France's president Francois Hollande has wrapped up a two-day visit to South Africa. It focused on trade, African security and included a "very emotional" visit to the house where Nelson Mandela once lived.
In talks on security policy, France and South Africa have agreed that they needed to act quickly to prevent the troubled Central African Republic (CAR) from imploding.
French President Francois Hollande said the CAR was in an "emergency situation" and the nation was still being wracked by violence seven months after a bloody coup. Earlier this year, South Africa pulled its troops out of the CAR after 15 of its soldiers were killed when the Seleka rebel coalition seized power.
France has said that it might increase its troop presence in the CAR to back an African Union force, with France's military mission going beyond protecting French interests in the country.
But during a news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma, Hollande insisted that France's role was not to substitute an African force, "but to assist, support and train."
Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris, told DW that Hollande's main fear was that "sooner or later very debatable persons may find refuge in the CAR to rearm themselves or just have a break before restarting operations whether in Nigeria or Chad or even Sudan. There is a security threat that could affect CAR neighbors," he said.
France is still heavily involved in security and peacekeeping in its former colonies and this visit to South Africa is seen as part of French efforts to persuade South Africa to play a bigger role in security on the African continent.
Hollande and President Zuma also discussed the unrest in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where South Africa is spearheading a UN intervention force.
This was the first trip to South Africa by a French leader since Nicolas Sarkozy visited the country in 2008.
Trade ties and job creation
Local media reported that Francois Hollande arrived accompanied by his partner, eight ministers and delegation of at least 40 French business leaders.
France clinched nearly 6 billion euros ( $8 billion) worth of infrastructure deals with South Africa during Hollande's visit, which include the building of a thermal and solar power plants.
South Africa has embarked on a multi-billion dollar building spree to set up new power plants that would double electricity supplies over the next two decades.
A deal for the overhaul of South Africa's ageing rail fleet was also finalized. The French firm Alstrom will build 600 trains and 3,600 carriages for South Africa's passenger rail service PRASA from 2015 to 2025. A DW correspondent in Johannesburg, Thuso Khumalo, said a major part of the equipment would be produced in South Africa generating thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
President Zuma described France as a reliable development partner. He said trade between the two countries was showing signs of recovery after the slowdown caused by the global economic crisis.
While President Hollande was signing business deals, France's First Lady Valerie Treierweiler met with South African gay rights groups.
On Tuesday, the French leader paid a "very emotional" visit Tuesday to the small house in Soweto where peace icon Nelson Mandela lived before his 27-year-imprisonment.
"Coming to this house you get the feeling of a fighter, a combatant, a militant who lived here among his own," said Hollande after spending time at the matchbox brick building, which is now a national monument.
Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of Mandela being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with then-president FW de Klerk for negotiating an end to apartheid.
- Mark Caldwell, Reuters, AFP