Just two weeks after hosting Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni on a state visit, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this week met with Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan, on an almost identical state visit, with both leaders promising growing mutual ties, increased trade, and other cooperation.
Last November, Ramaphosa, on invitation of President William Ruto, visited Nairobi for a follow-up to what was described as a “useful and productive” state visit to South Africa by former president Uhuru Kenyatta in late 2021.
In all three forums, diplomacy was paralleled by business talks, with mutual investment by private sector interests underpinned by bilateral moves towards more “investment-friendly” regulatory environments.
As with the other East African heads of state visits, statements of mutual support, designated arenas of cooperation, and intentions to work collaboratively across various fields, were issued by presidents Ramaphosa and Samia, before and after their face-to-face session in Pretoria.
Frame of reference
Behind the diplomatic language and the fanfare of state visits, there is a serious plan, one in which the appeal of pan-Africanism as an ideal and a method of action is being used to the utmost.
During President Museveni’s visit a fortnight ago, hardly a sentence was uttered that did not include the phrase or directly allude to it.
With President Samia, the atmosphere was more sedate, but the frame of reference was the same for the two leaders, their diplomatic and technical teams, and the business meetings on the “side-lines” — arguably, the latter being one of the most important elements.
Pushing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a tool ready to be used, Ramaphosa returned to his now-familiar refrain of “Africans supporting and working with Africans, for African solutions.”
“South Africa counts the United Republic of Tanzania as among our dearest and most cherished friends. The support that Tanzania gave us in our struggle for freedom was unparalleled,” said Ramaphosa, an echo of comments made to both the Ugandan and Kenyan leaders.
“In 2019, I visited the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Morogoro. This institution bears witness to the shelter, comfort and support extended by Tanzania to our freedom fighters for nearly three decades.
“I was recently reminded of the extraordinary story of a group of nurses from South Africa that were smuggled out in the early 1960s to work in Tanzania and to train nursing staff. Known as the 20 Nightingales, they were received by President Julius Nyerere and African National Congress President Oliver Tambo, and were then placed in hospitals around the country to treat patients and to supervise local nurses. Earlier this month, one of these revolutionary nurses, Sister Kholeka Tunyiswa passed away in Dar es Salaam. We pay tribute to Mama Kholeka and to her fellow nurses for their sacrifice and their contribution.
It was on this firm basis that he intended extending and consolidating the two countries’ bilateral relations.
President Samia reflected similar sentiments of historic friendship and intention to work collaboratively in numerous fields, with various memoranda signed.
Total trade between South Africa and Tanzania increased from $375 million in 2021 to $475 million in 2022.