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04.03.2018 - Article

'South Africa, the world is watching - and it is learning from you'

South African flag
South African flag© dpa

Suddenly he's receiving messages from all over asking him about change in South Africa, writes German Ambassador Martin Schäfer.

The world is watching. The world is watching South Africa again. That's what went through my mind a few days ago, when I sat in the visitors' gallery of the National Assembly.

All around me, parliamentarians and visitors were singing and cheering as President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as South Africa's new president. It was quite a special moment — for the house, for the country and maybe also for the continent and beyond.

I had sat on those yellow seats in the National Assembly before. Many times. But never had I witnessed it erupting in such cheers. This is a great time to be in South Africa. To witness the wind of change. To see and feel the new mood in this country.

I only became Germany's official representative here last month. But I'm lucky to have worked in this beautiful country before.

My first stint was during the memorable times surrounding the World Cup — when the rainbow nation wooed the global football world with its openness, joy and hospitality and when vuvuzela sales in Germany went through the roof! Before being forbidden, that is, because of the all too impressive noise they make... At that time, everybody wanted to be part of what was happening here in South Africa. Wanted to be here. Or better: Was here. The world was watching.

“Friends and colleagues from across the world have been sending messages...”Great to see there seems to be good news coming from one part of the world at least“”

Today, the world is looking at South Africa again — and this time around, it's not only football fans watching. I find proof of that in my email inbox almost every day. As a key part of our work, we diplomats report back to Berlin about events in our host country. In my case, about political developments here in southern Africa. We write cables, we draft reports, we compile analyses. That's our routine. What's been truly astonishing to me, however — and I have been in this job for more than two decades now — is the response that we have been getting to our recent reports from South Africa.

Friends and colleagues from across the world have been sending messages: “Great to see there seems to be good news coming from one part of the world at least”, one colleague wrote. “Wonderful to see the rainbow nation rise again”, texted another. “How deep do you expect to see the changes in South Africa now?” another asked.

When I listen to South Africans these days, when I observe the challenges the country is seeking to tackle, I often hear people referring to a “new hope”: A hope for a better future, for more equality, for a new respect of the country's democratic institutions and achievements. A good friend, a member of Parliament for the ANC, said: “This feels like it felt in 1994!” — what a statement!

Some also refer to the need for a newly gained consciousness of the amazing journey South Africa has undertaken over the past decades. For this journey, South Africa has been admired throughout the world — and particularly in my country — with its very own and very painful and difficult past.

In 1990, as Nelson Mandela walked free, only a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world was looking at us, at Germany and at South Africa as beacons of hope and of renewal, as examples of history that can turn out all right, that peaceful change is possible.

“This is the moment to revive the partnership and friendship between Europe and South Africa.”

And the world is still watching. I think many of us are watching because we want to believe that if South Africa can overcome its challenges, we can all do it!

In South Africa, we see all or most of our great global challenges as if under a magnifying glass — from the challenge of living together as one in cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity to preserving democracy and the rule of law, from good governance to the fight against corruption, the challenge of migration, climate change and environmental protection.

This is the moment to revive the partnership and friendship between Europe and South Africa. Europeans and Germans have a lot to offer for the path of transformation and change that South Africa has chosen and now reaffirmed.

South Africans have proven so many times that they are able to overcome violence and cruelty, inequality and despair and that they look towards their future with confidence, courage and determination.

“A nation united in diversity” — that's how President Ramaphosa phrased it in his state of the nation speech. For a German, that phrase rings with particular meaning. It certainly did to me as I watched the new president from my yellow seat in the National Assembly.

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