South Africa and the rest of the African continent should not lose sight of the great vision of its forebears like global icon and former president Nelson Mandela who made abundant sacrifices, particularly towards equality, China’s recently appointed ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian said on Tuesday.
“President Mandela was a great leader not only to his people in South Africa, but also to the people of the world – particularly the developing world. The most important thing is that Mandela made sure that the new republic in this country is shared by all people, the black and the white equally. In China we call it independence. That is the democracy he fought for,” Songtian said while speaking to African News Agency in Pretoria on the sidelines of a seminar on a book authored by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“President Mandela fought for the people, the people of this continent. Unfortunately there are not so good stories in the history of this country, I have to say, but President Mandela made sure the people enjoy equally the freedom and democracy in this great country. We have to learn to appreciate the great contribution he made to this country, and to the world.
Fondly referred to by his clan name “Madiba”, SA’s first democratically elected president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95 after suffering a prolonged respiratory infection. Several events were held in commemoration of the revolutionary South African leader who led the struggle against segregation and apartheid.
Regarding China’s massive economic investment across the African continent, Songtian said Beijing understands that peace and stability on the continent is directly linked to economic emancipation and sustainable development.
“We always say Africa is a brother, friend and partner of China. Everybody has a friend, but what does it mean to be called a brother or a sister? The meaning is very simple – to understand each other and to help each other. We would like to see durable peace and sustainable development in this continent, so that the people can benefit. China has gone so far in the past three decades, but this continent unfortunately we have to recognise, still remains in poverty, or left behind. Now it’s the time to work together for this continent. If we are united and committed, everything is possible,” said Songtian.
“We work together with this continent for a win-win cooperation for common development. According to our culture, we are brothers and sisters – we have to help each other. If China goes off far in prosperity, that is not in our interest. In our view, if you are not independent economically, it’s hard to be independent politically. The potential here is more than enough. The people, in terms of human resources, natural resources are more than enough. Now, you need a partner a friend, a true partner to strengthen your capacity in terms of infrastructure, and in terms of human resource development. Those are the top two priorities we are fighting for, together with this continent.”
Dr Bryan Robinson of the Nelson Mandela University said there had been many spin-offs from the massive Chinese footprint on the continent, though a few matters need to be straightened up.
“There has been a lot of analysis in terms of Chinese presence in Africa, and certain of [Chinese] businesses have been implicated in human rights abuses, labour laws abuses. Amnesty International does highlight certain concerns. Certainly there is possible a negative externality in terms of environmental concerns and those issues have been raised. However, my approach has been really to look at what the Chinese can be. There are ample examples of how China has so wonderfully contributed to infrastructural development. They have eliminated bottlenecks to development,” said Robinson.
“The Ebola epidemic is one example. China came in with nurses and doctors – they had a huge impact on the Ebola epidemic. What I’m reading is that their impact is improving and being more positive. Another aspect is corruption – the Chinese have tackled things like corruption. They are driving better party leadership, and the leadership of their state-owned enterprises. So the Chinese, as a policy, are trying to deal with their own corruption, and ensure that the corruption doesn’t end up in Africa. My feeling overall is that their impact is definitely positive.”
Robinson added African people and governments have to ensure that they don’t get the shorter end of the stick when they get into contracts with the buoyant Chinese government and investors.