However, the visit of Mr. Ibrahim Ibrahim, Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, in March 2012 emphasized the willingness of South Africa to share its experience in the process of drafting the constitution of Egypt.
The first presidential meeting between the two countries took place on the sidelines of the African Union summit in July 2012 and then in May 2013 in Addis Ababa.
In March 2013, Egypt participated in the BRICS Summit as well as the NEPAD Heads of State Meeting and the Forum of BRICS Heads of State held in Durban, South Africa.
However, South Africa did not respond to Egypt’s call in October 2012 to hold the ninth session of the Joint Committee in Cairo in 2013, or to its invitation to the former South African President Jacob Zuma to visit Cairo in December 2012.
- Political Relations after the Revolution of June 30, 2013
After the revolution of the Egyptian people on June 30, 2013, the reality of the ongoing developments in Egypt was not clear to the South African side, Egypt, however, reacted wisely and sent the presidential envoy Ambassador Ibrahim Ali Hassan to South Africa to explain the situation. Ambassador Hassan was received by the South African Foreign Minister in July 2013, and thereby, the two countries resumed their normal cooperation quickly. There were frequent mutual visits between the two countries, including the visit of Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, the South African presidential envoy and the State Security Minister who headed a government delegation to Cairo in February 2014 carrying a message from the then President Jacob Zuma to the interm former President Judge Adli Mansour to express solidarity with the Egyptian people. That period witnessed the proposal of the South African Ministry of Communications of the strategic vision for cooperation in the field of information and communication technology, namely the project of the extension of fibre-optic networks alongside the Cairo-Cape Town Highway. The letter of President Jacob Zuma also expressed his country’s support for the road map of Egypt and condemned the terrorist acts that encountered the Egyptian people. Besides, the visit gave the chance to the South African envoy to be introduced to the developments in Egypt on ground and to make sure that the Egyptian people are determined to complete the path they chose for their future in order to convey a clear picture to the South African leader.
Meanwhile, the South African Minister of Presidential Affairs Mr. Jeff Radebe participated in the inauguration ceremony of President Sisi in June.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met former South African President Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of the high-level meetings of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2014. Besides, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was invited to visit South Africa officially.
In October 2014, Mrs Maite Mashabane, the then Minister of International Relations of South Africa, visited Egypt and met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. The two sides stressed the importance of developing bilateral relations in various fields to achieve the interests of the two countries. They also shared views on the situation on the African continent and the Middle East region. Mashabane also conveyed a message from President Jacob Zuma to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
- Top summits between the two countries
Political relations between the two countries have witnessed a remarkable leap since 2014. One of the most prominent features of these positive developments was the bilateral meetings between representatives of the two countries, which began with the meeting of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with former South African President Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2014.
Upon the invitation of President Sisi, President Jacob Zuma visited Cairo in April 2015 for the first time since 2011, as the last visit of the South African President to Cairo was in October 2010.
Besides, the two presidents met in Moscow in May, 2015, on the sidelines of Russia’s celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism in the Second World War.
The former Prime Minister Engineer Ibrahim Mahlab participated in the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Summit in Johannesburg in June 2015. Former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also participated in the Forum on China - Africa Cooperation in Johannesburg in December 2015. Moreover, the Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr participated in the World Economic Forum for Africa on behalf of the Prime Minister in June 2015.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also met with his South African counterpart Maite Mashabane several times on the sidelines of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014 and at the Gaza Reconstruction Conference in Cairo on October 12, 2015. They have also met during the visit of the former President Jacob Zuma to Cairo in April 2015 and on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Johannesburg in June 2015 and on the sidelines of the Forum on China - Africa Cooperation in Johannesburg in December 2015.
Pretoria also expressed its desire to hold the ninth session of the Joint Commission between the two countries. The eighth and latest meeting of the Commission was held under the chairmanship of the foreign ministers of both countries in Pretoria in March 2010.
The period of 2014-2018 witnessed the visits of number of Egyptian delegations to South Africa, including the visit of Mr. Sherif Ismail, the former Egyptian Prime Minister and the Assistant to the President of the Republic for national and strategic projects, heading the delegation of Egypt at the BRICS-plus in Johannesburg in July 2018. In addition to the visits of the former Minister of Scientific Research to Pretoria in February 2015, and of the government delegations from the Cleaner Production Center and the Federation of Egyptian Industries in December 2015. It also signaled the visits of a delegation from the Egyptian National Election Authority to the Electoral Commission of South Africa in 2012 and 2018, and delegations from the Ministry of Justice, the State Council and the civil society to Pretoria in 2014. This is in addition to a number of visits of the Ministers of Transport, Electricity, Investment and International Cooperation.
