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Entering its third decade, free South Africa growing strong

By Zhang Mengying, Wang Jianfeng | 2015-11-26 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Dolana Msimang was born in 1957 and was appointed to serve as the first female South African ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in 2015. She once worked as deputy director-general for the presidency and previously served as ambassador to Denmark and France before she came to China. In 1980, she formally joined the ANC as an underground operative and left for exile in Swaziland from 1981 to 1990.


2015 is the Year of China in South Africa. China and South Africa are hosting a series of events to enhance their traditional ties of friendship. On Nov. 25, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit South Africa from Dec. 2 to 5 and attend the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) Johannesburg Summit during the visit. In order to better understand the current state of China-South Africa relations, Msimang recently shared stories about South Africa in an interview with CSST.

CSST: This year marks start of the third decade since South Africa overturned the apartheid system. So what is the greatest achievement that South Africa has made in the past 21 years? What was the biggest difficulty experienced?


Msimang: We have come a long way from our divided and bitter past to a society based on equality, dignity and respect for human rights. South Africa has a good story to tell based on its achievements over the past 21 years.

The first story is about economic growth. Despite having inherited a bankrupt economy in 1994, South Africa’s growth averaged 3.2 percent from 1994 to 2012, a marked improvement over pre-1994 growth rates, while the number of employed grew by approximately 60 percent, or 5.6 million people, between 1994 and 2013. South Africa still faces challenges it inherited from apartheid, including the uneven distribution of land, the after-effects of inferior education, as well as unemployment and poor economic growth. However, partnerships among the government, labor and businesses, when combined with the integration of the National Development Plan, would go a long way toward carrying the country forward. Since the mid-2000s, the government has placed an emphasis on investing in economic infrastructure, such as ports, rail, dams and power stations. Investment in this area has also been identified as a key driver of job creation and it has increased dramatically over the past five years. As we enter the third decade of our freedom, we do so with a clear goal of accelerating major economic transformation. Together we continue to confront economic injustice, inequality, poverty and unemployment.

The second story is about social stability. At the same time, the country has made progress in providing social services such as health care, education and housing. More than 8 million school children are now beneficiaries of non-fee paying schools, while 9 million are being fed through the schools’ meal plans. In addition to free basic healthcare, more than 1,500 health care facilities have been built and existing ones revitalized over the past 21 years. The Reconstruction and Development Programme resulted in about 2.8 million government-subsidized houses being distributed and more than 875,000 serviced sites being delivered, with 56 percent of housing subsidies being allocated to female-headed households. This had given more than 12 million South Africans access to accommodation.

CSST: China and South Africa maintain close economic and trade exchanges, and the two economies are complementary in many ways. So what role does China play in economic exchanges? In which fields do you think we should strengthen cooperation?


Msimang: South Africa is a leading economy on the African continent, and China is the largest developing country in the world, making it a viable partnership with mutual benefits. China is also South Africa’s biggest trading partner in the world, and South Africa is China’s biggest trading partner in Africa.

China holds a special significance because China is on target to become the world’s biggest economy in the 2020s and second, because it is already a major player in the political economy of Africa. China will continue to play a major role in shaping South Africa’s development.

With the pace of trade and investment picking up, coupled with closer international cooperation with Beijing through the UN, BRICS, the G20, and FOCAC, South Africa-China ties are assuming a significant position in continental and even global affairs. South Africa hopes to learn from China’s experience and expertise and welcomes Chinese investments, including those in South Africa’s infrastructure, special economic zones, industrial parks and maritime economy.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the South African foreign minister, and Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, signed The Five-to-Ten Year Strategic Programme for Cooperation between the Republic of South Africa and the People’s Republic of China 2014-2024 in Beijing in December 2014. The Strategic Programme aims to strengthen bilateral relations, trade cooperation and create sustainable investment opportunities between the two countries. Operating at bilateral, continental and multilateral levels, our two governments are actively striving to achieve tangible outcomes from the comprehensive strategic partnership.

CSST: What do you think about China-South Africa relations and China-Africa relations? What are your expectations for the Johannesburg Summit?


Msimang: South Africa-China bilateral ties have witnessed rapid development in the 17 years since South Africa forged diplomatic relations with China. A clear direction and concrete actions for further development of South Africa-China ties is undergoing.

South Africa and China enjoy friendship between their peoples and stable relations between their governments. The two sides have maintained close high-level contacts and carried out cooperation in an active and constructive manner.

South Africa is honored to host the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit in December 2015. This summit holds special significance, given that it is the 15th anniversary of the FOCAC partnership. It is the first time for the summit to be held on African soil. South Africa is confident that the summit will lead to major breakthroughs as we accelerate our efforts to bring meaning to our solidarity through concrete business and commercial ventures.

South Africa remains an integral part of Africa and will continue to actively drive Africa’s regional integration efforts, including developing continental north-south rail and road links, expanding ports, energy capacity and skills. This speaks to the African Agenda, which is at the core of South Africa’s foreign policy.

Africa is on the move, and it is ready to do business. The continent offers returns that are extremely compelling. China is seen as a key partner in the new and emerging Africa. There is considerable room for further expansion and rapid growth in our cooperation. It is important that we continuously assess and review both opportunities and challenges.

Africa can only benefit from the relocation of labor-intensive industries from China if it can resolve the basic factors of developing a manufacturing base, which in turn requires financial capital, entrepreneurial skills and links with markets where global buyers can be met. The industrialization effort on the continent is dependent on many of our countries’ ability to attract foreign direct investment. China is very much positioned to cooperate with Africa to realize its dreams in this regard.

In order to have a win-win relationship, African governments must be able to leverage on Chinese investments for local development, especially in skills transfers and through the active involvement of local entrepreneurs in Chinese ventures on the continent. Africa is the next frontier in terms of development and partnering with China will yield more real results if the investments create local employment in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

CSST: Could you tell our readers about the development of think tanks in South Africa? How about the cooperation between Chinese and South African think tanks?


Msimang:  Africa’s three leading think tanks are based in South Africa. They are the Centre for Conflict Resolution, the South African Institute of International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies, which are among at least 78 based in South Africa out of Africa’s estimated 420 think tanks.

The first conference of the China-Africa Think Tank Forum, hosted by Zhejiang Normal University, was held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on Oct. 27, 2011. As a high-level platform for China-Africa academic exchanges whose founding was approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce of China, the forum offered a bridge for linking up important ideas of Chinese and African elites. The China-Africa Think Tank Forum has been incorporated by the foreign ministry into the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation as a regular mechanism for civil dialogues between China and Africa which will be held alternatively in China and Africa once a year.

At the first conference, representatives from renowned think tanks of China and 27 African states, the African Union and other African regional organizations as well as from other parts of the world, entrepreneurs and former political heavyweights conducted in-depth discussions on China-Africa relations in the second decade of the 21st century.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation, in collaboration with Zhejiang Normal University and the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, hosted the fourth meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum on Sept. 9, 2015. The event also enjoys the support of the Follow-up Committee of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Chinese Embassy in South Africa and China Development Bank.


Zhang Mengying and Wang Jianfeng are reporters at the Chinese Social Sciences Today.