Since 1994 the South African government has been focusing on the social transformation of the former apartheid state, where 90% of the population had been disadvantaged politically, economically and in their daily lives. The main objective of the government is to reach an improvement of the standard of living for the formerly disadvantaged majority population. Although the black middle class is growing, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.
The bilateral relations between Austria and South Africa date back to the 19th century, when Austria opened a consulate in Cape Town in 1852. In 1962, diplomatic relations were established at ambassadorial level. The Austrian Embassy in Pretoria, which was opened during the same year, is supported by Honorary Consulates in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The present Austrian Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Brigitte Öppinger-Walchshofer, presented her credentials to President Jacob Zuma on 16 October 2013.
South Africa has an Embassy in Austria, which is also accredited to the International Organizations in Vienna and is being supported by Honorary Consulates in five regional capitals (Salzburg, Linz, Innsbruck, St. Pölten and Graz). The Austrian anti-apartheid movement was created in response to the Soweto uprisings in 1976. In 1985, Austria introduced sanctions against apartheid-South Africa. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1991 the sanctions were suspended and finally lifted in 1993. During the same year President De Klerk visited Austria and met with the Austrian President and Chancellor. Today, relations between Austria and South Africa are excellent and manifold. After the first free elections on 27 April 1994, the number of bilateral visits increased significantly. On the 24th of May, 2016, the Austrian Minister of Justice met his South African counterpart at a working breakfast in Vienna. From the 23rd to the 26th of October, 2016 the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz paid a visit to South Africa, accompanied by the President of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce Dr. Christoph Leitl and a 25-strong business delegation. The provinces of Western Cape and Upper Austria entertain an active partnership. In the framework of this partnership the Premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, visited the Upper Austrian capital Linz in July 2016, followed a visit of an Upper Austrian delegation led by the regional Minister of Agriculture, Max Hiegelsberger, to Gauteng and Western Cape in November of the same year. In 2015, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy and the South African Department of Science and Technology signed a Memorandum of Understanding on scientific cooperation. Based on this MoU the two Ministries agreed on a joint work programme, which is implemented by the National Research Foundation on the South African side and the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research (OeAD) on the Austrian side. The main areas of cooperation are projects in the fields of biotechnology, ICT, renewable energy, health sciences, food and nutrition, mining, security and sustainable agriculture. The first call for proposals was launched in 2016, following which 17 joint projects started in 2017 that will run for two years each. The next call for proposals is due in 2018. Since its creation in 2008 the Ithuba Community College, which is located in a disadvantaged area in Johannesburg, is fully financed by private donations from Austria. The Austrian Federal Ministry of Education (BMB) is assisting the school in its transformation process towards a vocational training school by seconding an Austrian expert. In addition the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education has launched a joint cooperation programme with the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) as well as the Gauteng Department of Education in the field of vocational training and dual education. This cooperation will be extended to the Eastern Cape Province in the near future. About 20,000 Austrian nationals and persons of Austrian descent live in South Africa of which nearly 9000 are registered with the Embassy. Austrian Clubs exist in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Austrian Business Chamber is based in Johannesburg.
Ntuthuko Stimulation Centre is a non-profit organization situated in the township of Shoshanguve in the north of Pretoria which caters for children with physical and cognitive impairments aged between 1 and 12. The Centre undertakes to educate the parents for better child welfare in order to free them from their multiple burdens.
The Austrian Embassy has supported the project twice: In 2015 a vehicle was acquired to facilitate the safe transport for the children, and in 2017 another grant was awarded for renovation works at the Centre’s building.
The Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, visited the Centre on his journey through Eastern and Southern Africa,. Finally, the Centre’s efforts have been recognized through an award by the Department of Social Development for being the best ECD programme for children with disabilities.
In 2017 the Austrian Embassy also supports a project for the maintenance and renovation of “play pumps” at schools in disadvantage areas, which will provide the learners as well as the communities around the schools with safe drinking water.
Austrian Development Cooperation in South Africa
Being an integral part of the priority region of Southern Africa, South Africa has been a partner country of the Austrian Development Cooperation since 1999. Over the years the programmes mainly focused on education, civil society, combatting poverty, respect of human rights, and good governance. However, the bilateral budget line was terminated in 2010. Numerous Austrian NGOs undertake projects within the region of South Africa.
Toady’s main focus within the Southern African Region lies in the areas of good governance, human rights, vocational training and renewable energy (including the strengthening SADC’s capacities in the field of renewable energy, the establishment of the SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, SolTrain – a project aiming to foster the use of solar thermal equipment, loans for SMEs for renewable energy projects, Austrian Solar Academy, Austrian Welding Academy). In 2015 South Africa received official development aid amounting to € 427.082,87.
In addition other social projects, many Austrian NGOs, especially church-related institutions, support HIV/AIDS- organization in the country. Provincial governments as well as private donors finance school projects in the Johannesburg area and in Phumula.
In cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Austria is working on the establishment of a vocational training school (Ithuba-College) in a disadvantaged region of Johannesburg, which is mainly financed by donations from Austria. For this project, two professionals were sent from Austria in order to support the re-organisation of the school. In the course of a visit in March 2015 the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education agreed to establish a close cooperation in the field of vocational training with the Department of Higher Education and Training as well as the Gauteng Department of Education. There are plans to extend this cooperation to the Eastern Cape.