This positive trend already exists and underneath the radar, perhaps, co-operation is benefiting South Africans and Israelis in a range of areas. As I visited the Western Cape last week for the opening of Parliament, I was able to reflect on some successful collaborations of both our countries. These offer the clearest answer to those who ask what can be done to improve the lives of South Africans and Israelis. Last month I visited a state-of-the-art seed factory in Mooketsi, Limpopo, where a joint venture between South Africa’s ZZ2 and Israel’s Hishtil develop vegetable seeds that increase productivity and profits for South African farmers. Each tomato seed can grow up to 10kg of produce and is worth more than its weight in gold. Hishtil SA is growing technologically advanced grafted vegetable plants that offer stronger roots and great benefits for South African agriculture. The partners have joined together in Namibia to start the first date fruit orchard in the southern hemisphere. They will inaugurate a second seed factory in Riebeek West later this year.
A similarly successful joint venture exists between Israel’s Mor Group and South Africa’s IDC, who having been growing persimmons (known in South Africa as Sharon fruit) in Swellendam using Israeli expertise for nearly a decade. The different seasons, but similar climates, between Israel and South Africa allow the partners to avail themselves of profitable international fruit markets throughout the year. Those are just two examples of extensive trade co-operation between the two countries. Our bilateral trade exceeded R5 billion in goods last year (plus many millions more in services), and makes Israel a key trading partner for South Africa in the Middle East.
Tourism between the two countries is also significant, with three direct El Al flights each week, bringing thousands of Israeli visitors to South Africa and enabling South Africans to see the holy sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth and enjoy Tel Aviv’s nightlife. And Israel, dubbed “innovation nation” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, offers South Africa access to the most advanced hi-tech solutions to our growing digital age – dozens of examples of South Africa using such technologies run from sophisticated electricity meters to smartphone applications.
In South Africa I have met multitudes of people of faith who deeply believe in the ties between our people. Varied Christian groups such as the Zion Christian Church, Impact for Christ Ministries and the Nazareth Baptist (“Shembe”) Church are speaking up clearly, and working together with my South African Jewish brothers and sisters and with Israel, showing that we have shared values and beliefs that tie our destinies together. Later this year, in Johannesburg, a moving interfaith event called Africa Bless Israel is scheduled, which will bring together thousands of people who believe that closer relations between our countries has spiritual and practical meaning.
Cultural ties are strong as well. Two Israeli directors visited Cape Town last year and screened their films at the recent Cape Winelands Film Festival. Ben Gurion University’s Professor Benny Morris recently lectured at UCT and a renowned Israeli musician, Sergei Nakariakov, nicknamed “the Paganini of the trumpet”, performed last week with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Late last month, the famous South African artist, DJ Black Coffee, performed in Tel Aviv. In a few weeks an Israeli tennis coach will work with coaches and young players in Soweto.
Is there room for growth? Of course there is. That is why Israeli delegations will take part in exhibitions such as the Nampo Agricultural Trade Show in May and the Africom digital communications show in Cape Town in November. A group of Israelis, world leaders in the new field of proactive cyber defence (protecting computers and networks from cyber-attacks) will visit South Africa next month to help share Israel’s experience in this vital sphere. Israeli NGOs such as Innovation Africa and ORT are working here and expanding their efforts at “tikkun olam” (repairing the world, in Hebrew). After your elections, we expect that senior officials from both countries will further develop our ties and offer guidance on topics that interest our countries: development, water resources, making peace, trade development and people-to-people ties.
It is clear that despite the misperception of some and the radical views of a few, Israel and South Africa have built a wide berth of joint projects, shared concerns and mutually conducive programmes. Further diversifying this agenda would promote the National Development Plan of South Africa and increase its opportunities for constructive interaction with Israel, a country that sees the potential of South Africa as an important partner and friend.
Ambassador Lenk is ambassador of Israel to South Africa. You can follow him on Twitter (@ambassadorlenk) and Facebook.