Morocco and South Africa Cosy Up After 15 Years of Iciness

Two of Africa’s largest economies and its two biggest tourist destinations, South Africa and Morocco, put the official stamp on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations this week, when ambassador Youssef Amrani presented his credentials to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Amrani called it a “watershed.”

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The City of Tetouan is nicknamed The White Dove. Photos by Bruce Marais.

Morocco’s last ambassador left 15 years ago, and relations have been icy, mostly because of South Africa’s relationship with the Polisario Front, the liberation movement demanding the departure of Morocco from the Western Sahara.

Amrani told Morocco World News the latest development “constituted a ‘watershed’ moment” and that he was hoping to “promote people-to-people relations by deepening exchanges in the areas of culture, education, food security, climate change, energy, and tourism.”

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Landing at Casablanca in winter would make you believe it’s Ireland. Casablanca and Cape Town are on the same latitude lines and therefore have very similar weather patterns.
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Ouarzazate is the entrance city to the Sahara desert.

“This is hugely exciting for both our countries,” said Bruce Marais, a creative and SAPeople contributor who spends a lot of time between South Africa and Morocco. “Economic benefits of a mutual friendship will be immense.”


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Fez is one of the oldest cities in the world and famous for its tanneries and world’s oldest university.

“Morocco is to Northern Africa what South Africa is to Southern Africa: a business leader and refuge to those looking for opportunities. We could ultimately become the bookends of the African economy, but political relations between our countries are strained. It’s often difficult to get visitor visas and the direct flight from Johannesburg to Casablanca were discontinued years ago. But, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

The two countries have much in common. In the 2018 United Nations World Tourism Organization rankings, Morocco and South Africa coincidentally take the top 2 spots for foreign visitors in Africa, Morocco had Africa’s most tourists, 12 million, and South Africa came second, with 8.6 million. The two countries will also soon have the highest buildings in Africa, The Leonardo in Johannesburg and the Mohammed VI Tower in Casablanca, both 55 stories, although the Moroccan building is set to be slightly taller.

“Casablanca is like our Joburg, the financial hub,” said Marais. “Marrakech is their Cape Town, the main tourist attraction. But then you also have Tangier, very European and only 11 miles from Spain. Chefchaouen (the blue city), Rabat (the capital), Fez (an ancient city with the worlds oldest university), Essaouira and Agadir (both beautiful beach towns), Ouarzazette (the gateway city to the Sahara desert and the majestic Merzouga dunes), Meknes (the wine region) and so many more gems to visit.”

Marais believes that Morocco is the perfect destination for South Africans, and vice versa. The infrastructure in Morocco has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, boasting new highways, impressive bridges and also the first high-speed train in Africa, connecting Tangier to Casablanca.

“It’s also a good value for money destination and here you are always welcome to bargain for a good deal. People here pride themselves in their good haggling skills. So visit Morocco and encourage Moroccans to visit us and let us keep our tourist dollars on the continent.”