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Botschaft, Presse, Südafrika in Deutschland

20. Oktober 2011

Interview with H.E. Reverend Makhenkesi A. Stofile, Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa

On 1 June 2011 Reverend Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile, Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa in Berlin, was officially accredited by Christian Wulff, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany. 100 days after taking office, Ambassador Stofile shares his vision for his term as South Africa’s Ambassador to Germany as well as his thoughts on the relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of South Africa – both in the multilateral arena such as the United Nations Security Council and on a people-to-people level of ordinary Germans and South Africans. As a great sports enthusiast himself, he talks about the value of sport and its limitations on unifying a nation.

1.) Question: Your Excellency, your first 100 days in office as Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa in Germany have passed. How do you feel about your role and being in office here in Berlin?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: It has been just over three months since the first of June 2011. To be an Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa is always perceived as a great honour by anybody who is selected for the task. For me that was not different. I discovered that being an Ambassador is something far different than what I perceived it to be. It certainly needs your creativity, but first of all it requires your understanding of the politics of your home country. Then you must also understand what is going on in the country which is hosting you in terms of general policies and the challenges they face. Many countries are undergoing transformation in 2011. Germany has also seen many changes this year for example, the nuclear power policies. One has to understand these things and be sensitive to other people’s aspirations and feelings. But at the same time one has to first and foremost always remember that one is here for the interest of one’s country and its national interests.
I also appreciate the fact that the ANC felt that at my age I had something to offer the country even though I have reached the retirement age in the civil service. If I were to make any recommendations to the President it would be that this is actually the right age and all the veterans must go and represent the country in faraway countries, because it is not a position where you try your teeth and your expertise, it is where you apply your knowledge, it is where you can give leadership and engage the country which is hosting you on an equal footing. You have to be mature to deal with those things.

2.) Question: You come here with years of experience, having seen so much of the world, what is it that you feel as a representative of the Republic of South Africa you want Germans to know  – where you feel there is ignorance or where you feel there is interest that can be developed any further.

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: There are many Germans who want to know more about South Africa especially after the hype of the 2010 FIFA World Cup when many people went to South Africa and were charmed by the country and now want to go back over and over again. But for all those that did not have the opportunity to visit during the World Cup, there must be an understanding that this is a unique country, a special country; it is a very warm and welcoming country. I want Germans to know that and I also want them to know that there are great opportunities for ordinary Germans and lastly that they should get acquainted with South Africans.
The younger generation also needs to know that the task of liberation has not been completed. There is still a lot of work to be done, still a lot of cooperation that must take place between the ordinary German and the ordinary South African.   That is what I want to transmit to the people of Germany. I want to remind them that just because we voted in 1994 and we continue to vote every four years it is only one brick of the many bricks that must constitute the total liberation of our people.”

3.) Question: Do you think that the dual educational system in Germany where you learn manual skills like carpentry and at the same time you go to school is something that you can also see as beneficial for South Africans?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: South Africa and Germany have a number of cooperation agreements and what I want to ensure that these agreements are fully operational. I want to see more activity in the area of skills-transfer. We always say - Germans have got the know-how but South Africans have the know-where, they know where these projects and skills can be deployed. Therefore, there must be cross-coordination of German know-how and South African know-where to empower our people to develop themselves. We cannot have an education which is unrelated to what the corporate sector wants, this can lead to having a lot of children with degrees and diplomas but without jobs because they have a degree but they are lacking the required skills. I know that many young people complain that they are asked to bring experience to a job but that is the whole point about the private sector: it is not a training institute, it is a production institute, which employs you because you can make a contribution to its productivity especially at this time. But Germany has also addressed the question of work experience by doing what South Africa used to do by apprenticing these young learners, apprenticing them during their studies as  potential employees.
And these exchanges are what this Embassy will endeavour to fulfil. We will also try to revive the old partnerships that existed between some of our Provinces and the Federal States in Germany. We are a kind of catalyst; we are trying to get the people moving in the same direction because we must work together. South Africa was not alone in the battle for its liberation. South Africa cannot be left alone in its battle for economic emancipation.

