Merkel thrills University of Pretoria students
The students were invited from faculties across the university, and said while waiting that they felt honoured to have been chosen to meet one of the world’s most important leaders.
The event - arranged at Merkel’s request - was hosted by UP vice-chancellor, Professor Tawana Kupe, and moderated by Dr Sithembile Mbete.
It followed a programme which started with an official meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings and a visit to the BMW factory in Rosslyn.
Despite the long day, Merkel seemed relaxed as she took questions from students on a wide range of topics, including transformation, disruptive technologies, renewable energy, education, job creation, climate change, corruption, leadership, gender equality, public health and the coronavirus.
At times she came across as motherly, urging students to “be sure of yourself” and “contribute to society”; and at times philosophical, as she spoke about central issues of politics such as inequality, and the need for a “fairer society”.
But she also faced some tough political questions: Germany’s role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, or in tensions between Greece and Turkey.
She acknowledged atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews in World War ll, and the “special relationship” Germany has with Israel, but said Germany also supported Palestine and favoured the two-state solution as the only way for peace.
On the question of Greece and Turkey she said “we try to support Greece while we also try to stay in dialogue with Turkey”, reiterating that negotiation was the only way to overcome divisions between countries peacefully.
After the event, students enjoyed refreshments and while Merkel left for an event at the German Ambassador Martin Schäfer’s official residence, Kupe chatted to students about their impressions.
Speaking to reporter Chelsea Ntuli, biochemistry PhD student Court Chirambe said although he did not get to ask a question he thought Merkel’s responses were insightful.
“I consider myself very lucky to be here. I believe we need to work together as countries,” he said.