PRETORIA– President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged South Africans to welcome and embrace foreign nationals from the continent as the country moves to be part of a pact to enable the free movement of people and goods and investment across Africa after signing a protocol at the African Union (AU) summit in Kigali, Rwanda, this week.

South Africa and 43 other countries signed the declaration on Wednesday to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will create the world’s largest free trade zone after 40 years of negotiations.

Ramaphosa has already tasked Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu to work with her Rwandan counterpart to lift visa restrictions for Rwandan nationals wishing to travel to South Africa.

Ramaphosa said this did not mean South African nationals would lose job opportunities to foreign nationals, pointing out that they came to the country for various reasons including studying, business, trade and tourism.

This free-trade agreement that we’ve got should mean people from other countries should come and do business with South Africa. We should welcome that because when they come, they come with money. They bring in dollars to invest in South Africa. Some of them come to learn in South Africa, Ramaphosa said.

Movement of people does not only mean that people are moving into South Africa to take our people’s jobs. Also it needs to be seen in another dimension that we are sending people here [in Rwanda] to do business, to trade and to learn. The easy movement of people across borders should never be seen in a negative sense.

The AfCFTA is aimed at deepening African economic integration, promoting agricultural development, food security, industrialisation and structural economic transformation through a single-air continental transport market with free movement of persons, capital, goods and services.