Two countries making the difficult transition to fully functioning democracy and free market economy elevated their partnership by signing a series of agreements on November 21. A delegation led by South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Bahad, inked a variety of accords with their Slovak counterparts, including deputy foreign minister Jozef Šesták, that ran the gamut from visa cancellation to culture, sports and science and technology swaps.
But aside from the signings, the visit's most important theme was trade. In this respect, Slovakia and South Africa have become fast friends, with trade blossoming from $9.9 million in 1993 to $33 million in the first three quarters of 1995, a whopping rise of 233 percent. Still, though, Bahad saw this figure as "small," with "tremendous potential to raise this to a much higher level."
While trade is burgeoning, the balance is heavily weighted to one side. Figures for the first nine months of 1995 show Slovakia running a deficit of $19 million. South Africa has succeeded in penetrating the Slovak market with consumer products such as chocolates, panty hose, fruits and the ubiquitous coin operated public telephones. Those inroads have helped it cut into its more traditional export base of raw materials, to the point where that ratio now stands at 50-50, said a South African official.
Slovakia, meanwhile, has relied on exports of finished products in heavy machinery, tractors and mining equipment to South Africa. Bahad said that what Slovakia has to offer is exactly what his country will need more of in the future, as South Africa tackles its general reconstruction. He specifically mentioned materials and expert assistance in helping with South Africa's "massive housing program" and agricultural reform. But it won't be the only partner. "It's not an either/or situation," Bahad said. "It does not mean that if we're dealing with Slovakia, we're not dealing with anybody else." Aside from the trade talk, the visa cancellation accord will strengthen the ties between the approximately 4,000 strong Slovak community in South Africa and their mother country.