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Zuma visits Angola for trade talks

LUANDA, Aug 18 – South African President Jacob Zuma travels to Angola on Wednesday in a bid to strengthen ties between the continent\’s biggest economy and one of its top oil producers.

It will be Zuma’s first state visit since becoming president in May, and he will be accompanied by 11 government ministers and a large private sector delegation hoping to clinch contracts in areas such as construction and energy.

During the visit, which ends Friday, Zuma is set to hold talks with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, while the leaders are scheduled to jointly address business leaders in Luanda.

"The visit is about strengthening relations between South Africa and Angola and creating the basis for a stronger economic co-operation between the two countries," said Collins Chabane, minister to South Africa\’s presidency.

"The discussions will cover energy, mining and construction, particularly in housing, and industry and other economic areas," he told reporters in Luanda.

Much of Angola\’s infrastructure was destroyed during its 27-year civil war which only ended in 2002 and the country is undergoing a major reconstruction including roads, schools, hospitals and houses.

Portuguese, Brazilian and Chinese firms are already key players in Angola\’s reconstruction process, and Zuma is expected to use his visit to broker deals for South African firms who are seeking their slice of the pie.

Angola\’s ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) has long been a supporter of Zuma\’s African National Congress, helping each other during their respective anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles.

However, relations between Angola and South Africa — already strained by the memory of apartheid South Africa\’s support for Angolan opposition UNITA (Total Union for the Independence of Angola) — cooled significantly during Thabo Mbeki\’s presidency.

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"South Africa and Angola have disagreed on several issues in the region, including the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo," explained Roland Henwood, an analyst from the University of Pretoria.

"The two countries pulled from different sides. The same happened with the issue of the Zimbabwe crisis," he added, saying Zuma\’s visit would be an important step to iron out these differences.

Unlike with Mbeki, Angolan President Dos Santos appears to enjoy a good personal relationship with Zuma.

He attended Zuma\’s inauguration in May, and Zuma visited Angola in March last year as the ANC\’s leader, in what was at the time seen as a snub to Mbeki.

"We will see a definite warming up of relations between South Africa and Angola. There\’s a good chemistry between the two presidents and that alone is a good start," Themba Kubheka, South African ambassador to Angola, told AFP.

With Angola now leading Nigeria as Africa\’s largest producer of crude oil and with its enormous hydro-electricity potential, energy is also expected to be a key area of discussion.

"Angola has a lot of natural resources to offer — land for agriculture, fish, oil, water, diamonds. What South Africa can offer in return is know how," said Jan Isaksen, researcher at Norway\’s Chr. Michelsen Institute, which works with the Catholic University of Angola.

South Africa is touting the trip as part of its efforts to strengthen its relationships within southern Africa, while the choice of Angola highlights the country\’s growing importance in the region.

"Deepening economic relations with countries in the region is one of the areas that government is focusing on," said South Africa\’s minister of economic development, Ebrahim Patel.

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