4.) Question: there is already exchange of knowledge between Germany and South Africa. Where do you see the similarities in the culture and how they go about things?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: Germans and South Africans are actually very similar – I am talking about ordinary human beings. The stereotypes that my mother and my grandmother held for instance about other ethnic groups in South Africa, are not so different to the stereotypes of the old generation of Germans. Even now I am amazed when Germans say ‘We are Prussian, we are Bavarian, we are Swabian etc.´ It is not an indication of xenophobia. It is how people are. People cherish their identity and their nationhood and South Africans are the same.
However, it is important that the citizens of our countries stay open-minded to foreign cultures and this is especially imperative when it comes to the topic of immigrants.
Germany and South Africa confront similar challenges at home. Those challenges in particular are faced by foreigners immigrating to the country and who are contributing to the wealth and economy of the country. With all those people descending upon us from Zimbabwe, Somalia and other parts of the continent, it is not different from people who are descending from Turkey, Iraq and the Balkans to Germany. We face similar challenges but we address them fortunately with similar attitudes of accommodation. Yes, those people are under pressure, yes they put us under pressure too but until we help them out of their pressure, our pressure will not go away.
We are under pressure now from the economic and financial meltdown and so the ordinary South African and the ordinary German is not thinking the way I am thinking. They worry about their jobs; they worry about their social security, their taxes. That is the thing you hear when you listen to the people on the streets but the leaders must be resolute to say that the world is big enough for all of us and those who have a little bit must be ready to share with those who have nothing.
I liked what President Wulff said on National Refugee Day namely that Germans must open their borders. Like the borders of the other countries that were opened for them when they were persecuted in the 1930s and 1940s. Our people were persecuted under Apartheid and they ran to all parts of the world including Germany.

5.) Question: The trio of South Africa, Germany and UN is back on the international stage. How can politics on a smaller stage here in Berlin enhance the relationship on the international stage and at the UN?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: The UN is a very important formation for South Africa. After the First World War, South Africa was directly involved in the establishment in the League of Nations. The South African Prime Minister at that time, Jan Smuts participated in that process.
It is interesting to note that both South Africa and India always mooted the inclusion of human rights as a primal area of focus for the United Nations. However, other countries insisted that the UN mandate was to avoid inter-state conflicts. It has now changed, everybody is talking about human rights and there is a clear shift; the recent adoption of Resolution 1973(2011) was a major shift.
We, as South Africans believe there must be a different kind of shift: when we go to the Security Council we go there armoured with this experience of life but also looking in the face of our erstwhile colonisers and conquerors, as you like.  When we look at the big five; and I am not a German, but in my mind if I was German I would not be happy that as the biggest economy in Europe, we are not participating in the UN Security Council when a smaller economy in Europe is actually participating as a permanent member. The same with South Africa: we cannot be happy when we see European countries monopolising the UN Security Council. So we have a common cause to argue for the reform of the institutions of the UN. It is a new world, it is not the old world of the colonisers and the colonised – we are now all free and all equal even though our pockets are not the same, we are equal none the less. You can’t just say because Burundi is less economically endowed that makes it a junior partner of South Africa. We are all equal members of the African Union. Like Germany, we are all equal members of the UNSC and we argue that we deserve a permanent status like the others. It cannot only be the Second World War that defines permanent membership of the Security Council. The mandate of the UN is changing so the composition of its organisation must also change. This is something we share with Germany. We further also share the reconstruction of communities that have been ravished by conflicts. We are both in Sudan, Southern Sudan and in Somalia. We share strategies of reconstruction.  I have not had discussions on the German perspective of the conflict between North and South Sudan but I know it is of great concern to both of us because we have people on the ground to assist with the establishment of government structures and infrastructures.

