Angola's Dos Santos meets Zuma in historic state visit

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on Tuesday started an historic first state visit to South Africa, a trip aimed at ending decades-long enmities between two of the region’s major economies.

His visit follows President Jacob Zuma’s trip to the oil-rich state in 2009, which confirmed a détente with Africa’s top producer of crude after decades of strained relations under apartheid and the early years of black-majority rule.

The two leaders met in the capital Pretoria and were meant to hold talks and sign an as yet undisclosed agreement at the Presidential Guest House.

Relations between the two countries were marred during the apartheid era as South Africa sided with Unita rebels who were fighting dos Santos’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, (MPLA) during its civil war.

Dos Santos in response provided shelter and training for the military wing of the anti-apartheid opposition African National Congress (ANC), which swept to power after the end of apartheid in 1994.

However, there was no immediate diplomatic thaw as former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki favoured a negotiated settlement to Angola’s civil war, a stand opposed by dos Santos until the conflict ended in 2002.

Under Mbeki, the two nations also feuded over how to handle the crisis in Zimbabwe and the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo.

A South African government statement issued ahead of dos Santos’s two-day visit said the trip was meant to “strengthen bilateral and economic ties”.

Dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979, does not often make state visits within the continent or elsewhere.

Oil production
The importance of the trip to South Africa was underlined on Tuesday when he was accompanied to Pretoria by his ministers for foreign affairs, industry and mines, energy and water, and urban planning and housing.

Oil production has propelled Angola into a major investment destination for global companies seeking a slice of its rapidly growing economy, since the end of the war eight years ago.

But decades of strained ties have seen South Africa lose out on lucrative reconstruction jobs dominated by China, Brazil and Western countries.

Zuma’s visit last year, however, saw him sign a clutch of business deals, in mining, banking, agriculture and oil.

The oil agreement will see South Africa’s PetroSA partner with Sonangol, Angola’s state owned oil firm in exploration, refining and distribution.

Angola and Nigeria are the biggest oil producers on the continent but dos Santos’s state has only one refinery and must import 50% of its petrol. South Africa produces very little crude but it has the second-biggest refining capability in Africa, behind Egypt.

The main imports from Angola to South Africa include minerals, chemical products and building materials.

South African exports to Angola amounted to R5,5-billion in 2009, while Angola’s equivalent figure was R12-billion, Pretoria said.

Visa requirements
The dos Santos visit is expected to address proposals for easing visa requirements and establishing a bilateral commission, which was left unsigned during Zuma’s trip to Luanda last year.

Dos Santos and Zuma are scheduled to head to Cape Town on Wednesday, where the Angolan leader will visit Robben Island, the prison where former president Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years.—Sapa-AFP


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