Swiss businesses and the government's Development Agency have set up a foundation to sponsor educational projects in South Africa. Both parties denied they were trying to make up for the failure to apply sanctions during the Apartheid era.
The Development Agency said on Friday the foundation would have an annual budget of SFr2 million ($1.23 million), to be spent on projects to improve primary and vocational education.
The focus will be on training courses for teachers and school directors in poorer provinces, skills training for the unemployed in townships, school construction in remote rural areas in former homelands, and the purchase of essential teaching equipment.
The projects are to be carried out by South African non-government organisations and private firms.
"This is the first time that the Development Agency and the Swiss private sector join hands for sponsoring development activities in Africa," the Swiss ambassador to South Africa, Rudolf Schaller, told a news conference in Johannesburg.
"The initiative shows our mutual commitment towards a more stable and prosperous Africa."
The Development Ageny said the private sector had already pledged SFr5 million over the next five years, and that it would match the contribution.
The Swiss companies involved include some of the best known Swiss businesses, such as Novartis, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, Ciba, UBS, Schindler and a South African subsidiary of the cement giant, Holderbank.
The initiative was unveiled just days after South Africa's Archbishop Ndungane renewed an appeal for those who profited from Apartheid to pay compensation.
Switzerland was one of the countries which refused to apply the international sanctions against South Africa between 1985 and the early 1990s, arguing that they would do more harm than good to the oppressed population.
However, both the government's Development Agency and the Swiss businesses behind the foundation rejected claims that it was a gesture to atone for profits made during that time.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos, Archbishop Ndugane had said there should be no amnesty for the "Apartheid-profiteers".
Ndungane is patron of a campaign to persuade companies and governments who bolstered the Apartheid system with loans to South Africa, to cancel the debt or pay compensation.
by Malcolm Shearmur