Africa Day Commemorated through Public Lecture
As part of the UKZN Africa Day celebrations, the University opened its doors to His Excellency Lin Songtian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of South Africa; as well as Ambassador Anil Sooklal, Deputy Director General in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Songtian and Sooklal were both keynote speakers at the UKZN Public Lecture commemorating Africa Day themed: The Role of China in South Africa and Africa’s Rise to Prosperity.
Songtian said it was a great privilege to be in South Africa. He reflected on his upbringing in China as a child born in the 1960s which was - at the time - one of the poorest countries in the world and the country’s economic transformation process. He also acknowledged how China embraced socialism to gain prosperity for all; committed itself to the development of high quality, innovative infrastructure and technology; and reformed the mindsets of the people, and governing systems allowing themselves to open up to the rest of the world.
Songtian said China’s success was also achievable for South Africa and identified six major challenges, namely; poverty, unemployment, inequality, safety, government efficiency and policy which contributed to the nations lack of development. He also highlighted three strengths that South Africa could build from, namely; resources (mines, agriculture, oceans and human resources); location (the only country surrounded by two oceans) and the foundation and conditions for development (infrastructure, market mechanisms, human resources and being one of the best developing countries).
He encouraged, Chinese and South African partnerships to continue, focusing on the complementary strengths, mutual needs and great opportunities each country had. He listed FOCAC - a China, South Africa forum that takes place every three years; BRICS - the world’s leading emerging economies summit; BRI- the Chinese Bolt and Road Initiative; and South-South- a forum for developing countries about development issues; as the four platforms that would help strengthen these partnerships.
Sooklal, who is responsible for Asia and the Middle East within his portfolio in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, thanked the University for inviting him back home as an alumnus. He admired Songtian’s passion for Africa, noting his advanced knowledge in African relations and the remarkable transformation China had made in their country physically, and in changing the mindsets of its people. He acknowledged China and the role it plays in the development of South Africa; saying: ‘China understands the challenges of the developing world because the challenges we have, they have gone through.’
He commented on the size of China’s economy and technology, highlighting how the country’s government had invested heavily in empowering its people with quality education and skills. ‘The battle today is about technology and the 4th Industrial Revolution; China has learnt from the best and bettered the best,’ he said.
Sooklal also reflected on the growth that has taken place between these two countries because of equal partnerships such as FOCAC that have allowed a meeting of the minds. He encouraged the University to intensify its collaborations with China as the country “is always willing to help South Africa grow”. ‘Africa needs to develop, it is not an infant,’ he said. ‘China has made facilities for us to grow and will remain a strong partner of Africa and South Africa,’ he added.
UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, thanked both keynote speakers for gracing UKZN with their presence.
Words: Hlengiwe Precious Khwela
Photograph: Albert Hirasen