What S.A’s youth wants from S.A-China relations

-Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni 

Inaugural China Young Leaders Program 

From the 11th-18th of October 2015, 52 South African youth via the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)  visited China to participate in the inaugural China Young Leaders Program. The Program’s mission is to establish and build bilateral youth cultural exchanges. The program is based upon the 5-10 year strategic Programme on Cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa.

The key host of the program was the Chinese Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA). The CPIFA arranged for the delegates to visit Beijing, Shangdong and Guangdong Province. Meetings with officials of Ministries and visits to local economic development zones, the China-Africa Development Fund (CADF) and historical attraction sights were among some of the items on the Program’s itinerary. The Chinese covered the delegation’s international traveling expenses, local accommodation in China and  transportation expenses.

Regarding the composition of the delegation, an important suggestion from the Chinese was that the delegates be selected from different sectors. These include, but are not limited to, government departments, political parties, business sectors, the media and non-governmental organizations (NGO).

The South African government had three clear goals or expectations in sending the delegation:

  1. The delegates were seen as ambassadors for S.A responsible for representing the values of the Rainbow nation.
  2. Delegates were in training to gain useful and practical skills that would assist them to better understand the position of S.A in its co-operation with China.
  3. The  delegates were seen as being responsible for sharing the cultural values of S.A and for learning those of the Chinese to deepen understanding, ultimately promoting good relations between S.A and the PRC.
China-Africa Development Fund offices in Beijing

Fortunately, I was able to join this group as a 53rd delegate. As soon as the group returned to South Africa, I sent a survey asking for their opinions on both the Program and the Africa-China relationship; 28 of the 52 delegates participated. The rest of this post will share the outlooks of these young South Africans based off of their responses to the survey.

A summary of the results reveals that the program left the delegates in high spirits. A sense of hope for S.A was re-invigorated after seeing the technological advancement and the innovative systems of the Chinese. To express this, one respondent said, “it can happen for S.A, it is possible, all we need is a clear and supported vision.”

A majority of the respondents indicated that they see Chinese culture as one that is well-organized and innovative, this being an attractive trait that S.A should adopt. Another participant expressed a similar sentiment by saying,  “I just love the efficiency in Chinese culture.” This is illustrated by “China’s growth path and its independent industrialization.”

It was interesting to note that 81% of the respondents agreed that attending the program increased their desire to engage in the future of Africa-China relations. There are however varying reasons for this desired involvement, one respondent said: “I’d like to monitor the relationship closely and ensure that it yields the desired development dividends for SA, I want to become a guardian of the proposed “win-win” value.”

What does this youth want from S.A-China relations: 

Respondents were asked: “The China-South Africa relationship is a win-win relationship?”

50%of the respondents were neutral to this question. 40% agreed and 10% disagreed. Comments such as “It’s still too early to tell” surfaced. 

Another respondent stated “China has funding and we have resources which is a great collaboration” another said, “this relationship could potentially be a win only if S.A deeply understands its engagement with the Chinese.”

4% of the respondents expressed that this relationship “might create a dependency syndrome.” 

Respondents were asked: “What are the future prospects of the Sino-SA & Africa cooperation?”

A key theme that surfaced regarding the future of S.A-China was:“People to people relations and business partnerships, particularly among the youth”

Another respondent identified the future of SA-China relations as “increased business opportunity for both youths, opening up of each other’s economies for mutual benefit and employment.”

What do these South African’s want from the program, ultimately the future of the Africa-China relationship?

1. Greater Chinese Youth engagement “Half Chinese, Half South Africans” to activate “bi-lateral youth engagement with the Chinese.” One respondent said: what I liked least about the program is “the lack of people-to-people relations between S.A and Chinese youth.” Another respondent said:  “We mostly old government leaders,  we would have rather had young people participating, giving young people from South Africa an opportunity to interact with Chinese young people in the SME line of work.’
2.  Increased time for critical engagement with Chinese officials to discuss the Sino-S.A strategic relationship.
3.  Case-based and scenario planning learning with practical techniques of how China grew its economy.
4. Greater exposure to China’s SME sector and entrepreneurial work, particularly looking at youth engagement. A keen interest was expressed in the desire to become involved in this area.
5. More time spent visiting and discussing the strategic areas that S.A is growing with China i.e. Ocean Economy and Special Development Zones.
6. Conversations with Chinese technological innovators looking at how governments support has boosted their efforts and to see what S.A can take from this strategy.

From the myriad of responses, one quickly gets the sense that the youth of S.A yearns for greater development. There is also an apparent desire to learn from the Chinese “approaches to policy development.”With China’s rapid development and unprecedented economic growth, the youth representatives of S.A are looking to China to potentially provide an alternative to existing growth strategies.



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