Bilateral relations between South Africa and Wallonia

In 2015, exports from SA to Wallonia totalled €141m (R2.1B). More than 90% of this comprised base metal products. Conversely, SA imports from Wallonia amounted to €82m (R1.3B), a slight decrease from previous years due mainly to the fluctuation of the rand. Nonetheless, SA remained Wallonia’s largest African export market in 2015, ahead of Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Exports from Wallonia to SA comprised primarily chemicals & pharmaceuticals (42% of the total) and equipment & machinery (18% of the total).

Several major SA companies, including Bidvest, NTP, SAPPI and Mondi operate in Europe from Wallonia. The Wallonia export-Investment Agency (AWEX) has recently intensified its campaign to attract more South African direct investment. As a result, a new investment in Wallonia in the sector of civil aviation by the The Airplane Factory was officialised in 2015. Dimension Data, headquartered in Johannesburg, also announced an investment of R105m (€7m) in July this year, in a data centre that is managed in partnership with a local company. Similarly, several companies originating from Wallonia have established businesses in SA. They include Beka-Schreder (public lighting equipment), François Compressors (PET compressors for the beverage industry), Hamon (Cooling systems for power plants), Magotteaux (Mining equipment and supplies), Solvay Polymers (performance plastics), Sopura (cleaning and disinfection solutions in the brewing and beverage industries), Derbigum (roofing) and Swift (secure messaging services for banks).  

But Wallonia is keen to see these numbers grow. Hence an impressive series of initiatives were taken by Awex in 2015 and 2016, in relation with South Africa. Among these, we can mention a trade mission comprising about 50 people, including representatives of 30 different companies, which visited Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. In addition to this, 20 companies participated in 3 major exhibitions in Johannesburg, targeting Africa’s medical, food & beverage and mining & engineering industries during the course of the year 2015.  

AWEX also hosted recently a senior procurement manager of one of the top SA supermarket chains to meetings with 25 potential new suppliers in Wallonia.

In June 2016, AWEX signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with InvestSA, an agency of the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). The MoU provides both parties to work together to enhance reciprocal foreign direct Investment attraction in particular through the exchange of information, potential investor referral and mutual support in investment promotion activities.

Wallonian interest in SA is not, however, limited to issues of trade and investment.

When, as part of the 2013 Belgian Economic Mission to SA led by Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium, minister president of the Wallonia Brussels Federation, Rudy Demotte and Pascale Delcomminette visited Alexandra, they were introduced to the Sizanani Mentorship Programme for grade 10, 11 and 12 learners from the township.

Moved by the dedication and will to succeed from pupils, teachers and mentors and sensitive to the lack of funding, Minister President Demotte pledged its support for €20,000 to sponsor the university studies of some students on the programme. The commitment has been renewed three times since, providing about 20 youngsters with university bursaries to date.

“SA faces majors funding issues for higher education and the importance of the Wallonia Brussels federation’s support cannot be overstated,” says Sizanani coordinator, Valérie Hirsch, a Belgian living in SA. “Many top students need bursaries, particularly as there is a shortage of NSFAS loans from government. We are continually trying to raise funds among SA companies. It’s difficult, which is why we are so grateful for such a contribution.”

For Wallonia, it’s a case of helping others also punch above their weight.