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Takalani Esther Netshitenzhe | Dávid Harangozó

Representing South Africa in an Interesting Country

D&T
September 28, 2012

In an interview published in the summer issue of Diplomacy & Trade, the South African Ambassador to Hungary, Takalani Esther Netshitenzhe says she has witnessed lots of changes in Hungary but sees lots of potential in strengthening bilateral relations.

”It has been a wonderful period” the South African Ambassador to Hungary, Takalani Esther Netshitenzhe uses these words to reflect on her stay in Hungary where her four-year term expires at the end of this year.

She arrived in 2009 to a country she knew little about, but has grown to like and enjoy. “It is a very interesting country,” she says. As she explains to Diplomacy and Trade, "there has never been a dull moment since I came to Hungary, I arrived here shortly after Hungary concluded a ‘bailout’ agreement with the IMF, Prime Minister Gyurcsány resigned, Mr Bajnai was appointed Prime Minister to head the crisis management government. Fidesz won the elections with a two-thirds majority led by Prime Minister Orbán and produced a new constitution and a large number of new laws, Hungary also assumed the EU Presidency during my term here." So, she has been in a unique situation of seeing three prime ministers – and three presidents! – in office during her term.

“Since I came here in 2009, the relations between Hungary and South Africa have grown from strength to strength. Our Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation was here in May this year. The purpose of his visit was to further strengthen our relationship with Hungary and to ensure that after the two decades that passed since the establishment of diplomatic relations, we should have an even stronger 20 years ahead of us,” she stresses.

On how the S.A. Mission sees the Hungarian economic environment, the Ambassador says, "the Mission’s is to monitor the investment environment and provide trends to potential investors back home. Hungary does have challenges at the moment, but we believe that the challenges can be overcome, as some of these challenges need to be seen within the broader context of the global economic crisis and what is currently happening in Europe economically." The Ambassador says that foreign investors to South Africa want a crime and corruption free environment, they want policy consistency, so, equally, South African potential investors to any country expect the same.

One of the fields where further bilateral progress should be achieved, she says, is education, “especially in health sciences where Hungary is strong. It is the responsibility of government to help young people through a number of initiatives including opportunities to study abroad.”

The other area for development is culture, especially in classical music which Hungary is renowned for. “We would like to expose our up-coming musicians to Hungary’s classical music culture.”

Regarding economic ties, she believes there is room to strengthen bilateral trade, “although, the figures are not too bad considering the circumstances of the global economy.” Between 2007 and 2010, trade between the two countries grew significantly, by about 118%, but the trade balance still remained in favor of Hungary.

“So, we need to work harder to find a balance. This requires us to review and diversify the product range of South African exports,” the Ambassador says.  Currently, machinery, manufactured goods, transport and electronic equipment are the main elements of trade between the two countries. The two countries will have, in the second half of this year, a joint economic committee meeting which will be preceded by a study tour by a group of officials and businesspeople to explore more economic opportunities.

Water management, which Hungary excels in, is one possible area for cooperation. “A developmental study showed that the gap between the rich and the poor widened during our economic 'boom', and there are still people who do not have access to clean water and sanitation especially in the rural areas." she says.

As for her impression of the Hungarian people, the Ambassador finds that “Hungarians are not as warm as South Africans, especially in the city. She enjoys touring the countryside where she finds “people are laid back and appear content with daily life away from the stresses and pressures of urban life, working in their little well-looked-after gardens. I discovered over the years that “if you attempt to speak Hungarian, the people open up and smile back!”

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