6.) Question: Previously you talked about opening borders and all of us being equal; there is always the concept of integration and integrating. Sport has turned out to be a great medium of integration since everyone is on one field and language is not an obstacle. Do you see that sport is important to integration, social change and keeping youngsters off the street?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: Integration should not be reduced to shaking hands on the sports field. It goes much deeper than that. I would dare say that South Africa and Germany have been models to the world in terms of showing how possible it can be. Here in Germany you have the Germans, the Turkish, the Poles, the Italians and they are all integrated into Germany. The same in South Africa you have almost the United Nations of people. It however becomes difficult on three levels: race, religion and class.
In Germany as well as in South Africa race continues to become a determinant and it inhibits integration. We have to defeat racism no matter what. It is not going to come easy since it has been here for a long time.
The second one is religion; especially since September 11 the rise of islamophobia in the world is unacceptable. It is not that it started then, it has been there for a long time.
Another problem inhibiting integration is religious prejudice or religious fanaticism. You find it on the left and right wing, like in the case of Oslo. It is religious fanaticism and it militates against the integration of communities.
Another thing of course is cultural fanaticism. If you believe your culture is superior to those of others then invariably you make it very difficult for integration. There was an argument of the South African National Party when they imposed the laws against mixed marriages. People said: “What is going to happen to us, our children are going to be mixed, we will disappear as whites, and we will disappear as blacks.” What does it matter whether we are black white or yellow? Who said that God wants this particular colour on earth? There must be a mix. When the coffee comes from the kettle it is black and when your milk is from the cow it is white. So when it is in the cup it is brown and nice.
The last point that is an obstruction against integration is class. If you are rich and you have money you have no problem to integrate. But if you are poor you come from the working class, you are going to have a hell of a problem of integrating. It is a man-made problem – it is not how it should be. You can read in the scriptures of any religion they all agree about the access and equality for all, but in real life it does not work this way.

7.)  Question: Does integration work on the sport fields?

H.E. Ambassador Stofile: Sport is not a stand-alone. Sport is a reflection of where that particular society is. Sport was as racist as the society and was as exclusive as the rest of society. The big mistake that people make and even President Mandela in 1995, when we won the Rugby World Cup said “we have now united the people of South Africa”. But we did not. What it really showed was what sport was capable of doing so. If that spirit was embraced and nurtured by the people of South Africa, we would by now have united the people of the country. We did not. After the game everybody went into his or her cocoon and played with their cat and of course all hell broke loose. We had not been united by sport. Sport had only opened a window to show us what was possible. Again the same happened in 2007 when we won the World Cup in France. I know the euphoria but the reality is that we would be lying to say that sport has managed to unite South Africa. What we do say however, is that it provides a snippet of what is possible: the unification of people irrespective of colour, religion or class. This is what happens on the sport field. On the field, it is just you and the ball, you and the opposition – it has nothing to do with your money, it has nothing to do with your status in society – it has to do with you only.
So sport is an integrator without inhibitions. It does not make me hate you because you broke my nose; after a while you will laugh about the broken nose. And this is how life should be. We should laugh even about our tribulations. But sport, I agree, inspires hope where there is none. Look at Caster Semenya, the little girl from Limpopo. She had this problem of hormones and we went to see her mother, living in a very rural community. She was angry that we were questioning the gender of her daughter. She gave birth to her as a girl and said “what the hell are you talking about asking whether she is a girl or a boy?” she has come from that background and sport has placed her at the epitome of success and respect. Now she is respected by everybody and she is successful as an athlete. I know many people who should have stayed in jail for many years but because they became excellent sport persons they were taken out of the circle of criminality and became respectable people.
When you are young and you are denied privileges and opportunities, you begrudge those who have them. Unless you defeat the socio-economic problems, sport will never blossom as a unifier of society. It tries all the time. It has no language barrier, it is just enjoyment. I saw South Africa beat France in the Soccer World Cup and the French were very upset. I saw Ghana beat the USA and they were very excited. But after the games even those who were beaten were not bitter about it. You shake hands as you are amazed.
In the end we must continue to hope. Like in Latin: Dum spiro spero, once we hope, we live. So we must continue to hope because we live. I said in the beginning, our responsibility is the improvement of the lot of our lives, the lives of our communities. It is the socio-economic emancipation which must follow the political emancipation. We are not there yet. We must strive for that goal and sport will be unleashed to do what it can more ably to than anybody else.  


The interview was conducted by Ms Pöhlmann, Journalist at the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa.

Contact details: PoehlmannS(at)


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