May 17, 2023
CAPE TOWN – Singapore and South Africa will expand cooperation in the information and communications technology (ICT) space, and also work more closely in human capital development.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa witnessed the signing of two memorandums of understanding in these areas, following a welcome ceremony at Tuynhuys, South Africa’s presidential office.
PM Lee was received by Mr Ramaphosa at the 18th century office, which was built in the days of the Dutch East India Company. He inspected a guard of honour, while a 19-gun salute rang out in Cape Town.
The new agreements will broaden Singapore and South Africa’s already-strong cooperation into new and forward-looking areas, said PM Lee.
At a joint press conference with Mr Ramaphosa following the signings, PM Lee described the bilateral relationship as Singapore’s most broad-based one in sub-Saharan Africa.
He noted that the Republic’s firms with presence in South Africa represent a range of sectors that include agribusiness, urban solutions, hospitality, manufacturing, ports and logistics, and innovation and technology.
Trade between the two countries has grown by more than 60 per cent since 2018, and amounted to over $2.7 billion in 2022. The two countries celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations this year.
Mr Ramaphosa said the two sides held productive discussions, including in areas of cooperation that include digitalisation, water management and sanitation. Officials from both sides also discussed topics of mutual interest, such as South Africa’s application to become a sectoral dialogue partner with Asean and international issues such as the war in Ukraine.
Mr Ramaphosa also announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had agreed to meet a group of African leaders in their capitals to discuss a potential peace plan for the conflict. “My discussions with the two leaders demonstrated that they are both ready to receive the African leaders, and to have discussion on how this conflict can be brought to an end,” he said.
PM Lee thanked Mr Ramaphosa for his briefing on his plans for the peace mission to encourage parties to de-escalate and work towards a peaceful outcome of the dispute.
PM Lee also said he had explained to the President Singapore’s position on the war, which is that the Republic saw it as a fundamental principle that the United Nations charter must be upheld and borders be sacrosanct.
“One country cannot invade another with impunity, (and) when it happens, it cannot be something which is acquiesced in or approved of, but a clear disapproval has to be given,” he said. “Which is why Singapore has taken such a stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: to oppose and to condemn it, at the United Nations as well as internationally.”
On bilateral ties, PM Lee noted that a delegation of 17 Singapore companies are also on the visit to pursue opportunities and long-term partnerships with their South African counterparts.
He noted that flight links between the two countries are robust, with direct flight services between them. Even so, there is scope to bring the two nations closer together, whether in flight connections, investments, digital links, or people-to-people ties, he added.
“I look forward to working with the President and his government to continue advancing our bilateral relationship,” he said.
Accordingly, the government-to-government agreement on skills development will enhance cooperation in areas such as leadership and capacity-building through courses under the auspices of the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP).
The SCP is Singapore’s flagship platform for extending technical assistance to fellow countries. Over 1,000 South African officials have participated in SCP courses to date, said PM Lee. Under the Singapore-Africa Partnership launched in 2022, officials from the continent can get priority placement in SCP programmes, and postgraduate scholarships in Singapore.
“We hope our friends in Africa – including in South Africa – will find it relevant, and benefit from it,” said PM Lee.
To this, Mr Ramaphosa said he appreciated Singapore’s support in training South African civil servants through the years.
“One of the things that many of us have always been willing to learn from is how Singapore has managed its state-owned enterprises, (especially now) as we go through our own restructuring process of state-owned enterprises,” he said.
The ICT agreement was signed between the Republic’s Ministry of Communications and Information, and South Africa’s Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. It seeks to boost cooperation between the two governments’ digital agencies.
Separately, PM Lee pledged Singapore’s full support of South Africa’s presidency of the Group of 20 (G-20) economies in 2025, and said the Republic hopes to contribute to it.
He also invited Mr Ramaphosa to visit Singapore again, which the South African President accepted. Mr Ramaphosa last visited in 2016 when he was deputy president of South Africa, though the two leaders’ most recent meeting was on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali in November 2022.