Certain ideas come to mind about both Israel and South Africa: “the world is watching”, “great achievement”, “diverse complex society”, “imperfect”, “large challenges” and “huge expectations” are just a few.
The idea that touches me most, as Israel’s new ambassador to South Africa, is “great opportunity”. The democracies in both Israel and SA have travelled an amazing distance since the tragic past of both of our peoples.
I believe that our two countries have a wide range of experiences and advantages that can be useful for the other.
Israel is a world leader in innovation, agriculture and many other areas. It is a small state without many natural resources that has renowned hi-tech capabilities and is the home of the microprocessor used in most laptop computers, the flash drive and advanced apps for smart phones like “Waze”, the GPS-like social network that was just purchased by Google for $1 billion –you can download it for free!
Last week, I visited a farm in Bethanie North West, where South African farmers are growing beetroot and cabbage using Israeli techniques such as drip irrigation to save water and have a contract to sell all of their produce at full market rates to Shoprite supermarkets.
Israeli agriculture experts are sharing their experience and state-of-the-art technologies to similar success in farms in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Innovative Israeli rescue equipment helped save the lives of at least eight trapped miners here in South Africa last month, after a nightmarish three-day ordeal.
An Israeli-developed instrument for adult male circumcision, without pain or surgery, is being used all over Africa to dramatically lower the risk for HIV infection.
South Africa sells Israel coal, diamonds and other natural resources.
Thousands of South Africans live in Israel, adding to my country’s diversity and – together with the Jewish community here, which celebrated its 110th anniversary – serve as a human bridge between our two countries.
South Africa’s unique experience in negotiating and compromising, despite the most difficult issues and challenges, is a model for Israelis and Palestinians as we have recently renewed our peace process and hope to move forward together in my troubled region.
We have shared interests in development in Africa and for better days in Egypt and Syria.
Another great area would be water management as both our countries have far less water than we need and Israel has developed techniques for desalination (Israel desalinates 78% of its water – by far the world leader), precision irrigation for food production and advancedwaste water treatment.
A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analysis here stated that: “As a result of its semi-arid climate, South Africa has lower water resources per capita than any OECD country except Israel”. In October, Israel is hosting Watec, an international conference on water management.
I am encouraging South Africans from government and other areas to look into taking part in the conference.
So the possibilities are there. The next step is to widen our dialogue and seek out more areas of co-operation. The embassy sponsors concerts, professional training programmes and a range of interactions to bring Israelis and South Africans closer together.
I even recently started a new Facebook page to get to know and virtually “meet” South Africans and share some of the discoveries I make in your amazing country.
Arthur Lenk is the new Israeli Ambassador to South Africa.