There is currently more United States investment in South Africa, than South African investment in the United States. This is as most people would expect. However, there is more South African investment in Australia, than there is Australian investment in South Africa. As a result South Africa's High Commissioner to Australia Lenin Shope believes that there is the potential for a significant amount of increased investment in South Africa by Australia.
“It is a complete anomaly that there is more South African investment here than Australian investment in South Africa, especially as the Australian economy is three times the size of the South African economy.”
However, a lot is being done to promote trade and investment opportunities in South and Southern Africa and, in particular, to encourage joint venture partnerships.
There is already a fair amount of interest in doing business in Southern Africa, and this is largely evident in the minerals sector. However, there's also mutual ignorance, says the High Commissioner. “Most Australians don't really know what's going on in Southern Africa, and people in Southern Africa don't really know what's going on here.”
There is also a significant amount of interest in South Africa in bringing such investment into South Africa or neighbouring countries. As a result there has been high level attendance from South Africa at conferences. This includes attendance by VVIPs, as people who are more important than VIPs are known, ministers and representatives of development finance institutions and private banks. The High Commission also wants to bring institutions such as Transnet and Eskom to trade and investments seminars.
“We encourage joint venture partnerships into various Southern African countries, whether it is in South Africa or neighbouring countries. We're happy with either.”
In this way South Africa is doing a lot for the sub-region, but the High Commissioner acknowledges that a key challenge is that South Africa's neighbourhood is a very poor one. “A key area of South Africa's interaction in the sub-region is conflict management such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast.
However, the relations are paying off and Australia is working with South Africa in a number of areas. These include exchanging experiences of peacekeeping, working together in the G20, and being co-chairs of the panel on the reform of the International Monetary Fund.
The High Commissioner has four areas that he has prioritised during his time in Australia.
The first is to achieve one South African diaspora in Australia. “What we want to achieve is a sense of South African-ness amongst our people living in Australia.”
The High Commissioner says that South Africans in Australia have a unique opportunity to help establish links between South African and Australian companies.
Encouraging South Africans in Australia to reach out more to South Africans of other races, the High Commissioner says that he has found that many South Africans in Australia still live in silos. “South Africa was very compartmentalised and people left South Africa with the political baggage that we had to either sit with other Africans, or coloureds, or whites, as the case may be. We cannot be trying to kill apartheid in South Africa, but here we are still living in the silos that apartheid put us into in those days. We need to be constructive and reach out to others. It's up to all of us to try to reach out a little more, break those barriers a little more.”
The High Commissioner talks about several events that he's attended that have been supported largely by people of one race. “I have spoken to the business network in Sydney, whose members are mainly white. I attended the Buffers football event in Perth last year that was attended by about 600 people. With the exception of about 40, they were mostly coloureds. In Brisbane a group of South Africans involved with the sciences asked to see me and they were all Indian.”
Recognising that there are some people who have disassociated themselves from South Africa, the High Commissioner says that at some point we need to develop a South African diaspora for those of us who are still wanting to acknowledge that there is still something in us that is South African.
The High Commissioner's second area of focus relates to trade and investment, and the third is on training. “If there is any place that the apartheid system really hit us, it was in the deprivation of education and training opportunities to the majority of the population,” he says. “As a result, we have a high number of people who are unemployable and the effect of that will be felt for a long time.” As a result, the South African High Commission in Australia is developing relationships between South African and Australian academic institutions, especially the so-called bush colleges such as Fort Hare University. “We are working hard to establish and entrench those relations,” says the High Commissioner.
There is also a focus on the relationship between Australia and South Africa on a political level. Several high profile members of government have been here, and President Jacob Zuma has been issued with a standing invitation to visit Australia.
The High Commissioner has lived and travelled overseas since he was growing up, but he still misses ‘the vibe' when he's living away from home. “I enjoy South Africa. It is a country that has gone through so much trauma, and has maybe not had enough post traumatic stress counselling, but I really enjoy the vibe of South Africa. I am taking my children home for the last two weeks of the Soccer World Cup. We try to go back home from time to time. I really miss it when I'm away.”
However, the High Commissioner has enjoyed living in Australia, which is the biggest country in which he has ever lived. Although he spends a lot of time travelling, he tries to keep in touch with his compatriots. “There is a community of South Africans in Canberra that talk about everything South African from A to Z: Whether we're missing home, what we're doing for the World Cup, and so on. So I spend a fair amount of my free time being fraternal with my countrymen.”
High Commissioner Lenin Shope
- Was appointed South African High Commissioner to Australia in February 2009.
- Lived in a number of countries, including the former Czechoslovakia, Tanzania, Zambia and Cuba, while growing up as his parents were in political exile.
- Returned to South Africa in 1991 and, after a stint in the corporate world with South African Airways and Engen Petroleum, joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1995.
- He has served as Ambassador in Cuba and later in Italy.
- He is married to Nositembele Nontobeko Mapisa-Shope, and they have three children – Oliver (18), Mark (13) and Asante (10).