PRETORIA – International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor has hailed the growing strong diplomatic, trade and economic relations between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a historical partnership built on a firm foundation laid by the close ties of friendship and trust enjoyed by the founding fathers of the two nations – the late former president Nelson Mandela and Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, respectively.
The prestigious celebration marking the 25th anniversary of South Africa and UAE diplomatic relations drew hundreds of senior government officials from both nations, ambassadors and high commissioners representing different countries across the world, academics and journalists to the packed Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria on Tuesday night.
"I am truly honoured and grateful to share this evening with Your Excellency [Ambassador Mahash Saeed Alhameli], and the distinguished guests as we celebrate 25 years of the fruitful relations between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates," Pandor said while addressing the gathering.
"I wish to take this opportunity to express best wishes to you and the entire leadership of the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of President Ramaphosa, the Government and the people of South Africa on this auspicious occasion that serves as a crucial reminder of how far we have come as partners and how much we have achieved over the years."
Pandor said the two founding fathers and iconic statesmen – Mandela and Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, both born in 1918, not only shared a special bond of friendship, but also had remarkable characteristics evidenced through their spiritualism, vision, determination and hard work, as well as generosity at home and abroad, "which in turn ensured that they devoted their lives to the service of their peoples and the creation of a better world for all".
She saluted the UAE for opening itself to South Africa as a strategic export market in the Gulf Region, thereby creating space for Pretoria to trade and establish partnerships that have elevated the bilateral economic partnership to a new high.
"Total trade between our two countries stood at about R507 million in 1995. The period that followed witnessed rapid growth between our two sides. As of 2018, our total bilateral trade stood at R44. 5 billion. This growth in bilateral trade relations is a result of the firm and unwavering support provided by the leadership of the two sides," she said.
"We are appreciative of the confidence your country has in South Africa. The presence and growth of UAE companies in this country is reflective of the positive growth trajectory that our own companies are enjoying in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We have about 200 registered South African companies in the UAE, ranging from construction, finance and IT services, to hospitality, retail and trading. Some of our notable companies operating in the banking and construction sector such as Standard Bank, First Rand, Nedbank Private Wealth and Group 5 have a presence in your country."
She said on the other hand, UAE investment presence in South Africa is equally significant.
Addressing the same gathering, Ambassador Alhameli said South Africa is "one of the most important trading partners of the UAE, with the total value of non-oil foreign trade reaching $3,8 billion [USD3.8 billion] last year, while the UAE is South Africa’s largest Arab trading partner in the trade of non-oil goods with 50 percent of the total Arab-South African trade".
Alhameli said the UAE enjoys a strong and growing relationship with different nations on the African continent, guided by the vision of the oil-rich country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
"The wise leadership of [UAE] President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has continued on the same vision to strengthen relations between the Middle East and Africa in order to achieve peace and stability. The strategic relationship with African countries aims to support sustainable development efforts on the continent and in this context constantly seeks to strengthen areas of cooperation," he said.
"In the context of South Africa, our policy is guided by the wise leadership of both countries based on a consensus policy that includes the desire of both countries to pursue economic development for the benefit of their people in recognition of common views on a number of key global and regional issues and strategic partnership. The relations between the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of South Africa are very good, based on mutual interests and respect as they witness the growth at various levels."
– African News Agency (ANA)