During its meeting in November 2018, the African Affairs Committee of the Egyptian House of Representatives discussed with South African Ambassador to Cairo Foussi Mavbella means of enhancing the relations with South Africa, especially in the fields of economy, tourism and agriculture. They also tackled regional issues of common concern that reflect the conformity of the two countries’ visions. Ambassador Mavbella explored South Africa’s efforts to strengthen relations between the two countries and to continue coordination and consultations on various issues to meet the existing challenges.
- The Palestinian Issue and its Impact on the Relations between the Two Countries
The issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially the Palestinian issue, is one of the fundamental issues for Egypt. South Africa’s stance towards the question of Palestine was one of the most influential elements in the course of relations between the two countries since 1948. The apartheid regime in South Africa had clear-cut negative stance towards the Palestine issue, as the Union of South Africa supported the establishment of the state of Israel on the Palestinian territory, however the relations and attitudes have been changed since 1994 attributed to the internal political changes in South Africa.
South Africa has become a supporter of the Palestinian cause thanks to the radical change of the political regime in 1994. The suffering of the South African people in the era of apartheid was quite similar to the conflict of Palestinians with the Zionist occupation and their sufferings inside and outside the occupied territories. The position of the late President of South Africa Nelson Mandela on the Palestinian issue was clearly reflected in international forums in which he affirmed his full support of the Palestinians.
Since his release, the late Nelson Mandela has defended his relationship with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who have historically and sustainably supported the cause of ending the apartheid regime. Mandela has always compared the struggle of the Palestinians with the struggle of the majority of black population in South Africa.
There were mutual visits between the late presidents Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela, which began with the visit of the late President Yasser Arafat to South Africa in 1994 and then in 1998, followed by many infrequent visits, most notably Arafat’s visits in April 1999 and August 2000, and then his significant visit in May 2001, within the framework of the Ministerial Meeting of non-aligned states on the Palestinian cause.
On the other hand, the late President Nelson Mandela visited the Gaza Strip in 1999 demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and called on the Arab states to recognize Israel’s right to exist within secured borders.
After the end of the apartheid regime, South Africa backed many United Nations resolutions in support of the Palestinian rights. The most prominent of these was the support for Palestine as an observer in the United Nations. At the same time, South Africa supports the option of a two-State solution, calls for the right of Palestinians to an independent state, and criticizes Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people calling them racism.
- South Africa and Egypt between BRICS and BRICS-plus
South Africa’s membership of the BRICS Group, along with Brazil, Russia, India and China, empowers its role as a bridge linking Africa and the major economic Group. In the framework of the new developments in the BRICS initiative, Egypt participated in more than one meeting of this large economic Group which brings into light the important role of Egypt in Africa, the Middle East and the international community for being a bridge connecting the North and the South of Africa and the Middle East. Besides, Egypt has great economic potentials and manpower.
In the framework of the BRICS-plus, Engineer Sherif Ismail, Assistant to the President of the Republic for national and strategic projects, participated in the 10th BRICS Summit in South Africa on July 27, 2018 in Egypt’s capacity as Chairman of Group of 77 and China. In his speech, Ismail stressed a set of pillars and visions shared by Egypt and South Africa, the most important of which was the emphasis that the BRICS and the Group of 77 and China share the principles of diversity and justice that must prevail in a global system and that the diversity among their member States would contribute to a more just international order. Besides, Ismail called for cooperation for the reform of the international financial system in a way that responds to the needs of developing countries. In addition, he called for the need to develop a clear roadmap to deal with the fourth industrial revolution and the new technology. He also emphasized Egypt’s effort to support the developing countries in facing the challenge of climate change, which greatly impacted South Africa. He also stressed Egypt’s keenness on strengthening cooperation with the BRICS Group in order to achieve its 2030 Vision and the African Development Agenda 2063.
- Egypt and the Presidency of the African Union
Egypt and South Africa have a common vision in the issues of combating terrorism, violence and extremism, achieving integrated development in Africa and the need to reform the UN Security Council. This common vision confirms that peace and security in the continent are inseparably linked to its economic and social development. It also reflects that sustainable economic development is the effective way to ensure lasting stability, giving that security and peace are prerequisites for faster and more comprehensive growth.
