Bilateral relations

Switzerland and South Africa have diverse and close relations. South Africa is a strategic partner country of Switzerland and is one of Switzerland's most important economic partners on the African continent. Priorities of cooperation are economic development as well as science and research.

Key aspects of diplomatic relations

In March 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in Geneva on expanding cooperation, in particular to promote cooperation in politics, business, development, peace promotion, education and training, science and culture. Since then high-level consultations between the two countries take place annually at which the priorities of their bilateral and multilateral cooperation, as well as new projects, are discussed.

In the multilateral field, the regional economic organisation, the Southern African Development Community, is a fundamental element for cooperation with South Africa, in particular with regard to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's regional development cooperation.

Southern African Development Community

Treaty database

Trade and investments

South Africa is one of Switzerland's most important economic partners on the African continent. The bilateral trade volume reached approximately CHF 1.8 billion in 2016. Switzerland primarily imported precious metals, in particular aluminium and platinum, while South Africa imports pharmaceuticals, machines, precision instruments and watches. In 2016, Switzerland was the ninth-largest foreign investor in South Africa. South Africa receives more tourists from Switzerland than from any other European country.

More than 100 Swiss companies have subsidiaries or production sites in South Africa, creating approximately 50,000 jobs. A Swiss Business Hub for promoting trade and investment is integrated in the Swiss embassy in Pretoria.

Trade promotion, Switzerland Global Enterprise SGE

Swiss Cham Southern Africa

Cooperation in education, research and innovation

In 2007, the two countries concluded an agreement on scientific and technological cooperation. Ten years later the Swiss South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) has supported 61 joint research projects over three funding periods that commenced respectively in 2008; 2013 and 2017 covering the domains of:

  • Clean and green technology domain (10 projects)

  • Sustainable systems domain (6 projects)

  • Communicable diseases (20 projects)

  • Non-communicable Diseases (15 projects)

  • Big data with a focus on astronomy (2 projects)

  • Social sciences and humanities (8 projects) 

South Africa and Switzerland have embarked on a robust entrepreneurship programme called the Swiss South Africa Business Development Programme (SSABDP) since 2010. The SSABDP brings together upcoming entrepreneurs from Switzerland and South Africa with the aim of nurturing an innovative spirit and of creating business networks across continents.

Researchers and academic students from South Africa can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships to the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI). Thanks to the so-called trainee agreements, young professionals have the opportunity to expand their professional experience and knowledge of foreign languages in Switzerland.

University of Basel, Swiss South African Joint Research Programme (en)

University of Basel, Swiss South African Joint Research Programme, Academia - Industry Training (en)

Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars and Artists SERI

Young prfessionals, State Secretariat for Migration SEM

Economic cooperation and development (SECO)

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has selected South Africa as a priority country for economic development and focuses on the following three themes:

  1. The development of a competitive, integrated economy
  2. Strengthening South Africa as a regional hub for key areas related to trade and the knowledge economy
  3. Energy efficiency and climate change

Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid

Economic Cooperation and Development, SECO

Swiss nationals in South Africa

According to the Statistics on the Swiss abroad, 9132 Swiss nationals were living in South Africa at the end of 2016, primarily in the two economically strongest provinces of Gauteng and Western Cape.

Cultural exchanges

Switzerland and southern Africa maintain lively cultural exchanges, mainly in music and dance. Private partners are often involved. Pro Helvetia has a representation in South Africa which moved its head office from Cape Town to Johannesburg in 2012.

History of bilateral relations

The SDC was already active in South Africa during the final stage of the apartheid regime at the beginning of the 1990s, contributing to efforts to make the transition to the new political system as non-violent as possible.  Switzerland supported the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC.

As a result of international sanctions against the apartheid regime, which Switzerland did not participate in, the Federal Council decided to take measures to ensure that Switzerland was not used as a centre to circumvent these sanctions.

In the 20th century many large Swiss companies established subsidiaries or representations in South Africa. From the 19th century Swiss businessmen, craftsmen, restaurateurs and engineers emigrated to South Africa. In the 1950s South Africa became the most popular destination for Swiss emigrants on the African continent.

The first Swiss migrants, mainly farmers, reached the former Cape Colony as early as the 18th century.  At the same time, various missionaries (Basel, Vaud, Paris missions), established first schools and hospitals in rural areas, such as those in Limpopo for example.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa, historical Dictionary of Switzerland (de, fr, it)