Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr Angela Merkel, visited the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus on 6 February to participate in a student-led conversation forum. Dr Merkel answered questions posed by students which were live-streamed on UP’s YouTube channel. Dr Merkel was hosted by Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, Professor Kupe, who began the conversation by introducing Dr Merkel and speaking of his hope to forge lasting relationships with Germany and its government.

Prof. Kupe set the tone for the event by encouraging open communication and sharing of ideas, saying that “dialogue and conversation are the heart and soul of democracy”. As the conversation began, Dr Merkel expressed her admiration of the Future Africa Campus, commenting that she particularly liked the cows found on UP’s Experimental Farm and that the campus is modern and innovative.

Dr Merkel also gave a brief history of her political career and then begin answering student questions. When asked about her political career and how she would encourage future leaders and specifically young women, Dr Merkel explained that there are continuously new problems arising in politics while existing problems are still being battled and that she believes it is up to the next generation of leaders to “be fearless”, and have courage when facing issues such as inequality, gender inequality and poverty. Dr Merkel encouraged young leaders to keep working towards a future they desire, stating that “[this] generation has an obligation to do things differently” than past leaders.

With regard to the future of South Africa, multiple students asked Dr Merkel for her opinion and advice on education in the country and on unemployment levels. Dr Merkel explained that “education is of central importance” and that South Africa can work towards a skills-based and vocational training program for the future, where school leaving young adults to explore different technical professions. Dr Merkel also discussed a new type of work environment in which people work from home and electronically, mentioning how this demands new approaches to employment and training methods. In discussing the business industry, Dr Merkel also spoke of the need for an established private business section and well-developed tax systems.

“[this] generation has an obligation to do things differently”

The German Chancellor was also asked about gender equality and in giving advice to young women, Dr Merkel said to be confident and assertive in demanding equality and in career advancement and to strive for success in disciplines such as coding and other technical skills. The importance of both genders ensuring gender equality was emphasised by Dr Merkel, as was the need for on-going progress for gender equality globally, including in Germany and South Africa.

Dr Merkel encouraged not labelling any individual with stereotypical assumptions and to look at each person as a dignified human being. The Chancellor answered the final student question and closed by encouraging students as the future of the nation, saying “you are a generation that grows into a completely new Africa”.

In addition to these topics, students also asked Dr Merkel about: sustainable energy options for South Africa, the South African health care system, social unity in Africa, tensions between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, and Germany’s approach to the Israel/Palestine tensions.

Dr Merkel also met with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings on 6 February as part of her visit to South Africa before travelling to Future Africa Campus.

Image: Sam Mukwamu

Kayla Thomas