In 2023 South Africa has been chair of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the political alternative coordination group that includes the five founders and other new members. South Africa took the chairmanship from China the 1st of January and led the fifteenth BRICS summit by end of August.
The two countries are embarking in a comprehensive strategic partnership, as it emerges from bilateral declarations in June 2023 and a high-level visit of Xi Jinping in the country by the 7th of November. Beijing expressed its will to support Pretoria in three areas: industrialization, agricultural modernization, and talent training. Moreover, China offered high-quality involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative.
These developments were preceded in February by the founding in Tanzania of a political leadership school under the auspices and support of the Chinese Communist Party. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School in Kibaha, is dedicated to the six parties that were protagonists of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, such as the South African ANC (African National Congress) and its brother parties in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
In addition to military training offered in different establishments also to other SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, this school has as stated objective to create the condition of stability maintenance of these parties in their own countries, because coloured revolutions, ideological bankruptcy and lack of discipline are eroding local power bases.
PRC has no military exports towards Pretoria, but is present with PSC (Private Security Companies). Unlike Wagner or Blackwater, PSC’s operators have no right to carry arms, but must partner with local providers and South Africa has very stringent controls over all these foreign “mercenary” companies.
Four PSC are present: China Overseas Security Group, Zhongjun Junhong Security, Shandong Huawei Security Group, Frontier Service Group; the first two are certified International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, set up in Switzerland. Indeed, the levels of violent crime in the country, although decreasing since a decade, are still a major issue.
China is South Africa’s biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade growing 11,7% to USD 39,17bn in 2017 – just under a third of total China-Africa trade. Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) into South Africa reached USD 15,2bn in 2017, or 19% of total FDI, making the country the second-largest recipient of Chinese FDI in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria.
Beijing is cooperating on space programmes since 2021 (BeiDou Navigation System). Other investments follow the Hunan model and concentrate on: medical cooperation, poverty reduction and agricultural development, trade, digital innovation, green development, capacity building.
Margherita Rigoli is completing the MSc in International Relations and Diplomacy at Leiden University in collaboration with the Clingendael Institute. She focuses primarily on EU development policies in the Global South, and EU defence policy.