My French Link : What relations do South Africa and France maintain today?
Elisabeth Barbier : France and South Africa have excellent relationships. The strength of our ties finds its roots in history, as soon as the 17th century. More recently, in July 1994, François Mitterrand was the first state head to make an official visit after Nelson Mandela’s election, thus launching a strategic partnership between our two countries. We share a common ambition to carry a message of peace, of freedom and of equality beyond our borders. This shared vision finds ways to express itself in many fields; for instance, we act together against climate disturbances.
Our economic relationships are very close as well, as about 350 French companies are established in South Africa, with sustainable partnerships in strategic fields such as energy and transportation. Lastly, our scientific and cultural cooperation is particularly active.
“We share a common ambition to carry a message of peace, of freedom and of equality beyond our borders”
MFL : What is the country’s view on France?
EB : Over time, our two countries have built a strong, confident relationship. I think South Africa deservedly considers us as a choice partner in its development and economic transformation.
MFL : What are travellers interested in when they visit France? Other cities than Paris?
EB : Thanks to its cultural radiance and the variety of its landscapes, France benefits from a strong power of attraction. Beyond our capital city’s remarkable heritage, each of our regions has many historic and artistic treasures to share. Gastronomy alone justifies a number of trips within France! Chef Jan Hendrik, who chose to settle in Nice, was the first South African to be awarded a star from the prestigious Michelin Guide.
MFL : What are the country’s links to French culture?
EB : South-Africans show a great interest in French culture, which can be observed at every event organised by the French Institute in South Africa and by our 14 Alliances Françaises. France is often represented at South-African cultural events. For example, in 2015 it was very present at the Durban International Film Festival, of which film director Jean-Jacques Annaud was one of the guests of honour.
MFL : Will any particular event mark the two countries’ cultural relations in 2016?
EB : In March, the Month of La Francphonie will feature numerous cultural events. Besides, an exhibition devoted to Henri Matisse is scheduled from July to September in Johannesburg. One of 2016’s major events will be commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood, during which many South-Africans lost their lives alongside the Allies. It will take on a strong political and human dimension for both countries.