As South Africa cools ties, leader says it ‘can learn a lot’ from Israeli tech
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As South Africa cools ties, leader says it ‘can learn a lot’ from Israeli tech

A month after confirming intention to downgrade Tel Aviv embassy to liaison office, Cyril Ramaphosa hails Startup Nation as ‘leading by leaps and bounds’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa makes his State of the Nation address in parliament, in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2019.  (Rodger Bosch, Pool via AP)
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa makes his State of the Nation address in parliament, in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2019. (Rodger Bosch, Pool via AP)

The president of South Africa this week hailed Israel’s startup economy as “leading by leaps and bounds,” saying that his country has much to learn from the Jewish state.

Addressing a Women in Business Conference in Johannesburg, President Cyril Ramaphosa discussed so-called challenge funds, a tool he said Israelis had successful used to boost their tech sector.

“In many ways, that is what has gotten Israel to lead in the technology space,” he said. “They are leading by leaps and bounds, and they are actually innovative in a number of sectors of the economy, in agriculture, in maritime and in a number of other areas. They have shown that they can lead. And we can learn a lot from what they do.”

Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Lior Keinan took to Twitter on Thursday to welcome Ramaphosa’s statement:

The prowess of Israel’s tech industry has been widely acknowledged, but Ramaphosa’s comment is noteworthy because the South African government has long been publicly vowing to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv to a mere “liaison office.”

“The government remains engaged with the modalities of downgrading the South African Embassy in Israel,” he stated just last month in a written response to a parliamentary query about the matter.

“We have recalled our ambassador and intend to retain a liaison office in Tel Aviv, which will oversee our continuing provision of consular services and any trade and economic relations,” Ramaphosa said.

South African President Ramaphosa Praises Israel's High-Tech Economy

MUST WATCH: South African ???????? President Cyril Ramaphosa applauds ???????? Israel’s cutting-edge high tech economy. The President says that South Africa can learn from Israel’s leadership in creative entrepreneurship. President Ramaphosa says that Israel leads by "leaps and bounds" and is innovative in multiple areas of the economy. Well said Mr President! South Africa can only benefit from Israel’s example. ????????????????

פורסם על ידי ‏‎South African Friends of Israel‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 6 בנובמבר 2019

In December 2017, the African National Council — the country’s ruling party headed by Ramaphosa — at its biannual National Conference unanimously passed a resolution calling on the government to turn Pretoria’s embassy in Ramat Gan into a liaison office.

The last South African ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, ended his tour in mid-2018. Jerusalem does not expect Pretoria to send a replacement in the near future, which could be described as a de facto downgrading of bilateral ties.

Ramaphosa has said his government’s approach “is informed by our concern at the ongoing violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the refusal of the government of Israel to enter into meaningful negotiations to find a just and peaceful resolution to this conflict.”

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