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Switzerland takes on new role in South Africa

Switzerland is broadening its focus after calling an end to its ten-year aid programme in South Africa (SDC)

Switzerland has called on South Africa to play a greater role in the development of poor neighbours.

During an annual conference on Friday, the Swiss development agency said Switzerland would end the ten-year programme it launched to lend stability after apartheid.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Switzerland would take aim at poverty in southern Africa, with a new focus that includes other African countries.

"Poverty and income disparity are the greatest threats to peaceful development of the country, ” she told media on Friday.

But the key obstacles to progress in South Africa cross borders, she added, and can only be tackled by combining the resources of neighbours.

Switzerland will help to forge partnerships among African organisations and states, and pursue peace and safety across the continent, she said.

Regional program

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) hosting the conference in St Gallen called on South Africa to be an “engine” of regional development for poorer neighbours.

Agency vice-director Adrian Schläpfer said the SDC would budget SFr10 million per year for regional development, federal finances permitting.

He said two pilot projects had been launched this year, supporting growers with seed marketing programmes and funding environmental efforts in 15 rivers in southern Africa.

Oscar Knapp of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), said SFr15 million is budgeted over the next three years.

While two former emphases - on education and land reform - will be dropped, Seco will support South African business and encourage imports from neighbouring countries, he said.

"We have work to do, to bring business into the global market. And we want to give more weight to ecological issues and social problems,” like Aids, he added.

Land reform

The SDC’s Schläpfer praised the long but steady progress in redistributing land – 87 percent of which had been in the hands of white South Africans.

The post-apartheid transition has been peaceful, and "our optimism was justified there,” he said.

But great disparity remains in the country of Nelson Mandela, despite ten years of progress, said Kader Asmal, a South African member of parliament and a guest at the conference.

An estimated 13 per cent of the population enjoy a standard of living like that of Spain, while more than 50 per cent are poor, he said.

"We're still in transition. South Africa always harbours two societies in a single country."

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

Key facts

The Swiss Development Agency has been active in South Africa since 1994, covering areas such as governance, education, HIV/Aids and land distribution.
Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey says South African development now hinges on combining the resources of neighbours.
Future Swiss aid programmes will cover southern Africa as a whole, with a strong emphasis on natural resources management and HIV/Aids.

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In brief

In South Africa, the Swiss Development Agency has been helping the country in its transition from apartheid to a solid democratic regime.

Every year, Switzerland sends aid worth SFr35 million ($28.4 million) to Mozambique, making it one of the top-ten international donors to the African country.

One Swiss-backed project in South Africa, to support children affected by HIV/Aids in the family, is being duplicated in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

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