In 2019, Egypt takes up the presidency of the African Union. In the same year, South Africa begins to assume a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the third time in its history for the period 2019-2020. This would enable the two countries to play more influential role on the international scene to achieve the interests of the African continent and to realise the objectives of the African Union’s agenda 2063 and its vision of a prosperous, peaceful and integrated Africa.
In 2020, South Africa will assume the chairmanship of the African Union, which will allow continued work and cooperation between the two countries to achieve the interests of the African peoples.
Since 1994, Egypt and South Africa have had strong economic ties; however, they do not reflect the size and strength of the political relations between the two countries. There are many agreements and memorandums of understanding signed between the two countries in the economic field. There are also many pending agreements and memorandums of understanding that are currently being studied and reviewed by both sides.
Since 2013, numerous activities have been carried out by the Joint Trade and Investment Commission (JTIC), and many meetings have been held with the participation of ministries, investment bodies, trade unions, labor as well as public and private companies in both countries. These meetings reviewed many portfolios and initiatives of joint cooperation between the two sides and discussed ways of cooperation in several areas, including: infrastructure, new and renewable energy, agricultural development and livestock, mining, railways and ports, health care, and the export of charcoal from South Africa through the Suez Canal, in addition to the cooperation in the areas of communication and information technology, engineering and electrical industries and automotive industry.
First: The Economic Field
The Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation, signed in August 1997, is one of the most important agreements between Egypt and South Africa. There are also the Agreements on the Mutual Promotion and Protection of Investments signed in October 1998 and the Cooperation in the Field of Transport signed in October 1998.
In July 2000, a number of bilateral agreements were signed between the Chambers of Commerce and the Stock Exchange of the two countries, namely the bilateral cooperation agreement between the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg and the Chamber of Commerce in Cairo, the agreement of cooperation between the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce (FEDCOC) and the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB), as well as the cooperation agreement between the African Trade Institute (Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut AHI) and the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce (FEDCOC), and the memorandum of understanding between the Stock Exchange in Johannesburg and its counterpart in Cairo.
In 2009, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Ministries of Commerce and Industry of the two countries in the field of trade, investment and scientific and technological cooperation. Besides, a memorandum of understanding was signed for cooperation in the field of investment between the Egyptian General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) and the South African Investment Authority (ISA).
Second: Trade Exchange
The volume of trade exchange between Egypt and South Africa does not reflect the long history of relations between the two countries. It also does not demonstrate the economic and trade exchange capabilities of the two countries.
Overall, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries has been increased over the five years 2013-2017, from $ 132.3 million in 2013 to about $ 151.2 million in 2014. Then, it reached $ 188.8 million in 2015 and amounted to $ 266, 3 million in 2016. In 2017, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries reached about $ 314.7 million, with an increase of about 17.5%.
- Exports and Imports
Egypt exports a number of products to South Africa, including motor oils, non-woven yarns, cotton products, adhesives, calcium carbonates, paints and dyes, fertilizers, some handmade carpets, grapes, onions, pasta and tobacco. On the other side, Egypt imports from South Africa goods such as; iron and copper, rubber pipes, frozen meat, vehicles and their spare parts, some electrical machines and their spare parts, charcoal and pesticides.
The increase in Egyptian exports has continued steadily over the years 2013-2015, rising from about $ 53 million in 2013 to about $ 61.1 million in 2014, an increase of 15.3%, and then increased to about $ 67.1 million in 2015 with an increase of about 9.8% comparing to 2014. In 2016, the Egyptian exports to South Africa witnessed a decline amounted to about $ 8.6 million, where the value of exports was about $ 58.5 million with a drop of 12.8%.
The year 2017 reached a high record of $ 134.1 million of Egyptian exports to South Africa, compared to $ 58.5 million in 2016, an increase of 129.2%. The growth was mainly due to the increase in non-oil exports to South Africa from about $ 58.5 million in 2016 to about $ 98.7 million in 2017, an increase of 68.7% compared to 2016. In addition, Egypt began to export crude oil to South Africa for the first time with a value of $ 35.4 million representing 26.3% of the total value of Egyptian exports to South Africa.
As for Egyptian imports from South Africa, the total value reached about $ 180.6 million in 2017, compared to $ 209.3 million in 2016, a drop of 13.7%. The volume of Egyptian imports of some items from South Africa has been increased, the most important of which were iron, copper and vehicles spare parts, as well as some electrical machinery and its spare parts. However, volume of Egyptian imports of other products from South Africa has been dropped significantly during 2017, topped by charcoal and electrical devices. In addition, some items are no longer imported from South Africa compared to 2016; they are spare parts and accessories, rubber pipes, and dried grapes.
