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November 6, 2019 12:14 pm

‘They Are Leading by Leaps and Bounds’: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa Lauds Israeli Economic Innovation in Policy Speech

avatar by Ben Cohen

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa lavished praise on Israel’s technology sector during a recent major economic policy address to women business leaders in Johannesburg, describing it as a model for his own country to follow.

When it came to growth and innovation, Israel was “leading by leaps and bounds,” Ramaphosa told the 2019 Presidential Dialogue of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa on Oct. 29.

“They are innovative in a number of sectors in the economy — in agriculture, in maritime, in many other areas,” Ramaphosa said, in remarks that were also broadcast live on South Africa’s national television network.

“They have shown that they can lead, and we can learn a lot from what they do,” he said.

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Ramaphosa’s comments about Israel came in response to an audience question from prominent venture capitalist Polo Leteka — the co-founder of IDF Capital, a South African-owned equity firm that invests in businesses owned by black women.

Leteka told Ramaphosa that Israel’s status as a global technology leader had been secured by the financial support of its government.

“It was the government of Israel who put up a challenge fund back in 1992 — it was essentially a matching fund that put millions of dollars into the private sector,” Leteka said. “That’s how the industry there has developed as it has.”

She continued: “We can do that here in this country, because we are not short of the capital.”

Ramaphosa responded to Leteka’s points enthusiastically, observing that the term “challenge fund” was “a very interesting nomenclature…it challenges the entrepreneurs themselves: ‘Come with plans and innovative ideas which we can fund, and then we can seed your business.'”

That approach, Ramaphosa concurred, was “in many ways what has gotten Israel to lead in the technology space.”

Famous for having flanked South Africa’s much-revered late former President Nelson Mandela in the iconic photograph of the latter’s release from prison in 1990, Ramaphosa was inaugurated as the country’s leader in May 2019.

In lauding Israel’s economic model, Ramaphosa — a billionaire businessman who began his career as a combative labor union leader during the struggle against apartheid — appeared to be distancing himself from the staunchly anti-Israel positions adopted by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC). The post of South African ambassador to Tel Aviv has been empty since April, following a Dec. 2017 decision at a special ANC conference — attended by leaders of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas — to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel.

With South Africa presently enduring a runaway unemployment rate of 29.1 percent compounded by slow economic growth, Ramaphosa has prioritized investment in the country’s economy. Over the last year, South African businesses have contributed $16 billion to an investment fund set up by Ramaphosa to finance new product lines and manufacturing centers around the country.

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