- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - ‘The American perception of South Africa is outmoded,” said Dirk Brand, director of international relations in the Office of the Premier in Cape Town.

“Apartheid ended in 1994. A decade after Nelson Mandela, South Africa is now the catalyst for the modernization of the continent,” Mr. Brand said.

“We are the Silicon Valley of the continent. We invest more in the economic development of southern Africa than any other country in the world,” he added.

At the Group of Eight meeting in Scotland in July, world attention focused on the needs of sub-Saharan Africa. The global industrial elite addressed issues such as debt relief; tariff reduction, particularly on the importation of African agricultural products; and the increase of general economic aid to Africa.

The central theme, inadvertently supported by the G-8, British Prime Minister Tony Blair — and Bono, lead singer of Irish rock group U2 — was of an Africa buried in dependency, impoverishment and helplessness.

But interviews and observations during a recent visit to South Africa revealed the country as an exception to this dire portrait. The country’s industrial growth and its regional role in the modernization of southern Africa remain an untold story.

A former colony of the British Empire, with strong ties to the Netherlands because of the Dutch settlement of Cape Town in 1652, South Africa — particularly the Western Cape — benefits from Western European technology, particularly in the areas of finance, industry and information. This has enabled South Africa to become a macroeconomic think tank for the developmental programs of southern Africa in particular and sub-Saharan Africa in general.

The general developmental strategy of South Africa consists of three interrelated programs, officials there explained:

• The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a “grand design,” with a global developmental strategy for sub-Saharan Africa’s recovery. NEPAD has a secretariat whose job is to oversee the implementation of the strategy.

• Created in 1992, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) seeks to liberalize regional trade. The SADC’s members are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SADC’s focus is on reduction of tariffs and reform of customs structures. Philosophically, the group is committed to a free-trade community for southern Africa. Within the SADC, Pretoria hopes to establish such a community by 2008.

• South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland also have organized the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), whose members have a common tariff regime without internal barriers and whose customs revenues are shared according to an agreed formula.

South Africa’s trade policy is a mix of U.S. and EU models. In its American persona, the policy embraces free trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement model, but in its European embodiment, it follows the EU style of customs unions.

In both cases, officials said, South Africa is committed to some form of regional or continental economic integration.

As a member of NEPAD and the SADC, South Africa’s economic principles conform to the U.S. model — enlargement of commerce through lower tariffs. In this regard, South Africa signed a free-trade agreement with the European Union in 2000, and the bloc remains South Africa’s largest trading partner.

Pretoria also signed an agreement with Mercosur — the Spanish acronym for the mercantile cooperative of the south, created by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in 1991 — to set up a free-trade pact in the future.

South Africa is a recipient of American largess through the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), passed by Congress in 2000 and up for renewal this year. This agreement creates a Generalized System of Preferences and lowers tariffs on specific goods.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, AGOA “offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets,” and South Africa appears to be taking advantage of these opportunities.

At the same time, officials said Pretoria seeks a customs confederation within the SACU. Pretoria also is a member of a development fund created by the European Union. South Africa collaborates with the bloc in funneling aid to underdeveloped countries within the Asia-Caribbean-Pacific regions.

In this regard, South Africa gives economic assistance to Angola. Oil and natural gas deposits were discovered off that country’s coast, and South Africa sent oil rigs and platforms to facilitate Angola’s exploitation of these resources.

All these institutional mechanisms can be taken as signs of a strong and vital economy.

“Since the end of apartheid, the South African economy experienced a yearly growth rate of between 3.2 and 3.5 percent,” said Lynne Brown, director of the office of finance, economic development and tourism in the Western Cape provincial government.

“The Western Cape, which strives to be the service center for all of southern Africa, did better and achieved a growth rate of 4 percent,” she added.

“This economic expansion includes the black community in South Africa,” said Mrs. Brown, who is black. “A black middle class is emerging. Last year, the purchase of new cars by blacks increased by 40 percent.”

Mrs. Brown said she favors the redistribution of land to promote the economic empowerment of blacks.

The first expropriation of land to blacks in Western Cape took place without violence this month.

The relative prosperity of South Africa has prompted a flood of legal and illegal immigration from the nation’s African neighbors.

Unemployment is still high in South Africa, so the new immigrants frequently turn into the urban poor, but politically, it is impossible for majority-black South Africa to block the immigration of other black Africans.

For good or ill, the rise of South Africa as the powerhouse of the continent has captured the imagination of people from the Sahara to the Cape.

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