18 August 2009
Markus Weimer
(Former Chatham House Expert)


Jacob Zuma's visit to Angola this week is the first state visit since he took power. It is highly significant not least because Angola and South Africa have not always seen eye to eye. The relationship between President dos Santos of Angola and former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was particularly frosty. Mbeki was alarmed when Angola supported Laurent Kabila's attempt to overthrow Mobutu in the Democratic Republic of Congo while the South African leader was trying to mediate.

Also, Mbeki's attempts to foster a peace agreement between the Angolan government and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA annoyed dos Santos, who felt that South Africa had never really appreciated the role that the MPLA played in fighting apartheid.

Zuma is the opposite of Mbeki when it comes to relations between the two countries. He is a friend of dos Santos, and recognized the importance and potential of relations between Angola and South Africa early on. Even during Mbeki's presidency, Zuma, as president of the ANC, visited Angola seeking to create stronger ties between the countries. During this visit, he announced new business ties, paid tribute to Angolan soldiers who died during the war and thanked the Angolans for their support to the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle.

President Zuma will be received this week as a guest of the Angolan State, with all the pomp and ceremony that comes with it. This visit is set to re-invigorate the relationship between Angola and South Africa, and will lay the tracks for an engine that has the potential to generate prosperity throughout Southern Africa. It is nothing less than a tectonic shift in the politics of Africa.

The future of the two countries will be increasingly a joint one and is likely to spawn spin-off benefits for the whole of the SADC region. Eleven government ministers (including International Relations, Home Affairs, Human Settlements, and Public Enterprises) are accompanying President Zuma, as well as the largest trade delegation since 1994 to follow a South African President.