Troi Oi, Mr President!
25 May 2007
HCM CITY, VIETNAM – President of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki, made a brief and disappointing visit to the southern city on Friday to speak at a business forum of expatriate South Africans and Vietnamese business delegates regarding improved trade between the two former-colonial nations.
Held at the Caravelle Hotel, the business delegation from South Africa consisted of a number of bored government officials, including the always-eloquent Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Deputy Minister of the Department of Trade and Industry Rob Davies and Minister of Education Naledi Pandor. A number of CEOs and directors from big South African companies, such as SAB Miller, Absa and Standard Bank, were also present.
Following an enthusiastic welcoming speech by the vice-chairman of the HCMC People’s Committee, Mr Nguyen Trung Tin, Davies led an informative presentation regarding South Africa’s increased trade role in Vietnam. Davies concluded that SA could supply mining technology, pharmaceuticals and chemical and agricultural products to Vietnam and that South Africa did not need the country's cheap labour because “we have our own, thank you” (okay, I made up that last part - journalistic freedom). In 2006, exports to the socialist republic were only $48 million – SA’s 68th biggest trade partner compared with Japan at $6000 million – and imports only $100 million.
The audience, which included two South African expatriates currently residing in the city and working in the education sector, waited anxiously for the promised speech by the president. The business forum was clearly treated as a stopover lacking in diplomatic clout, after official meetings in the capital Hanoi earlier the week, however, and it was evident that the president had no intention of preparing a speech of omniscient proportions for the event, much to the disappointment of the Vietnamese (and the expatriate) businesspeople present. In fact, he had no plan to prepare a speech at all and instead President Mbeki said he would just answer questions, of which most were from his own delegation.
The lack of communication, cooperation and clear goals between the two countries’ business sectors baffled Mbeki, who said “We have to look at the weakness of our organised business structures.” He was clearly surprised by his own delegation member, Mr Rob Davies’, statistics regarding trade between the two developing countries.
Perhaps the most emphatic point Mbeki made was concerning a question set by a Mr Lai Huu Phuong, of Ben Thanh Tourist, inquiring whether any South African tourism company had any plans to invest in Vietnam. Mbeki replied that one has to look at the [lack of cooperation in the tourism industry] from “a holistic point of view”.
“I have my doubts whether South African Airlines have any plans to fly to Vietnam,” he said.
Cam on, Mr President, xin cam on.