I have been to Sweden; I played a role in a film about the famous Dag Hammarskjold, a UN ambassador from the 1960s. Today I am honoured to interview His Excellency Hakan Juholt, the Swedish ambassador to South Africa.
Tell me about your experiences so far in South Africa – what have you enjoyed most?
I have been here for two years now. During this time, we had the Covid pandemic, which ruined so many ideas, plans and travels for all of us.
My main focus has been trying to reach out to younger South Africans. We have had good relations for decades, but those contacts are getting older now, which is why my main priority is reaching out to students, universities, young researchers and businesses. I have a goal to see younger people accounting for at least 50% of those who participate in my activities.
What are you doing to achieve this goal?
I am following some interesting people on social media. When I find someone who grabs my attention, I reach out to them. We often end up having discussions around a variety of topics. Recently, for instance, I had a meeting around an initiative called Her City, looking at how we could develop safe urban areas for females. Almost every city in the world has been developed around models that suit men, specifically middle-aged businessmen. We want to turn that around by creating new urban areas where young girls, even teenagers, can feel safe. We’re looking at the facilities we may need to make this happen. For example, what kind of lighting do we need, what toilet facilities, what kind of green areas and so forth.
Sweden and South Africa have strong business relations. You are a businessman yourself. How are these relations being pushed forward, and what are you doing to strengthen economic ties between the two countries?
We are focusing on innovation. There are more than 60 Swedish companies with a presence in South Africa, companies like Ericsson, Scania and ABB. In April 2022, a new factory opened in Cape Town. Polarium, a Swedish energy storage company, set up a battery manufacturing plant that also specialises in the storage of silver energy. It is currently the largest such facility on the continent.
Apart from innovation, energy and sustainability are key focus areas for us. For example, last year, I hosted a seminar about sustainable mining. Obviously, this is a key industry for South Africa, but mining should be sustainable and environmentally friendly for both humans and nature.
Sweden is very beautiful. What kind of itinerary would you suggest to people who want to visit?
We are surrounded by very good neighbours like Norway, Finland and Denmark, and our countries are like a family. With this in mind, I suggest taking a flight to Copenhagen, then a train to Stockholm and, if you have time, a ferry to Helsinki. This would allow you to cover three of the Nordic countries in just one journey, plus you’d get to see the sea, the archipelago, the countryside and the three capitals of the region.
Are the Swedes interested in South Africa as a country?
Sweden is the third largest importer of South African wine in the world. We are very fond of South African wines. For many Swedes living in the cold north, nothing beats a glass of pinotage when it is snowing outside. Of course, this stimulates interest in the country itself. Many people want to see the place where this wine originates from.
What kind of commercial ventures do we see coming out of Sweden?
I have worked hard to set up this embassy so that it functions not as an isolated part of Sweden in South Africa but rather as a bridge between our two countries and their people. Traffic on this bridge goes both ways, so I organise seminars on how to improve the export of fruit, vegetable and nuts to Sweden, but I also try to be an ambassador for the people of South Africa.
Is there a Chamber of Commerce that South Africans can visit if they want to learn more about investing in Sweden?
You can contact Business Sweden (business-sweden.com). Alternatively, contact me
directly; I would be happy to answer your questions