He also reiterated the need for a single currency on the continent.
Ramaphosa told journalists following a summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area on Wednesday that “the easy movement of people across borders and countries should never be seen in a negative sense by us as South Africans”.
He said he discussed this matter with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in their bilateral on Tuesday. “There is a deep yearning in Rwanda and the region for this visa matter to be resolved, and we need to open up the borders of our country and allow people to move,” he said.
South Africa and Rwanda have had strained relations since 2010, and in 2014 diplomats from both sides were suspended after a Rwandan opposition leader was murdered in South Africa. This also meant the South African visa office in Rwanda was closed and Rwandans had to travel outside the country to get visas to South Africa.
Ramaphosa on Wednesday signed the Kigali Declaration, signalling South Africa’s commitment to moving towards a free trade area in the continent, but it stopped short of signing the actual African Continental Free Trade Area agreement and the Protocol on the Free Movement of People because of outstanding internal legal issues and Constitutional processes that needed to be followed.
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Ramaphosa said the free trade accord would mean that other countries, like Rwanda, could come do business in South Africa, and vice versa. “Because when they come, they come with money. They bring dollars to come and invest in South Africa,” he said.
Some also came to learn in South Africa, while South Africans went out to study and learn from other countries, like Rwanda.
“So movement of people does not only mean people are coming to South Africa to take our people’s jobs. It also needs to be seen in another dimension that we are sending companies here (to Rwanda) to do business, to trade and to learn new skills. And as it is now, Rwanda has a lot to teach us. They have developed so quickly and got out of the total disaster they had 20 years ago and they are a completely transformed country,” he said, with reference to Rwanda’s genocide.
He said the movement of people should be looked at “in a positive sense that people, as they move, got something to contribute. And similarly when we move as South Africans, we move to other countries, we know that we have something to contribute, so let’s treat them like we want to be treated.”
Ramaphosa also said businesspeople on the sidelines of a forum on Tuesday had called for a single currency. He said he agreed that this would help trade.
“Africa is developing in a wonderful way, further on this economic journey, and we will be beginning to interface with the notion and the idea of a single currency. Some even suggested a digital currency, and it is possible that a digital currency will even precede a real single because it is easier done than having a proper full currency,” he said.
Ramaphosa said it was still early days, but it meant Africa was opening up a range of economic opportunities and has moved beyond sloganeering.
Altogether, 44 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement in an elaborate ceremony on Wednesday, 43 signed the Kigali Protocol committing to working towards such a free trade area, while 27 signed the Protocol on the Free Movement of People.Two of the continent’s biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, did not sign the free trade agreement because they needed to complete internal processes and consultations.