South Africa

The Interview: Norway will invest if South Africa gets its act together

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg first wants to see corruption properly tackled and greater legal and political certainty.

Norwegian investment will flow into South Africa if it manages to solve its corruption problem and provide greater legal and political certainty. Norway’s visiting Prime Minister Erna Solberg has given this qualified support to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s international investment drive.

I think there is enormous potential for greater co-operation (between the two countries), also on the business side and investment,” she said in an interview while visiting an exhibition honouring Norway’s contribution to the liberation struggle at the Liliesleaf heritage site in Rivonia.

But good governance is important if you want foreign investors. You have to trust that you are dealt with fairly,” she added, noting that corruption and lack of transparency in decision-making in South Africa “have been a problem in past times”.

Asked if she believed that Ramaphosa was tackling this problem, Solberg said, “I see that there is a focus on this from the President. And I hope that it will continue.”

But showing results would take time, she indicated.

There are activities going on, there are criminal charges, but it’s much easier to get corruption in society than to get rid of it.

Because it corrupts, it changes the mindset of how you do deals and business. It means it’s a long struggle to do it. But if you get transparency, if you get good decision-making, if the bidding is open, there would be renewed possibilities of investment and co-operation.”

Solberg raised her concerns in a “very good meeting” with Ramaphosa at the Global Citizens concert at FNB stadium to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We share a common wish for more investment in South Africa, and discussed how that may be achieved.”

She urged Ramaphosa to back Norway’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2021 to 2022.

She noted that Norwegian companies were already in South Africa working on sectors such as solar energy plants. Norway was a small country which was strong in just a few sectors, mainly fish, oceans, ship transportation and energy, including oil and gas exploration. In the latter, one Norwegian company already had licences to explore in South African waters.

But for that, it was important to have a clear legal framework.

And I know the government is working on that. And if you get that framework I think it will be easier for Norwegian companies who already have some licensing here to start working.”

Liliesleaf CEO Nicholas Wolpe had pointed out to her while escorting her around the museum, that many countries which had contributed to the liberation struggle felt that the good relations they had with the ANC then had since declined. Did she agree?

Yes in a way. But it might be because South Africa has been more preoccupied with its internal problems and economic growth. And of course, South Africa has an enormous amount of resources, a [substantial] economy. It’s not a classical country where you can go in with development aid and at the same time work on civil society projects such as education.”

Because South Africa was a relatively rich country, some of the usual elements of Norway’s co-operation with developing countries, the focus on development aid, were not as relevant here.

But she noted that there was still a lot of interaction between Norway and South African civil society.

Norway and South Africa have a standing formal dialogue on human rights which has sometimes been problematic in the past, mainly because Oslo has felt South Africa has not championed human rights in the world.

So Solberg said she was encouraged by indications that South Africa now intends to reverse its controversial abstention vote in November in the UN General Assembly’s third committee on a resolution condemning human rights abuses by the Myanmar military against the minority Rohingya people.

I’ve taken note and I’m encouraged by that,” Solberg said.

For a country which so essentially built its struggle, its history on human rights, for the rights of Africans to have the same part in decision-making in the country like everyone else had, in their country, it should be a good legacy for South Africa to be strong and firm on human rights, in the international area.”

Norway is also a strong champion of international disarmament measures and Solberg expressed her country’s concern that Pretoria had recently voted in the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) against a resolution which would have extended that body’s authority by enabling it to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks.

If the international law against the use of chemical weapons is going to be upheld, we need to ensure we have an OPCW that is able to do its work,” Solberg said.

This included giving the OPCW the authority to attribute attacks, and in a timely fashion. If this was done too late, the international community risked losing the effectiveness of an important part of its disarmament legislation,

So yes, I hope that all countries will give them the authority that they need…” she said, adding that this was symbolically even more important in 2018 when the world had just celebrated the centenary of the end of World War I.

She noted that the first international laws against the use of chemical weapons had been adopted after that war because the world had seen the effects of the use of chemical weapons on the front line.

So we should not use this year to diminish it but to strengthen it.”

Ramaphosa recently announced at the annual dinner of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies that South Africa intended to become more involved, once again, in efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East.

Norway, like South Africa, has devoted considerable foreign policy energies to efforts to resolve foreign conflicts. Norway’s most famous peacemaking venture resulted in the Oslo accord of 1993 when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation agreed to a two-state solution to the protracted dispute for the same territory.

Solbert said South Africa still had much to teach the world about overcoming bitter conflict, based on its own reconciliation process.

South Africa has something to bring to the table about its experiences, to show others. I hope they do participate. They can talk about difficult issues with much more knowledge and understanding of how difficult these issues are than maybe a Norwegian negotiator can because we have been a peaceful country for so long.”

Solberg left South Africa for Angola where Norway has oil interests. She said her country wanted to show its support for the country’s new president João Lourenço because he had taken steps to combat corruption and increase transparency in the oil industry in particular.

Africa as a continent, she said, had so many resources and so much potential to address the problems besetting its people if it could combat corruption and increase transparency.

On Saturday Solberg had addressed the World AIDS Day reception in Johannesburg organised by the Global Fund which she said was an opportunity to remind the world that the fight against AIDS was not over.

Information, education and contraception were crucial not only to fight AIDS but also to make progress on so many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

That was why Norway would contribute more than $2-million to closing the financing gap for the supplies of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Through Norway’s donation, UNFPA would be able to reach 225,000 women and adolescent girls with contraceptive methods.

This, in turn, could prevent 130,000 unwanted pregnancies and 40,000 unwanted abortions.

It is an investment in their future,” she said. DM