Chinalanga… Thaba China…


Michele du Plessis

Since 1998, the South African Government has steadily been developing the economic relationship with China. Legally, more than 400 000 Chinese settled in SA. How many illegal Chinese immigrants are currently residing in South Africa, would be a guesstimate. The SAPS Aliens Investigation Unit said that “Many Chinese travels to South Africa via Mbabane, Maputo and Maseru from where they enter South Africa with false identity documents by road”.

Chinese migrants have been shipped to South Africa at an alarming rate, spreading all over the country, even in the remotest rural areas with anything from 6 000 to 12 000 “Chinese shops” mushrooming everywhere. It is clear that this phenomenon is well-orchestrated by both South African government and China. In 2014, Prof Colin McCarthy, retired from the University of Stellenbosch, first noted the “Chinese colonization”. “All the evidence indicates that the project to set up such an extensive network of Chinese shops, all following the same pattern and targeting the same market, was well researched, well planned, well organized and well financed.”

In Nelspruit, Chinese shops, the Chinese mall and Chinese restaurants are prolific, pushing plastic products, clothing and a multitude of other products into the market. Are all these shops registered, do they pay taxes or import or export duties? In 2010, SA statistics put Chinese clothing imports at   R6.7 billion; China put the same exports on R11.3 billion, thus an estimated R4.6 billion worth of Chinese clothing entered SA illegally.

China’s long-term diplomatic priority is economic development and the achievement of international status. China wanted to be respected as a “Great Power” with global influence. Economic prosperity had replaced ideology and the focus was on developing a “socialist market economy”.

Infrastructure development in South Africa (mainly hydro-electric); agriculture; natural resources and energy exploration and extraction; investment and business cooperation; the removal of barriers to trade and investment for promoting co-operation between the two countries. Improving air and shipping links between China and Africa to enhance co-operation with each other; and providing training and information exchange in the fields of science, technology and information communication technology. China’s agenda in South Africa concerned energy security; mineral security (iron-ore, chrome, manganese); access to markets and support for China in international organisations.

At the end of 2009, China was South Africa’s largest export partner for goods amounting to R48.7 billion, China was South Africa’s largest import partner (goods amounting to R70.8 billion).  There are more than 300 big Chinese businesses in South Africa, in finance, mining, telecom, automobile, and logistics.

The belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China is an emotionally charged topic for many. Emotional or not, this is happening in Mpumalanga.

  • The Thaba Chweu Local Municipality recently donated about 400 hectares to the Chinese company Hexing Electrical South Africa, via China Sinogy Electric Engineering Company (CSEEC) South Africa, which was appointed by the Thaba Chweu municipality in 2013 to build the R380 million Duma electricity substation on two hectares of land in Lydenburg of Thaba Chweu, Ehlanzeni Province. CSEEC undertook to fully design, construct and equip the facility. The project will be constructed by the investors and the local government of Thaba Chweu in PPP pattern, and will actively promote the economic development in the area after its completion. The rest of the land is being used to build Chinese workers’ houses and other amenities.
  • Africa Sino Project entered into a long-term lease with the Bushbuckridge municipality, for no shorter than 50 years, to grow rice and develop a new agricultural hub. This will be done on 100 hectares of land and is said to be valued at R300 million.
  • Africa Sino Project also plans to build a five-star hotel, upmarket rental accommodation and a water sports park on 93 hectares of land near the Kruger National Park.
  • The installation of 15 000 smart meters in Thaba Chweu Municipality by a Chinese company was approved. CSEEC signed a contract with Hexing for the supply of the smart meters in TCLM. TCLM residents will pay 7% more for their electricity.
  • The Moloto Project will be connecting Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo: For the construction of the Moloto project, China Communications Construction Company Limited will utilise mostly local labour, source most materials and equipment locally.” The proposed rail project, which is expected to link Pretoria and Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga, includes 13 new train stations over 125km of the double-track railway. As part of the development, the treacherous R573 Moloto Road will be converted into a dual carriageway. This route is one of South Africa’s busiest, essential economic routes and is used by approximately 50 000 cars, bus, and taxi and truck commuters every day.” Sanral (South African National Roads Agency) who will be overseeing the project, said the project has been designed to unlock the northern mineral belt within the Waterberg area and will include the development of a logistics corridor to connect the three provinces.

Various other projects are also underway to strengthen the economic relationship between China and the Mpumalanga government. Various completed projects, such as the Chinese Housing Project in Graskop, is a testimony of vested interest in Mpumalanga.

Lastly, the question begs to be asked: Is China building a new “Great Power” empire in South Africa?


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