In general, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries in 2016/2017 increased from $ 267.9 million to $ 314.7 million, an increase of 17.5%. Meanwhile, the trade balance deficit between the two countries dropped from about $ 150.8 million in 2016 to about $ 46.5 million in 2017 in favor of South Africa.
Third: Reciprocal Investments
Investment relations between Egypt and South Africa are also not up to the desired level given the size and capacity of the two countries’ economies. This is confirmed by the volume and level of reciprocal investments statements of the two sides. This may be due to the absence of a contractual framework between Egypt and South Africa to organize cooperation in the field of investment. In 1998, the two countries signed an agreement to encourage and protect mutual investments, but it has not been ratified by South Africa since that date due to the government’s decision to stop signing such agreements with the countries of the world.
On the other hand, a memorandum of understanding has been signed for cooperation between the GAFI and the investment department of the Ministry of Trade and Industry of South Africa (TISA) on the sidelines of the third meeting of the Joint Trade Committee held on September 28-29, 2016, but the memo has not been put into force.
A report issued by the Egyptian General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) in February 2017 on foreign investments in Egypt during the period 1970/2017 indicates that number of South African companies established in Egypt over the studied period reached 60 companies with an exported capital of $ 292.17 million, among them about $ 15.36 million contribution from the South African side.
Among the most important South African companies invested in Egypt during the period 2003-2014 are Karsten Farming, Sun international, PetroSA and Infomineo. Operating in the field of oil and gas exploration, Sacoil Holdings is one of the most recent South African companies that entered the Egyptian market during that period. Sacoil acquired the right to exploration of 100% of the oil and gas in the Lagia field in the Sinai peninsula, after the Egyptian oil company Mena, in September 2014. The company started the extraction process and exported its share to South Africa.
TANA Africa Capital, owned by the Openheimer family of South Africa, bought a minority stake in the Egyptian pasta company Regina for $ 20 million. The company is willing to expand its investments in Egypt to include education, health, retailing and agro-industry through providing investment in promising `companies in these sectors to help them to grow and expand internally and externally.
In 2016/2017, the South Africa’s company Huhtamäki has established a food packaging factory at the value of $ 30 million in Borg El Arab, Alexandria. The company is also considering the acquisition of Shady Pack Company for packaging materials in Egypt in cooperation with EFG-Hermes.
In 2018, Mondi Group, the South African packaging company, acquired the whole shares of the Egyptian National Paper Products Company for LE 510 million (equivalent to about $ 28.4 million). The latest partnership between the Egyptian and the South African sides was between the Africa-based company Mercaferri Africa and the Egyptian company Samcrete (a member of the Sami Saad Group), and resulted in the establishment of the Strata Soil Systems (SSS) company which operates in the field of innovative technological solutions for construction and development of roads.
There is also the partnership between Zamil Steel Egypt and the African Steel Solutions to construct steel building structures in South Africa, as well as an agreement between the South African company Unichem and the Egyptian company Samiba, whereby Samiba is entitled to distribute the South African company’s products of oil, grease and chemicals in the Egyptian domestic market.
On the whole, there are promising opportunities and potentials for cooperation between the two sides, particularly in the fields of mining, telecommunications and information technology, agriculture and agro-industry, vehicles and spare parts industries, construction, infrastructure projects, new and renewable energy, financial and banking services, tourism, transport and logistics.
Key agreements between Egypt and South Africa
- Cooperation agreement between the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chamber of Commerce of Alexandria agreement (1994).
- An agreement to establish a joint committee between the two countries signed on 3/29/1995.
- Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in the field of energy and electricity (5/11/1995).
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Earth Sciences in South Africa and the Egyptian General Authority of geological Survey and mining projects on scientific and technical cooperation in the field of Earth Sciences (6/11/1995).
- Cooperation agreement in the field of tourism (26/08/1997).
- Cooperation agreement in the field of science and technology (26/8/1997).
- Conduct Airlines agreement (26/8/1997) Egypt has ratified it, while South Africa had not ratified it yet.
- Cooperation agreement in the field of arts and culture (26/08/1997).
- Avoidance of double taxation agreement (26/8/1997) and entered into force on 16/12/1998.
