South Africa’s Inexplicable Love Affair with China

A China in Africa Podcast

While the recent economic turmoil in China is prompting a number of African countries to reconsider their growing economic dependence on the People’s Republic of China, not so in South Africa. Both the government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party have seemingly found their geopolitical soul mate in China.

South Africa’s leadership speaks glowingly of China’s political system that fuses the interests of the ruling party with that of the government. Now, Pretoria is working closely with Beijing to import many of the Chinese governing practices back to South Africa.

This Sino-South African collaboration is happening across a number of different levels that range from Pretoria considering how it can reform its state-owned enterprises based on the Chinese model to the ANC working with the C.C.P. to build a new training academy to the government integrating Mandarin language studies into the country’s national curriculum.

This blooming bilateral relationship will be on full-display when South Africa hosts the sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit on December 4 and 5 in Johannesburg. Together with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Zuma will co-host the event that almost every African head of state is expected to attend.

On one level, the relationship makes total sense: this is the world’s second largest economy aligning itself with Africa’s second largest market, after all. That said, something else just doesn’t seem right about how this is all playing out. South Africa appears to be ignoring any sense of caution with its unconditional embrace of China—both politically and economically.

Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian Associate Editor Phillip de Wet has been reporting extensively on the new Sino-South African “love affair.” He joins Eric and Cobus to discuss how many of the South African leaders, who seem so taken with China, don’t actually know that much about the Chinese.