This week marks 25 years since South Africa and Botswana signed an agreement upgrading the two countries’ diplomatic relations.

The ties were first formalised in 1992 with the establishment of Representative Offices in both countries in 1992. The upgrading of relations to full diplomatic level came into force on 22 June 1994.

Both countries have enjoyed good relations over the years, with then President Jacob Zuma in 2011 telling Members of Parliament (MP) during a question and answer session in the National Assembly that, “History has bound the two countries and peoples in a friendship and kinship that goes beyond normal diplomatic relations.”

“Our relations were cemented during the days of our struggle for liberation from colonial oppression and apartheid.”

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Diplomatic relations were rocked in April 2019 after Botswana accused mining mogul Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe of trying to influence that country’s leadership elections. President Cyril Ramaphosa swiftly sent then Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisul to Gaborone to diffuse the situation. After talks, Botswana said it was satisfied that no South African official was involved in the suspected coup plot.

The country, however, made it clear that Motsepe-Radebe, who has mining operations in Botswana, will now have to apply for a visa to enter Gaborone. This is a deviation from the norm as South African passport holders don’t need a visa to visit Botswana.

The incident was a second diplomatic spat between the two countries over the years. In 2017, Botswana lodged a complaint with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) after then North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo’s convoy allegedly pushed then President Ian Khama’s vehicles off the road. The incident had apparently occurred in Botswana’s capital Gaborone, which is a two-hour drive from the North West.

Trade relations

Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini are members of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu). The union allows for free flow of trade between the two countries. However, according to South African Market Insights, trade balance between the two nations seemed heavily skewed towards that of South Africa in 2017. Pretoria was exporting more to Gaborone than what the country was importing from South Africa, with exports in 2017 amounting to around R36.85 billion. South African imports from Botswana during the same period were worth a little more than R4.2 billion.



The Lion King celebrates a quarter of a century

Another milestone worth to note this week is the 25th anniversary of the Lion King.

The award-winning show celebrated its 1994 screen debut on June 15. The highest-grossing animated film in history had its stage premier in 1997. Over a 100-million people worldwide have watched the musical, which is a coming of age story about Simba – a lion cub separated from the kingdom he should rightfully rule.

According to the President of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, South Africa has played an important role in the life of The Lion King.

“South African performers have been in every single production of The Lion King, from the first show in New York to the nine other productions which have played to packed houses around the world. Audiences have seen and felt the extraordinary talent, warmth and spirit which these performers and the South African music bring to the show.”

South Africans enjoy privilege in the show. For more than 20 years now, the musical has reserved at least six places in its cast for South African performers. They have been posted to cities around the world, including productions staged in Dutch, German and Spanish, among others.

The man credited with being the voice and spirit behind the show, Lebo Morake, known as Lebo M, is said to have made this practice due to the rich timbre and emotional essence South African singers’ voices add to the musical. Lebo M was choral director on the Broadway hit at the  time.

The heart of the show is African. It celebrates music, language and costumes. It features a fusion of popular Western music and rich and beautiful rhythms of African music based on Lebo M’s album, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, which was inspired by the film.

The producer and composer has arranged and performed much of the music for the movie and stage. His voice is the first one heard singing a chant over the opening sequence when the film begins.

Lebo M co-produced the local version of the musical with Pieter Toerien. Its debut was on 6 June 2007.

While The Lion King partly mirrors story lines of biblical figures Joseph and Moses, some of the musical’s cast members have drawn parallels with Nelson Mandela and the apartheid system. Mandela is seen as having represented the land that was enslaved and returns from prison as a hero who assumes power after years in exile.