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Information and Decision and Support Center (IDSC) in the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Regional Centre for Information Technology and Computer Engineering Programs and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa (26/8/1997).
- Cooperation agreement between the Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University and the Faculty of Medicine, University of Pretoria in the field of research, education and training programs (3/12/1997).
- Free trade agreement signed in 28/10/1998, but has not yet been ratified by both sides.
- Memorandum of cooperation in the cultural, scientific and educational fields between Cairo University and the University of Pretoria signed on (20/7/2000).
- Cooperation agreement between the Institute of African Studies in the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Africa Institute of South Africa (20/7/2000).
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange on one hand and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on the other (20/7/2000).
- Cooperation agreement between the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce and the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB) signed on 20/7/2000.
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Cairo Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Johannesburg (JMCCI) (20/7/2000).
- Cooperation agreement in the Police field signed on 20/7/2000, Egypt ratified it but South Africa had not yet.
- Cooperation agreement in the field of animal health and veterinary signed on 20/7/2000 ratified by Egypt but had not been ratified by the South African side yet.
- Agreement on mutual judicial assistance on criminal matters signed on 22/10/2001.
- Agreement in exchange extradition in 22/10/2001.
- Agreement to establish a joint council of businessmen between the two countries (22/10/2001).
- Agreement of cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries (15/7/2003).
- Protocol of cooperation between the two countries Institutes of Diplomatic Studies (15/7/2003).
- Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation between the Union of Egyptian Radio and Television and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (15/7/2003).
- Cooperation program in the field of health and medicine (15/7/2003).
- Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries in economic cooperation signed on August 2, 2009.
- Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries for cooperation in the field of environment signed on October 2010.
- Memorandum of Understanding in the field of communications and information signed on October 2010.
- Memorandum of Understanding between Port Said University and the University of UNISA (the Institute of Social and Health Sciences) to launch the South African Egyptian Security and Promotion of Peace Initiative SAESPPI signed in 25/9/2012.
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Suez Canal University (Faculty of Medicine) and UNISA University (Institute of Social and Health Sciences) and the Medical Research Council of South Africa to launch the South African Egyptian Security and Development Initiative SAESDI signed in 23/9/2012.
The cooperation between Egypt and South Africa in the scientific field has been crystallized after the convention of the Joint Committee of Scientific Research in Pretoria in April 2015 under the chairmanship of the then Egyptian Minister of Scientific Research Dr. Sherif Hammad, and his South African counterpart Ms Naledi Pandor. During their meeting, the two sides agreed to raise the level of joint cooperation from the research level to the level of joint patents and applied projects to expand the scope of research projects and to exchange scientific expertise between research institutions in both countries.
In the meeting, Dr. Amr Adly, the Executive Director of the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), signed a memorandum of understanding between the STDF and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF) in the field of scientific and technological cooperation and development. The MoU aims to provide more funding opportunities for joint research projects between the two sides.
In October 2015, the British University in Egypt (BUE) expressed its desire to discuss ways of cooperation with major universities and research centers of African affairs studies in South Africa. A delegation from the BUE headed by the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and Ambassador Mona Omar, the Director of the African Studies Center at the University, visited South Africa and met with many universities and African studies research centers in Pretoria and Johannesburg who welcomed the visit and the cooperation with the British University in Egypt.
In 2018, the Joint Committee for Scientific Research between the two countries reviewed the research projects. It tackled the extent of progress of ongoing joint projects between researchers of the two countries in several fields including space science, biotechnology, information and communications technology, renewable energy and social sciences. Ten research projects have been approved under the third call for joint research projects, which was equally funded by the two sides during 2015 and 2017 (about one million dollars from each side). The two sides also agreed to hold joint workshops to allow researchers from both countries to present their projects and meet leading researchers in the fields of water, agriculture, energy and space to discuss opportunities for joint cooperation within the framework of EU Programme Horizon 2020, which includes researchers from Africa and the Middle East. Moreover, the two sides discussed how Egyptian researchers can benefit from the experience of South Africa in the management process of research and development and means to use science in the development of industry and economy. It was agreed to exchange data of the most prominent research centers in the two countries.
As part of its recent visit in 2018, the Egyptian delegation visited several South African research and scientific centers such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Technological Development Center of the South African Ministry of Scientific Research, as well as the Science Parks that serves and funds the South African industry. Besides, the two sides discussed the tripartite cooperation in science and technology with the British side, which was cooperating separately with each of the two leading countries in the field of science and expressed its keenness on partnering with the two countries in joint projects in the field of science and technology.
The Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority participated regularly in many tourism activities held in South Africa since 2015. The most important of these was the participation at the World Travel Market Africa (WTM), which was held for the second year in a row in Cape Town, South Africa from 15 to 17 April 2015 as an international forum for tourism companies and institutions (airlines, hotels and tourism services providers). The WTM aimed at promoting tourism inside and outside the African continent and was sponsored by the private sector. The Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority also participated in 2015 for the second year in a row at the Indaba Tourism Fair, which was held in Durban from 9 to 11 May 2015 and was sponsored by the South African Ministry of Tourism. Besides, the Authority and EgyptAir participated in the Arab Tourism Fair held at the Sandton, Johannesburg Conference Hall on October 19-20, 2015. The Fair included many Gulf and Egyptian companies working in the field of tourism, travel and hotel sector.
As part of promoting tourism, an Egyptian tourism company organized annual trips for foreigners and Egyptians across the Cairo-Cape Town Highway in both directions on motorcycles and bicycles. The company organized a tour for 10 international athletes from five different countries (USA, UK, Australia, South Africa and Egypt) from 8 October to 16 November 2015 under the CAROCAP Race. In 2017, the South African traveler Andrew Russel traversed the African continent from Cairo in its northern tip to Cape Town in its southernmost on motorbike. The journey marks a new world record and took 7 days and a half.
In the context of supporting cultural exchange, especially between youth and young generations, and under the auspices of the President of the Republic Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt held the World Youth Forum in 2017 and 2018 and invited South African young people. The World Youth Forum in November 2018 witnessed a strong presence by South Africans, nearly 40 participants, compared to 15 participants in WYF 2017. The WYF 2018 included a group of speakers from South Africa, among them Catherine Constantinides; the climate activist and human rights defender, Celeste Fauconnier, the Analyst for Global Markets Research team at Rand Merchant Bank, and Ezlyn Barends, who is recognized as one of the top 200 young south Africans to watch and top 20 inspiring youth in South Africa, and co-founder of “Dream Girls Academy”.
Coincided with the centenary celebrations of Mandela’s birth, the WYF 2018 set aside a special session to honor the legacy of the late President Nelson Mandela. President Sisi extended a special invitation to Mandela’s grandson, Mr. Zondoa Mandela and honored him during the session.
- AL- Azhar Mission in South Africa
The Azhar mission in South Africa consists of 15 sheikhs spread over the main areas where the Muslim community lives: 6 in Cape Town, 4 in Pretoria, 3 in Durban and 2 in Port Elizabeth.
The role of Al- Azhar mission is to oversee its four educational institutes in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Pretoria through dispatching teachers and scholars to teach in these institutes and to introduce the curricula, giving that the management of these institutes is subjected to the South African side which is the founder of these institutes.
In addition to the technical supervision of Al- Azhar institutes, the mission is keeping in touch with the Muslim community in South Africa by sending sheikhs and preachers to commemorate the holy month of Ramadan and offering scholarships to South African students. Moreover, the peace convoy of the Council of Elders of the Holy Azhar has visited South Africa in 2015 for the first time.
- The Egyptian Church in Johannesburg
The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church is located in the city of Johannesburg. There is also a newly founded Coptic monastery in Calainan called Saint Mark Monastery. The two establishments are being followed up by Bishop Antonius Morkous of Africa, who is in charge of all Coptic churches in Africa since June 1976. Bishop Morkous is assisted by Bishop Paulis who was appointed in June 1995 to help in serving the Church in Africa and is responsible for the episcopate of Kenya. The church was built and inaugurated at the time of Pope Shenouda III who visited South Africa in 1993.
The number of Egyptian expatriates in South Africa during the rules of the apartheid regime and before 1994 was very limited. The majority of them were of Greek origin. As of 1994, large numbers of Egyptians moved to South Africa as number of those officially registered in the consulate was about 3,000, while the non-registered Egyptians vary between 50-70 thousands.
The community is mainly represented by the Union of the Egyptian Community in South Africa and the South African Egyptian Forum, both registered as legal entities in accordance with the law of South Africa. The majority of Egyptians in South Africa work in the field of household appliances and many of them are married to South African women and are living permanently in South Africa.
There are many successful models of Egyptians who have factories for household appliances, furniture and aviation schools in South Africa. There are also examples of young Egyptians working in some Arab and international companies in the fields of hotel and real estate, communications, health products, food products, chemical products and tourism.