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South African ambassador urges closer business ties with Charlotte

South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool addressed a room of local businesspeople Thursday, asking them to do just one thing: a simple craft project.

“Find an old map you have to waste, cut out the USA and put it on top of Africa,” the ambassador of South Africa to the U.S. said.

“What you will find is that all of the USA only fits into the Sahara Desert,” he said. “That’s how big Africa is. That’s how big its opportunity is.”

Rasool spoke at a luncheon hosted by the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, imploring local leaders to consider the economic opportunities in South Africa.

“The invitation is for Charlotte today, but also for Americans in general,” Rasool said, noting that the South African economy craves what the United States holds: investors and infrastructure that can add value.

Rasool said he is particularly interested in Charlotte’s dynamic renewable energy industry and powerful financial services companies.

“How can Charlotte bring technology for solar energy? For wind energy?” he asked in an interview. “How can we partner together for energy balance?”

At the presentation, Rasool discussed China’s significant involvement in Africa – as the biggest buyer and the biggest lender of capital to the continent for the last decade.

“But the presence of China is not the preference for China,” he said. “It’s the absence of the USA that creates the presence of China.”

“If you can’t be with the one you love,” Rasool said, referring to the popular Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, “Love the One You’re With.”

Rasool called on Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who attended the event, to match China’s involvement in South Africa.

Foxx said that it is the duty of Charlotte businesses to expand.

“We need our ventures to expand beyond the borders of Charlotte, North Carolina, beyond the borders of our region and even beyond the borders of the state of North Carolina,” Foxx said.

Rasool spoke at length about South Africa’s long journey to prosperity. He described growing up in a country crippled by decades of apartheid that lasted until 1994. Since, Rasool said, South Africa has emerged as one of the world’s best banking systems on a continent that has the second-fastest growing global GDP.

“Africa’s GDP is growing on average at 5.5 percent a year, right behind China,” Rasool said. “Some countries, like Mozambique, have outrageous growth rates of almost 18 percent, and only two economies have negative growth in Africa.”

“A few years ago, Africa was a recipient of global food aid,” he said. “Tomorrow, Africa will be the guarantor of food security for the world.”

Bob Holcombe, chairman of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, said he thinks many in the room Thursday were affected by Rasool’s presentation.

“Businesses are very practical,” Holcombe said. “They go where the profits and the money go. And I think more and more businesses will really consider the African continent, and even more so, South Africa because of the dramatic changes since the end of apartheid in 1994.”

Rasool emphasized that there is money to be made in Africa – but only if people from Charlotte seek it.

“My appeal to Charlotte is that you are far more complacent sometimes about your potential,” he said. “This city is where we see some of the most dynamic centers of economic growth.”

McCabe: 704-358-5197
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