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Pretoria - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has encouraged South African companies to travel to Cuba to seek opportunities for investment and partnership and trade.

He said this on Thursday at the South Africa-Cuba Business Forum in Havana, Cuba.

The forum brought South African and Cuban business together to explore opportunities for collaboration.

“South Africa and Cuba have similar economic needs and priorities. Mining and agriculture each form a significant part of our respective economies.

“We are both seeking to develop these sectors and to improve the contribution of these sectors to our export earnings,” said the Deputy President.

He said government welcomed the participation of South African companies in the Havana International Trade Fair and the South African National Exhibition in November.

“We see the annual Cuba Industria Fair as another vehicle to promote trade and investment between South Africa and Cuba. In South Africa, we are engaged in a process of industrialisation,” he said.

This, the Deputy President said, involves greater beneficiation of mineral resources, ensuring that the country extracts greater value from these natural assets and creates more work for citizens.

He said South Africa is also working to develop agro-processing industries so that it can access new, more valuable markets.

“We believe there is opportunity in this process for South Africa and Cuba to share experiences and cooperate on technology and skills transfer. South Africa is currently engaged in the largest infrastructure build programme in its history.

“We are investing significantly in critical economic infrastructure like energy, road, rail, water and telecommunications. We are also investing in hospitals, clinics, universities, colleges and schools.

“We are keen to see how Cuba has managed, under extremely difficult economic conditions, to develop its social and economic infrastructure. We want to study Cuba's approach to education and skills development,” he said.

Closing the skills gap

The Deputy President said the substantial skills gap is probably the single most critical challenge that South Africa faces today.

He said it is the most debilitating aspect of apartheid's legacy and one that will take many decades to overcome.

“We are therefore deeply impressed and much encouraged by the single-minded determination with which Cuba has worked to develop the potential of its people,” said the Deputy President.

He said this has produced skilled professionals of a calibre that enables them to work and add value anywhere in the world.

“Cuba stands with us in our efforts to build a better life for all our people. Over 3 000 South African students are studying medicine in Cuba. Over 400 medical doctors have already graduated.

“Around 300 Cuban medical staff, engineers and maths and science teachers are working in the neediest areas of South Africa. By the end of the year, we expect that number to increase by another 450,” said the Deputy President.

Cuban development

Deputy President Ramaphosa said South Africa stands with other nations in calling on the United States to act with speed and purpose to remove every remaining impediment to the growth and development of Cuba.

“We call on the United States to recognise the injustice of these measures and to affirm the right of the people of Cuba to determine their own destiny. We are confident that Cuba will prevail.

“We are confident that Cuba will soon be able to realise the full potential of its bountiful natural resources, its favourable location and the rich capabilities of all its people,” he said.

The Deputy President said South Africa will stand and work with Cuba until these political and economic objectives are achieved. –