LUANDA, Aug 20 – South African President Jacob Zuma visited Angola on Thursday in a bid to build business ties with the major oil exporter and to hold talks will Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The trip is Zuma’s first state visit since taking office in May, and he brought along a hefty delegation of 11 ministers and a raft of business leaders hoping to clinch contracts in areas from construction to energy.
"Angola has always supported South Africa in its most difficult moments," Zuma told state media after arriving late Wednesday, pledging more co-operation, strengthened ties and increased trade with Luanda.
"The Angolans consented to many sacrifices to support us a lot against the apartheid regime, so we are here to say thank you to the Angolan people and the (ruling) MPLA."
The leaders will hold official talks on Thursday and are later expected to jointly address more than 150 South African and Angolan business leaders who began their own talks on trade and investment Wednesday in Luanda.
"We are here with an interest to open the doors for South African investment," Isidro Pinheiro, Angola’s secretary of state for water, told AFP.
"This forum can give us an opportunity that’s not going to stop here at this conference but will continue on into the future," he said.
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.
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.
Dos Santos’s ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) has long been a supporter of Zuma’s ANC, with ties dating back to respective anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles.
However, relations between Luanda and Pretoria — strained during apartheid South Africa’s support for the opposition UNITA (Total Union for the Independence of Angola) — cooled significantly during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency.
Unlike with Mbeki, Angolan President Dos Santos appears to enjoy a good personal relationship with Zuma who is the fourth African National Congress (ANC) president to lead South Africa since the fall of apartheid in 1994.
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.
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.
Zuma’s schedule includes a visit to Independence Square to meet Luanda Governor Francisca do Espirito Santo and to lay flowers at the monument of Agostinho Neto, the nation’s first president.
Later he is to visit Santa Ana cemetery to meet defence minister Kundi Paihama and lay a wreath on the grave of an "unknown soldier" to commemorate Angola’s liberation struggle.
Zuma will also address Angola’s National Assembly.