Change can happen against all odds

German Unity Day

3 October 2020

On the 9th of November 1989 the world was irreversibly changed when the Berlin Wall came down and everything seemed possible. It was a day marked by jubilation, not only in Germany but the world over. At the same time in South Africa apartheid was collapsing and three months later, in February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison. “These events marked the moment in history when both our countries turned from oppression to freedom, from injustice to democracy, from despair to hope,” said Dr Martin Schäfer, Ambassador of Germany to South Africa at the Deutschland Fest that took place in 2019.

Lufthansa was the first airline to bring tourists to South Africa after the easing of lockdown restrictions (image: Pixabay)

Today marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the entire world a curveball. Ambassador Schäfer said he would have loved to celebrate 30 years of peace, freedom and unity with Germans and German friends in South Africa, as has been the case every other year, but the pandemic and restrictions have made this impossible.

While South Africa has amongst the highest Covid-19 infections in the world, its mortality rate is relatively low, but with the hard lockdown many livelihoods have been negatively affected. Germany, and indeed Schäfer, has been resolute in providing South Africa with much needed assistance in this very difficult time. Recently, and in the build up to the German national day, Germany provided R100 million for food relief and shelter for those in need on the Cape Flats.

In the days during lockdown when South Africans were subjected to power cuts, Schäfer brought in German engineers, at no cost to South Africa, to assist in the restoration of uninterrupted power supply, which is vital to any economy, but more especially to a growing, emerging economy like South Africa.

According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), Quarterly Labour Force Survey released on 23 June 2020, the unemployment rate in South Africa has increased to 30,1% in the first quarter of 2020. TVET colleges can be one solution to youth unemployment. German best practices have been brought to these training colleges, and they are being linked to training companies. Work is being done among the youth to make these colleges an attractive option. Germany also committed funds for the technical and financial cooperation to support the Youth Employment initiative announced by the president during this year’s State of the Nation address.

There are many more concrete actions taken by Germany and the German embassy to get South Africa back on track and for it to realize its full potential. At the heart of these initiatives are the South African people for who political freedom came but economic freedom remains elusive.

It is hard to imagine but, said Schäfer, last year South Africa had a trade surplus with Germany and it looks as if that will be the case this year too. This is in large part due to South Africa producing world class German vehicles which are exported all around the world.

As South Africa opened up on 1 October, Lufthansa was the first airline to bring tourists to South Africa. With around 300,000 German tourist visiting South Africa every year and around 50,000 Germans living here, this is a positive for the South African economy.

To celebrate German Unity Day Schäfer was interviewed by a South African radio station where he confessed to having “the best job in the world”.

Asked to choose a song on this special occasion, Schäfer chose a German related one of course. He chose the 70’s disco beat ‘Daddy Cool’ by Boney M. This four-member band was created by German record producer Frank Farian and they were originally based in West Germany.

“Things will turn out alright” given the pandemic and the economic fallout, said Schäfer, a lesson to be learnt from 30 years ago in both Germany and in South Africa.

A Pemjee