Daniel Friedman
2 minute read
13 Jul 2018
1:30 pm

Cyril cosying up to Saudi Arabia causes controversy

Daniel Friedman

Not everyone is happy following reports that Ramaphosa has secured $10bn in investment from the Saudi Arabian government. 

President Ramaphosa meeting with the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman at the Al James Main Guest Palace in Jeddah at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Picture: The Presidency

At first blush, Saudi Arabia’s decision to invest what amounts to R133 billion in South Africa’s energy sector may seem like great news.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s much-needed drive to boost our country’s economy can, after all, be seen as a sign that our Ramaphoria was warranted and that we are indeed experiencing a new dawn. This campaign has seen him get the United Kingdom to commit to R850 million in investment, convince Mercedes-Benz to put R10 billion into expanding its South African plant and get Nigeria to agree to signing a free-trade agreement.

With the Saudi investment, however, comes a backlash, as some on social media have spoken out against what they see as Ramaphosa’s decision to accept money from a “murderous” regime.

While some comments show prejudice, with one Twitter user saying: “Eskom has been taken over by the Arabs,” others have focused on the Middle Eastern country’s human rights record, which is regarded as one of the worst in the world.

According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia’s recent record includes “arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents”, “a wave of arrests of clerics and others in what appeared to be a coordinated crackdown on dissent”, as well as “numerous violations of international humanitarian law” during their military campaign against Yemen.

READ MORE: Ramaphosa woos Saudi Arabian Investors 

“Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest,” according to a report issued by the human rights watchdog, also focusing on the country’s treatment of women, who “face formal and informal barriers when attempting to make decisions or take action without the presence or consent of a male relative”.

The country recently made it legal for women to drive for the first time.

While some focus on these issues, others argue the acceptance of Saudi investment is just business.

Those voices include South Africa Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. “It’s a fantastic commitment from Saudi Arabia‚ especially coming in the aftermath of the president’s call to have $100-billion of investment in the next five years‚” he enthused while talking to The Times.

He said Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih was deeply committed to cooperating with South Africa in the energy sector.

“As a result of that‚ already we have signed a big deal on the renewable side of R12 billion with Redstone and ACWA‚ which is a Saudi Arabian energy company‚ in partnership with the Central Energy Fund for renewable in terms of solar and wind‚” Radebe said.

Somewhat more questionably, it was reported South Africa was also “committed to cooperate in the defence sector” with the nation. What this will mean in practice remains to be seen.

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