South Africa: Fall of the Berlin Wall Remembered in S. Africa

Germany's Ambassador to South Africa, Martin Schaefer, and South Africa's Environment minister Barbara Creecy with a mock Berlin Wall covered in graffiti.
10 November 2019

Three months after the Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison. On the weekend, guests at Germany's embassy in South Africa looked back on those seismic events of 30 years ago.

Germans and South Africans gathered behind a mock Berlin Wall covered in graffiti at the embassy function in Pretoria to mark the day the divide between East and West Germany came down.

Cars, food and culture were on display and panel discussions were part of the function. German Ambassador Martin Schäfer had only good words to say about the bilateral ties in business, education, science and culture. Cooperation, he noted, has been solidified by the two countries' similar pasts.

"Germany and South Africa share this wonderful moment in history when everything seemed impossible. When the Berlin Wall came down, Germany became a unified country after 40 years of separation," Schäfer told guests. "Around the same time in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was released and a peaceful transition from Apartheid with a free democratic South Africa became possible."

The role of sport in unity

South Africa's Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy told guests that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of black oppression under Apartheid, which came in the wake of Mandela's release, "also show that no matter what barriers exist physically or in our minds, they can be overcome."

"The unified Germany's triumph in the 1990 Football World Cup, as well as our own. Springbok victories in 1995 and last weekend, also serve to demonstrate the power of national unity."

Local organisations and entrepreneurs showcased their programmes and products at the function. "With the support of the German Development Bank, the work that we do is around building the capacity of young people to respond meaningfully to various challenges that are affecting communities," Kgotso Sothoane, the health sector coordinator at Activate! Change Drivers told DW.

"We have since 2012 trained over 4,200 young people, which gives them skills around project coordination, project management, articulation, socio political navigation and on HIV/AIDS issues."

Strong ties both ways

South Africa has a strong historic ties with Germany, a strong German expat community and many South Africans have German heritage.

Nthabiseng Dibakoane, the founder of Kea-Nthabi's African Design displayed some of her clothing, beadwork, bags, hats and jewelry. He ties to Germany has now gone beyond business she told DW.

"My younger brother is married to a lady from Germany. We married her with a traditional wedding. We even made traditional dresses for her," Dibakoane said.

"When the Germans were here during that wedding, they were very interested in many things that we do. They were enjoying everything that we were doing. They even spent the New Year's Eve with us because they wanted something different. They liked our way of living."

Between 1961 to 1989, a heavily guarded concrete wall stood between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany. Between 1948 and 1994, the people of South Africa were segregated along racial lines under white minority rule.

Claus Stäcker, the head of DW's Africa service, recalled in one of the panel discussions how Germans pushed for an end to Apartheid. "I was writing 'Free Nelson Mandela' letters at school at the age of 10. We were forced to do those things. And we wrote to the President of the Apartheid South Africa to free Nelson Mandela."

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