South Africa’s deepening economic woes and rising unemployment could be helped through a radical intervention by Chinese enterprises that operate locally.
This emerged during a well-attended Job Fair hosted by South Africa-China Economy and Trade Associations (SACETA) in Midrand, Johannesburg. The Job Fair is aimed at promoting employment opportunities for young South Africans by Chinese companies investing in South Africa.
In the next three years, more than 100 Chinese companies that operate in SA will offer a minimum of 20 000 jobs to locals. These include top brands such as Huawei South Africa, Pengxin and COSCO Shipping Line South Africa.
The job-creation announcement was made by China’s ambassador to SA, Chen Xiaodong during his keynote address to the conference.
SA’s Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi also delivered a keynote speech on behalf of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who pulled out of the event due to unforeseen pressing matters that include the deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal.
Embracing the Job Fair, Nxesi said: “Our country struggles with low economic growth. To avoid a calamity in society, we rely on friendships to create industries and sustainable jobs.”
He was pleased that China – the largest foreign investor in Africa – plans to create thousands of jobs in SA within the next three years. “Youth unemployment,” Nxesi said, “can create social chaos.” He said SA intended to improve cooperation with China including at the level of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), an exclusive emerging force in geopolitics.
“We are celebrating the closeness of our friendship built on trust and mutual respect,” Nxesi said.
Deputy Minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Alvin Botes, who also spoke at the Job Fair, praised China for being the country’s largest trading partner. He said in 1998, China’s total trade with SA stood at only R1b. Today it has sky-rocketed to R544b in a two-way trade, he said.
He told the delegates that SA was constantly in search for new avenues of cooperation. “Our belief as Dirco is that China remains reliable in various spheres of multilateralism. The economic diplomacy between us will enhance inclusivity in prosperity towards AU Agenda 2063,” Botes said.
He added: “This event today demonstrates China’s efforts to support South Africa’s objectives of eradicating the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality and is evident of the depth of our partnership.”
Botes said China’s job-creation drive will include spin-offs “such as the transfer of expertise and skills, particularly in critical sectors such as ICT, mining. Clothing, information technology, construction, food processing, energy, retail, logistics, manufacturing and finance”.
The exciting news was also that the Chinese companies and enterprises participating in the Job Fair have already advertised job opportunities. “I hope that many young South Africans would embrace these opportunities that are being offered by the Chinese Business Community,” Botes said.
Ambassador Chen said that President Xi Jinping recently noted that “”jobs are the most livelihood projects. Jobs are key to social stability.”
He said the Job Fair was a consequence of a telephone discussion last month between President Ramaphosa and President Xi during which the two leaders reached important agreements on bilateral cooperation. “The main aim of the Job Fair is to create a win-win outcome. It creates jobs for South Africans. It also provides an opportunity for Chinese enterprises to hire local talents and pursue localised development,” Ambassador Chen said.
He added: “Chinese-invested enterprises here actively fulfil their social responsibilities, follow local laws and regulations and support South Africa’s socio-economic development.”
China has been SA’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years. During COVID, China’s trade reached over 54 billion US dollars in 2021 – up by 50%. SA’s exports to China reached over 33 billion US dollars, up by nearly 60%.
“China has also become an important export market for South Africa’s beef, citrus, wine, oysters, Rooibos tea and many other products,” Ambassador Chen said, before adding: “In the next three years, China will import 100 billion US dollars’ worth of goods from South Africa.”
Beijing is also working with Pretoria on projects such as the development of the Joburg-Durban high-speed rail. Bilateral economic development between the two countries also focusses on cooperation in 5G, digital economy, high-tech, e-commerce, smart cities, clean energy and vaccine production, among others.
Said Ambassador Chen: “China is ready to speed up the building of vocational training centre projects. We are ready to provide employment assistance programmes for college graduates and other special groups.”
The government of China will also encourage Chinese enterprises “to cultivate more competent professionals through the transfer of technology and skills training for local employees”, according to Ambassador Chen.