Excellency, as the High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa how would you describe your diplomatic tour in this country thus far?
In our system, we are allowed to express preference for where we want to serve. I will admit that you don’t always get your preferences, but my first choice of a country that I wanted to come to and to represent Canada in, was South Africa – so I was thrilled when I got my first choice.
We have had a great time here – I’m with my family of three boys. We really enjoy the country, it is magnificent. The people are great, and the work is always interesting – so it has been a really great assignment.
Are there many South Africans immigrating into Canada?
Not as many as you would think. I do not know if it is the climate that puts them off. We do have a good South African community in Canada though, there are roughly 45000 South Africans living there.
Canada is the world’s second largest country and currently led by one of the youngest Heads of State. Could you talk a bit about the vision of your Prime Minister, considering the important role your country plays in this 21st-century global environment?
Prime Minister Trudeau has appeared on the international scene at an important point, and we are really excited to talk about what he is doing. He has a vision of international collaboration and of human rights, in particular women’s rights. He has returned Canada to the forefront of environmental protection in addressing climate change at a time when some of the leaders who had been espousing these issues left the scene. We are hosting the G7 in a couple of weeks. That will cover a number of themes, including future jobs. There is also a particular focus on Oceans, with plastic (waste) an issue that has caused a lot of concern internationally. Women will be at the forefront of the G7. We launched the Feminist International Assistance Policy just a few months ago, so our development assistance is really going to be targeting women and girls and ensuring their place at the table.
I think it is also the tone that has shifted. He has been a unifier, aiming to bring people together and to find solutions multilaterally, which is what Canada’s traditional international position used to be.
Many countries are currently considering bringing down the age to be Heads of State.
I have to admit, finding out my Prime Minister was younger than me was a bit of an adjustment. But we don’t have any age restrictions in Canada – that would be a sort of discrimination.
We need to look at who is inheriting the world, at who cares about its future. I think it is more about the capability of a person rather than their age. I think this has real resonance in a continent like Africa with the large youth population, and I think it’s important that they have a voice.
Canada and South Africa have a history that stretches back to the start of the 20th century, amidst the backdrop of the Anglo-Boer war. How would you say the relationship has improved over the past century, and what are its strengths?
One of the first diplomatic missions that we opened abroad was in Cape Town. At that time we did not have control of our foreign policy, we were still under the British Crown, so our first efforts abroad were as trade merchants and one of our first trade offices was in Cape Town.
The relationship with South Africa is a strong one. Like any long relationship, there are periods of highs and lows. We are certainly proud of the effort that Canada made around the time of the end of apartheid. We were very active in the Commonwealth in particular. Margaret Thatcher was British Prime Minister at the time, and really advocated respect for human rights.
In recent years there was a bit more of a challenge, some of the policies of our previous government weren’t as well received by South Africa. We are currently on a high, climbing back to a great friendship.
The relationship is certainly multifaceted. We have a strong political engagement, we don’t always see eye-to-eye, but we certainly understand each other’s positions. Trade is a topic that we discuss often, and I know that it is a priority of President Ramaphosa’s. South Africa is interested in increasing its Trade and Investment and Canadians are interested in the market here. We maintain a development program of about five million dollars a year, as well as a few regional programmes as well, so we stay actively engaged. Increasingly, our other government departments are working together. We are currently negotiating a new TV and Film Co-Production Agreement. The first co-production agreement that South Africa had was with Canada and we are renewing it now to take advantage of the digital age and new forms of media.
In the trade arena, our two countries share incredible trade figures. Could you elaborate on what is imported and exported between South Africa and Canada?
South Africa is our largest sub-Saharan trading partner. The figure is about one and a half billion dollars per year between the two countries. It is in South Africa’s favour, and it’s my job to work on that. We have about $3billion investment here. A lot of our presence is in the mining sector, and that’s a big capital expense so a lot of investment is there, and that certainly is also a big part of what South Africa exports to us.
We have a number of companies operating here. Not the largest, but certainly the most diverse trading relationship. Bombardier (a Canadian transportation company) is here, we have IT companies here, and the Gautrain, for instance, is a Canadian product. We have been working increasingly in services, such as legal firms. Export Development Canada, which supports exports from our country, has its only office in Africa in Johannesburg.
We’re looking forward to building on this and supporting President Ramaphosa’s goals of increasing investment.
Is mining a common denominator?
Canada is very much a natural resources economy. Our foundation is in natural resources, and we share that with South Africa, so we have a memorandum of understanding on mining where we share experience and best practice. That includes technical questions – for instance, South Africa has a lot of experience in deep mines and we have our own advantages. One thing that we do share is a corporate social responsibility. It is very important to our communities in Canada that our companies are respectful of community needs and of the environment, and obviously, South Africa has a huge interest in that as well, so we trade notes on that.
As a tourism destination, what does Canada offer potential South African visitors in search of adventure and leisure?
Canada is a great country. It’s certainly known for its size, and of course, natural beauty is a big part of what we are. It’s a country where, if you were so inclined, you could take a canoe for several days and go down a river and you wouldn’t see anyone else. I think in some ways South Africans have that as well – it’s a beautiful landscape with some great locations and incredible wilderness. Canada is more than just its nature, although we are certainly known for that. We have large multicultural cities, we have music festivals. You mentioned Vancouver, which I have to say reminds me a great deal of Cape Town or vice versa. We have places you can do sports, obviously for winter. If a South African were to want a winter experience, we could certainly offer that: – great ski hills, cross country, or you could go riding on a dog sledge or snowmobile if you wanted.
But I think it’s really the people that make the difference, and Canadians are welcoming and friendly.
For those interested in travelling to Canada, what is the visa application process?
We have a visa application centre in Pretoria and we issue about 17,000 to20,000 visas a year. Most of those are visitor visas but there are work and study visas in that figure as well. It’s a process that we try to make as smooth as possible. It takes a couple of weeks to apply, but South Africans seldom have difficulty getting a visa.
High Commissioner, thank you.
Thank you, it’s been a real pleasure.