27 March 2013
South Africa and Russia moved to cement relations on Tuesday when President Jacob Zuma hosted his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on the margins of the fifth BRICS summit in Durban.
Nine agreements were signed in the area of education and cooperation in the fields of energy, fisheries, aviation safety, natural resources as well as transport between ministers from both countries in a ceremony that marked the Russian president’s second official visit to South Africa.
Russia further pledged to assist South Africans with training on state-of-the art technology to build solar energy plants in South Africa.
Zuma singled out the launch of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Centre (MROC) between South Africa’s Denel and Russian Helicopters. The centre carries accreditation to perform maintenance on Russian helicopters types MI-8 and MI-17.
Zuma said Denel and Russian Helicopters had been in talks since 2009, and described the launch of MROC as exciting.
He said the partnership between the aviation companies was made possible by the Joint Inter-Governmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation between Russia and South Africa.
“The facility is here for all Russian helicopters systems operators in the continent and will enable the operators to derive the benefits of Denel’s extensive after-sales support presence across our continent,” Zuma said.
A further benefit for other African countries was that, through the deal, Denel-licensed technicians were available to provide on-the-job training, assisting with improved turnaround of aircraft and providing readily available spares.
Speaking through an interpreter, Putin noted that intra-trade between South Africa and Russia had increased by 66.3 percent in 2012. In 2011, total trade turnover between South Africa and the Russian Federation increased by 6.42% in 2009, from US$484-million to $517-million.
Putin said South Africa remained Russia’s “strategic partner”, and the two would continue to cooperate on international forums like the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, South African Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said a memorandum of understanding on the neutral recognition of academic qualifications and degrees between his department and the Russian government open up a range of new opportunities for students from both countries.
“What we did not have before is the mutual recognition of qualifications in these two countries. For instance, if a South African student has a BA (Bachelor of Science) degree, what does that mean in Russia and how do we equalise it . we want to establish equalization and allow equal access for our students,” Nzimande said.
The fifth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit officially kicked off on Tuesday evening with an opening ceremony and a banquet hosted by Zuma.