Blessed with an astute sense of political happenings and interspersing it with rare insights into the world of diplomacy has been the domain that South African Ambassador H.E Delarey Van Tonder had always excelled. In a long and interesting chat with the Times, Ambassador Tonder touched a wide range of subjects ranging from politics, economics and South Africa that is shaping the new destiny and contours of the world.
Highly accomplished and articulate diplomat, Ambassador Tonder holds a masters degree in international relations and as such has full grasp on the events that are unfolding in the world today. Having served in Washington D.C twice, he also had a stint as ambassador to Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and Moldava. In between these postings he also served as Director for Eastern and Central Europe as well as Director for Southern Africa in the foreign ministry.
Ambassador Tonder takes pride in his role of supporting policy formulation on the Ottawa Convention Banning the use of Landmines, and also serving as editor of the international publication entitled Multilateralism and International Law with Western Saharha as Case Study.”
One aspect of his career though which has left a lasting and positive impact on his diplomatic career was meeting Nelson Mandela and arranging his first state visit after being elected as President in a democratic and free South Africa.
Taking up his posting to Kuwait about two years ago, Ambassador Tonder revealed that bilateral relations between Kuwait and South Africa are substantive, cordial and solid. “We view Kuwait as a strategic role player in security and stability in the Gulf region as well as in international energy security.” He said Kuwait performs a most constructive role as an investor and development partner in the African continent and specifically South Africa where it continues to contribute to the socio economic and infrastructure development of the country.
“On a bilateral level we have concluded strategic agreements and a substantial number of agreements are under consideration including the establishment of a Bilateral Joint Committee which will further consolidate and strengthen bilateral political and economic cooperation,” adding that the challenge remained for both sides to deepen cooperation at all levels.
Speaking on trade between the two countries, he said “South Africa’s relations with Kuwait and the Gulf States have expanded significantly since the establishment of South Africa’s democratic order in 1994. Not only is the Gulf region a substantial source of South Africa’s crude oil requirements, the GCC countries have become a major market for South African products especially agricultural exports, a source of investment and home to a sizeable South African expatriate community,” he pointed out
Elaborating, he said several South African companies in the construction and engineering sectors have successfully executed major projects in the region including cooperation in the defence and petrochemical sectors.
Ambassador noted that although trade and commercial relations between South Africa and Kuwait need to be further expanded, Kuwait maintains a positive role as an investor with significant investment through its Sovereign Wealth Fund (SFW) in South Africa’s capital and financial markets. Of note however, is the substantive involvement of amongst other Kuwait’s International Financial Advisors (IFA) and the Al Kharafi Group in the hospitality, premium real estate and tourism infrastructure development sectors in South Africa. KAPICO, a local company with international reach has also invested beneficially in South Africa and the wider Southern Africa region.
He also mentioned that Kuwait has left a positive footprint on the Continent as an investment and development partner by contributing to Africa’s sustainable socio economic development, especially through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED).
“ This will get a further fillip when Kuwait will host the African/Arab Summit later in the year with the focus on cooperation in development and investment between Africa and the Arab World,” he said.
Ambassador Tonder pointed to the historic visit of former President Nelson Mandela to Kuwait in 1995 which added a special dimension to the bilateral relations and also impacted positively on Kuwait’s constructive involvement in the economic development of the African Continent. Since then regular high level bilateral and multilateral engagements between South Africa and Kuwait have continued to be aimed at strengthening cooperation in the political, economic, security and cultural spheres.
On investment opportunities in South Africa he said in the global context Africa has the highest economic growth rate. As such South Africa offers significant and serious long-term growth and development potential for direct investment and partnerships. The country presents immense potential on the basis of its own competitive advantages and National Development Plan (NDP) objectives against the background of the rich trading history between Africa and the Middle East spanning many centuries.
South Africa also offers a pragmatic opportunity for Kuwaiti investors seeking sustained financial returns and a strategic foothold on the Continent in these sectors: Tourism Infrastructure, Agriculture and agro processing, Mining and minerals, Financial and banking services, Telecommunications, Petrochemicals and renewable energy, Consumer goods, manufacturing and retail, Transport and Infrastructure.
Ambassador Tonder also pointed out that in considering South Africa as an investment destination, foreign investors have highlighted the following positive considerations regarding their continued investments in the country: Sustainable growth prospects, Stable economic and financial systems, Solid external liquidity and foreign reserves, Political, economic and social stability, High – yielding capital and bond markets, Diverse and competitive private sector, Sound banking and financial regulatory frameworks, High growth in export baskets, Strong regional advantage and demand, Highly educated work force, Innovative society, Strong science and technology capacity, Vibrant hospitality and tourism industries, Well developed road, sea , air and communications infrastructure.
There are approximately 1,000 South African nationals especially in the field of education, banking and finance, health, engineering, energy, law and human resource development contributing to the national development priorities of Kuwait.
South Africa is a well known tourist paradise and Ambassador Tonder disclosed that they are aiming to have 3,000 Kuwaitis visit his country this year. Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy and as such SA’s top class tourism infrastructure, shopping facilities respect for cultural and religious diversity, breathtaking scenery and climate, diversified culinary and entertainment traditions and of course the magnificent wild and marine life have made SA one of the top preferred destinations to millions of travelers globally. “My invitation to Kuwaitis’ and the expatriate community is therefore “Leave the ordinary behind – Experience South Africa.”
On cultural exchanges between the two countries he said “I am very excited about the positive impact of leadership development and cultural exchanges for young people. South Africa recently hosted a number of groups from Kuwait high schools as part of their respective leadership development curricula. These exchanges enabled the young visitors to assess SA’s democratic transition since 1994 and make constructive contributions to the many challenges we face as a society and nation.”
Diplomacy is a continuous challenge and when quizzed on the challenge, Ambassador Tonder frankly remarked “I am many times disillusioned by the inconsistent and selective application of the doctrine of national interest within the international political system. The issues of ethics and leadership also remain in general a serious challenge to global governance and to us as global citizens. Nevertheless I believe that diplomacy is also the art of the possible premised on the idealist paradigm of international relations theory. In this regard I am consistently reminded of the universal provisions of the United Nations Charter and the words spoken by the Greek Philosopher Plato centuries ago when he stated: “He who wishes to serve his country must not only have the power to think but also the will to act”.