TBY talks to HE Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, on the extent of his country's relations with the Sultanate of Oman and the latter's historical role in Africa.

HE Jacob Zuma
Influenced by a trade unionist family member, Jacob Zuma became involved in politics at an early age, joining the ANC in 1958. He became an active member of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in 1962, following the banning of the ANC in 1960. While on his way out of the country in 1963, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. He left South Africa in December 1975 and for the next 12 years was based in Southern Africa. Following the legalization of the ANC in February 1990, he was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa to begin the process of negotiations with the then apartheid regime. In 1991, at the first ANC conference held in South Africa since 1959, he was elected Deputy Secretary General. He was elected ANC Deputy President in December 1997, and served as Deputy President of South Africa from 1999 until June 2005. Zuma was elected ANC President in December 2007, becoming the ANC’s candidate for South African president in the 2009 elections.

What is the state of bilateral and trade relations between South Africa and Oman?

South Africa and Oman maintain good bilateral political relations, and the potential for the enhancement of trade relations remains expansive. We have institutionalized our relationship through the establishment of a Partnership Forum to explore opportunities for joint collaboration in the fields of education, economic relations, science and technology, and agriculture at both the provincial and governorate levels. I further undertook a state visit to the Sultanate in November 2011, during which investment opportunities were identified and trade and economic agreements were signed. South Africa and Oman maintains a strong defense relationship. Frequent exchanges of bilateral visits have taken place. Oman is also an importer of military equipment from South Africa, and was the first Gulf country to acquire South Africa's G6 artillery system in the 1990s. We are pleased that total trade between the two countries has shown a strong increase over the past five years, with growth of total trade averaging 178.09% over 2009 to 2013.

How can the two countries mutually complement each other both politically and economically?

Within the multilateral arena and with the objective of strengthening south-south cooperation, South Africa and Oman cooperate within the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). Both South Africa and Oman have adopted developmental agendas—the National Development Plan and in the case of the latter, Vision 2020—and we envisage increased cooperation in a variety of complementary fields for our mutual benefit, including trade and investment, and education. We are exploring the potential for joint investment in South African infrastructure projects and tri-lateral investment projects in other parts of Africa.

We are keen on civil society exchanges to address education/training and health services requirements and on increased trade, especially to address food security issues in Oman through initiatives such as the establishment of a cold storage facility at the Port of Sohar Free Zone. In this regard, agreements have been concluded between the Ports of Sohar and Salalah with Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone. The benefits of these initiatives could potentially be expanded to other South Africa provinces since Sohar serves as an entry point to other GCC countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, while Salalah has extensive connectivity in terms of shipping lines in all directions to the rest of the world and road links to the interior of Oman and Saudi Arabia that could fast-track the transportation of goods. Both South Africa and Oman offer the potential for enhanced tourism between the countries. In this regard, the 2010 World Cup did much to enhance South Africa's image in Oman.

Which sectors are both countries focusing on in terms of trade, investment, and collaborations?

South Africa has undertaken various business missions to Oman, headed by the former Minister of Trade and Industry of South Africa in March 2006 and by the former Kwa-Zulu Natal MEC for Economic Affairs in May 2006. The Omani Minister of Trade also visited South Africa, accompanied by a business delegation, in November 2006, where a trade agreement was signed during the Business Forum. South Africa's Minister of Economic Development visited the Sultanate in May 2010 and was accompanied by over 25 members of a South African delegation, representing a wide range of industries including automotive, electro-mechanical, agro-processing, logistics, and tourism. Several sectors have been identified as priority sectors for investments and for joint cooperation to increase trade, including: agro-processing; petrochemicals; innovation and technology; the green economy; infrastructure development; and minerals cooperation.

Which areas are expected to see a boost in the short term?

Cooperation is being explored in the field of sustainable aquaculture and fisheries and in the exchange of technical expertise in defense and security between the South African Police Services and the Department of State Security and the Royal Omani Police Force and the Sultan's Special Forces.