Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa hosted the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) 2021, an event aimed at boosting trade and investment amongst countries in the African continent on 15-21 November 2021. According to the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2021), this event was initially planned to be held in Kigali, Rwanda from 8-14 December 2021, however, upon consultation with the Rwandan government in May 2021, an indication was made that there was a delay caused by the logistical constraints related to COVID-19 pandemic in the construction of a new facility to host the event. The IATF2021 Advisory Council then took a unanimous decision to move this event to Durban after undertaking a comprehensive assessment on the suitability of this city to hold such a huge event.
IATF2021 hosted 55 countries and 1 100 exhibitors who participated as a single market for goods and services, which constituted only 21% of the total African trade due to the lack of access to market and trade information aimed at connecting buyers and sellers from across the African continent. According to news.24 (20210916), lack of information is perceived as the main inhibitor to trade, with traders not aware of what each country is producing and what each country needs, and IATF2021 is perceived as a practical way of bridging this information gap.
According to eThekwini Mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, this event has a potential to boost the city’s tourism industry which was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and he was optimistic that this would have an enormous contribution to the city’s Gross Domestic Product through the creation of jobs, more especially in the hospitality industry which was badly affected by the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. According to the PACCI (2021), IATF2021 is perceived as an event to remind African countries of their interconnectedness and the urgent need to promote intra-African trade to re-ignite economic opportunities and create jobs for all the African people.
The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa is hopeful that the IATF2021 has the potential of stimulating stronger relations between African countries, ignite continental business and enhance unity. The African business owners are positive that the IATF2021 will build partnerships, connect African countries, connect people from the African continent, bring together governments and encourage stronger relations between African nations and in the process improving free trade opportunities in the continent.
The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Premier, Sihle Zikalala perceives this event as a platform to support the KZN exporters and encourage them to reach the African markets. He committed to providing support in terms of skills development, knowledge, information sharing and indicated that the government is working with the African Bank to support manufacturers from the KZN province to reach the level of trade at a continental level. The government’s support according to the KZN Premier is also extended to the farmers that are part of the Dube Tradeport whose goal should be on agriculture and agro-processing that is focused on production as well as the processing of products within the country before exportation, in order to improve their value.
The government’s support to the Youth and Women SMMEs
The KZN Premier indicated that the government extended support to the youth of the province to exhibit their products and financial sponsorship was given to 32 women and youth Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) to showcase their products in the AITF2021. The Premier also highlighted the government’s commitment to develop specific sectors such as automobile, manufacturing and the oceans economy.
The Premier highlighted the lack of knowledge on how to access trade and economic opportunities as the greatest challenge for most SMMEs and proposed a collaboration between the established enterprises and small businesses in order to create a bridge to ensure that the small businesses get all the support they need in terms of capacitation, skills development and encouraged the big businesses to source locally as well as to buy locally produced goods.
The Sustainability of IATF2021
The IATF2021 came to an end on 21 November 2021, but the event’s organising team ensured the sustainability of the opportunities and networks created during this event by creating the IATF virtual, an interactive online platform that will continue even after the IATF2021 has come to an end. This serves as a beacon of light for the continent’s economic recovery and the rehabilitation of the tourism sector that was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown restrictions. The IATF2021 promises a bright future, not only for South Africa but for all the countries in the African continent
Dr. Mabuyi Gumede
Department of Cultural and Heritage Tourism
University of KwaZulu-Natal, College of Humanities, Durban, South Africa
Email: [email protected]