“Our bilateral trade has grown by over 60 per cent since 2018. We have accumulated around 13.5 billion South African rand of investments in South Africa, which is nearly a billion Singapore dollars,” he added.
Mr Lee noted there are many Singapore businesses that have a presence in South Africa, across a wide range of industries from agribusiness and urban solutions to hospitality and manufacturing.
With South Africa being Singapore’s most “broad-based” partner in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is scope for further economic growth and cooperation.
A business delegation comprising 17 Singapore firms accompanied Mr Lee and government officials to South Africa, and a roundtable meeting was later held with Mr Ramaphosa and other South African companies to discuss opportunities in the country.
Aside from business links, the “very important” people-to-people ties can be expanded even further, Mr Lee said.
Singapore Airlines flies direct to Johannesburg and Cape Town, while more than 1,000 South African officials have participated in capacity-building programmes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP).
The Singapore-Africa Partnership, which includes priority placement, customised courses, and postgraduate scholarships in Singapore, was also launched last year.
However, Mr Lee said much more could be done to strengthen connectivity between South Africa and Singapore, adding there could be more flight services, increased trade and investment, and stronger digital links.
Mr Lee recalled how the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew first visited South Africa in 1992, with diplomatic relations established a year later.
In 1997, former South African president Nelson Mandela visited Singapore and to commemorate that trip, a giant Cola tree was dedicated to him.
Mr Lee said that tree still stands “tall and strong” to this day and expressed his desire that South Africa-Singapore ties would continue to blossom the same way.
He also invited Mr Ramaphosa to visit Singapore again after his 2016 trip as the then-deputy president.
Mr Lee will head to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Wednesday, with his six-day trip to Africa ending on Friday.