Jean-Jacques Cornish

Macron’s lightning visit to South Africa dominated by COVID

“This really is a lightning visit,” says Wandile Mabaso on the lawn of the Boer War hospital that is today the French Ambassador’s residence in Pretoria.

“We came here to cook breakfast for him,” says the man now back home in South Africa after two years at a two-Michelin-star Paris restaurant. “But now that is not going to happen.”

Wandile is as much to blame as I am for French President Emmanuel Macron being delayed in the final hours of his 36-hour visit to Pretoria.

He was just behind Trevor Manuel and ahead of me in skirting the dark-suited bodyguards to get a fist bump, a couple of word and a selfie with the visitor.

“OK, OK,” the French press attache tells me. “You can get a picture, but no questions.”

I am grateful, therefore, to the French businessmen who asked him: “When will you encourage French investment in Mozambique.”

I am the sole journalist to hear him reply: “The situation there is very difficult there. There is a regional effort in place to restore stability. Let us see how that progresses before we can look at further investment.”

The insurrection in the northern province of South Africa’s eastern neighbor has forced French energy giant Total to step back from its natural gas exploitation in Cabo Delgado that will make Mozambique a regional energy giant.

Being warned off popping a surprise question is an indication of caution rather than of  Macron’s reluctance to speak to the media.

At the home of Ambassador Aurèlien Lechevallier he spoke for 40 minutes to 300 members of the French community in South Africa.

He told them he had brought 2 212 doses of Johnson&Johnson to vaccinate them against COVID.

He sympathized with their being locked down and then having their movement restricted.

French citizens going home from a red zone like South Africa have to quarantine for 14 days.

Macron congratulated embassy and consulate staff for their efforts in securing the repatriation of  hundreds of French tourists and other visitors who found themselves in South Africa.

The pandemic dominated his agenda here, from the talks with President  Cyril Ramaphosa after the 21-gun welcome at the Union Buildings, until his final speaking engagement at the residence before a visit to the Apartheid Museum and boarding his flight home.

He and Ramaphosa attended the launch at the University of Pretoria of the programme to start manufacturing COVD vaccines in Africa.

Macron insisted that intellectual property held by big pharma should not stop Africans making vaccine.

The president was basking in the success of his equally brief visit to Rwanda where he asked forgiveness for France’s blindness ahead of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Pointedly he stopped short of saying France had role in the actual killing.

Nevertheless Rwandan President praised Macron’s courage, saying: “This was more than an apology, it was the truth. And there is always a risk in telling the truth.”

Brief as the Macron safari was, it has taken significant steps in strengthening and broadening relations with Africa.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.