I have always been an advocate of Angola's deeper economic integration in the Southern African region and, consequently, of its closer economic relationship with South Africa, particularly in the context of the implementation of the SADC Trade Protocol (e.g. here, in Portuguese). This advocacy, however, was always generally received with some reluctance by some sectors in Angola mainly because, specially after the end of apartheid in South Africa, political relations between the two countries became extremely tense and volatile, to say the very least. And this was so despite many Angolans traveling regularly to South Africa, either for shopping or seeking education and medical care, with some acquiring property or settling permanently there.
The problem with Angolan-South African political and, therefore, economic and other formal relations, was rooted mainly on two basic factors:
On the Angolan side, there was resentment that South Africa had never acknowledged its debt of gratitude to Angola for the support it gave to the ANC during the fight against apartheid – Mandela had in fact publicly stated on one occasion that the battle of Kuito Kwanavale , which led to negotiations resulting in the retreat of the Cuban forces from Angola and the subsequent independence of Namibia, had been crucial for the end of apartheid in South Africa (as he put it, "Kuito Kwanavale was the turning point for the liberation of our continent and of my people from the scourge of apartheid"). However, this acknowledgement fell short of a formal “thank you” to the Angolan government.
There was also the nagging issue of the support UNITA had received from South Africa, during and after the apartheid years – Zuma was actually “credited” as the only political leader to, at some point, have officially received Savimbi in his country.
In spite of some post-war military co-operation between the two countries’ armies, all that resentment was still being voiced by some in Luanda as recently as March this year when I traveled there from South Africa, where I was then temporarily based.
On the South African side, there was obviously the 'flipside' of the Angolan resentment for many reasons, but essentially because of the alleged ill-treatment dispensed by Jose’ Eduardo dos Santos to Thabo Mbeki while he was based in Luanda with the ANC delegation during the apartheid years (perhaps tellingly, in a famous letter Mbeki wrote to Zuma late last year about his forced resignation from the presidency, among the personalities he listed as having been privileged to interact with and referred to as “titans of our struggle” he mentioned Agostinho Neto, but not Eduardo dos Santos). Fortunately, this contentious issue seems to have been dissipated when both met at a SADC Heads of State meeting a year ago to discuss the Zimbabwean crisis.
I could only, therefore, feel relieved that Zuma’s just ended official visit to Angola – his first state visit since being elected South Africa’s President earlier this year, and during which he finally said the “thank you” expected for so long from the Angolan side – with an about 200 people-strong delegation comprised mostly of private entrepreneurs, finally heralded a new era in economic relations between the two regional giants. There is certainly much to be gained from this by both sides and certainly by the SADC region.