Africa

Hollande happy to go Dutch on CAR

Liesl Louw-Vaudran

France's leader brought gifts for South Africa, but ultimately focused on intervention further north.

French ­President François Hollande and President Jacob Zuma are said to have an ­

Sitting next to President Jacob Zuma on the golf cart that took them around Pretoria's ­Freedom Park in the scorching midday sun, French President François Hollande nevertheless managed a faint smile.

He looked happy to be here. Several times during his two-day official visit to South Africa, he evoked the pleasure and "emotion" of being in the land of Nelson Mandela, regardless of the many gruelling trips on the highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and traipsing around Soweto in the heat with his huge entourage.

In the visitor's book at Freedom Park, he wrote of "the memory of Dulcie September, who was the victim of a cowardly murder in Paris in 1988" and at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, he saluted the memory of a boy who "still today inspires the struggle of the youth of South Africa for liberty and dignity".

Sadly, few remember Dulcie September, the ANC's representative in France, who was assassinated in 1988. Hollande, however, made the point that he was, after all, from the French left wing, which had supported the struggle against apartheid.

But the trip did not come at a great time for Hollande. Back home, the extreme right-wing National Front had just won an important by-election and the media who followed Hollande here used every opportunity to quiz him on his reaction.

At the same time, African Union (AU) leaders had just delivered a damning statement against the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking the United Nations Security Council to defer the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

And although aides emphasise the "excellent relationship" between Hollande and Zuma, who apparently often talk on the phone about crises in Africa, France's announcement over the weekend about deploying more troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) makes many Africans uneasy.

Fortunately for Hollande, he didn't come empty handed. A deal worth R51-billion between the French company Alstom and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa for the building of 3 600 railway coaches was announced during the visit. France is also lending Eskom R1.35-billion to finance solar power projects.

Of the huge contract to build nuclear power stations for South Africa, which could mean big money for French firm Areva, there was no official mention, although Hollande later said it had been discussed.

Still, the visit was ultimately important because it came at a time when France and South Africa are both extending their military presence in Africa.

In his statements at the press conference and later at a reception offered to the French community, Hollande emphasised that his country was in Africa only "to accompany efforts to bring stability on the African continent". It had intervened in Mali earlier this year "under exceptional circumstances" because there was no one else to do it.

Hollande praised South Africa's recent military involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo and said it fully supported an African intervention force. "France recognises the AU as the only legitimate institution that will determine the future of the continent," he said.

Yet this is nothing new. French presidents have been talking about pulling their troops out of Africa for many years. The reality, however, is that France is not only "supporting" African efforts to find solutions to African problems, it has been at the forefront of military intervention: in Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and now the CAR.

From what was said during the visit, it is clear the tête-à-tête between the two leaders did somehow prove fruitful. A case in point is the worsening situation in the CAR.

"This is not the first time we talked about the CAR and we saw the need to work together," Zuma told journalists at the press conference.

"It is clear that we need urgent intervention. Africa is moving to create capacity to do this [intervene], which wasn't the case in Mali," he said. "I'm happy Mr Hollande will support our efforts."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited the CAR en route to South Africa and briefed the two heads of state on the dramatic humanitarian and security situation in the country, where the conflict now risks becoming a "religious war" between Muslims and Christians.

Clearly, France disagreed with South Africa's decision earlier this year to try and protect the regime of former President François Bozizé, a decision that cost the lives of 13 outh African soldiers.

Fabius later told the Mail & Guardian that South Africa had not been asked to send troops back to the CAR this time around, but South Africa would support a UN-force there "in other ways".

On the future of the ICC and whether Kenyatta's trial should be deferred, which would delay it for at least a year, Hollande was more circumspect. "France is committed to the ICC, but if the AU seeks to have the procedures in the Kenyan case simplified, we are willing to discuss it," he said.

Zuma said the AU stance on the ICC was not "support for impunity". He said Kenyatta and his vice-president, William Ruto, had agreed to co-operate with the ICC, but that an exception should be made so they could attend only part of their trials. "They can't both be out of the country at the same time, the state would collapse," he said.

 


 

Trierweiler follows in the footsteps of France's first ladies

It was almost a motherly gesture, with a bright smile and a comforting pat on the hand.

"Don't worry, I know it's difficult, I have the same profession as you," said French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler, immaculately dressed in a ruffled silk blouse and black skirt for a reception at the French residence in Pretoria. She gently pushed away the microphone of a French radio journalist who wanted to chip in on the conversation, but she nevertheless answered my few questions about her trip with President François Hollande to South Africa.

She is a journalist for the glossy Paris Match magazine, well-known for its exposés on the rich and famous. Her relations with the media, which has criticised her, have been ambiguous. She is not married to Hollande but has an office in the Élysée Palace and staff to run her affairs.

When she first emerged as the unofficial first lady she had a bitter run-in with Hollande's ex-wife, Ségolène Royal, over a controversial tweet by Trierweiler asking socialists to support Royal's opponent in a Socialist Party election.

Earlier this year, she sued two journalists over a book alleging she had an affair with another politician while seeing Hollande.

But no controversy was on display during Hollande's visit. She appeared alongside him in her elegant outfits, with the flair it seems only French women possess.

She wore a striking blue dress for the opening ceremony at the Union Buildings and a simple black-and-white outfit the next day, with stunning shoes and perfect handbags to match.

It certainly cannot be easy to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Carla Bruni, a former top model and singer, who stole the limelight from her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Trierweiler looks the part – and her heart seems to be in the right place. In the past year she has been involved in highlighting the plight of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has visited women and children who suffered violence in Mali.

On Monday Trierweiler met a lesbian couple after a lunch in downtown Johannesburg's Arts on Main with gay rights activists.

"I read an article about the plight of lesbians in South Africa and it was important for me to meet the victims of abuse," she said.

She also visited the Ekupholeni trauma centre in Kathlehong. "I'm very concerned about issues like the rape of young children. Some of them are very, very young."

Her trip concluded with a visit to the Sky orphanage in Kliptown, Soweto, where she joined in a jig with the children – difficult in the midday heat and wearing those magnificent shoes.

French first ladies have a reputation for not toeing the line, going as far back as former French president François Mitterrand's wife, Danielle, who was very active in supporting liberation movements around the globe.

Despite the controversy about her status, Trierweiler could become an asset to Hollande, who has been described as boring and lacking the allure expected of a French president. – Liesl Louw-Vaudran

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