China has contacted South African officials regarding the construction of a high-speed rail network and several other large projects, including 5G infrastructure.
Large-scale investment into the country is expected to create thousands of jobs in the next three years, said Chinese ambassadors to South Africa.
The ambitious rail project had been discussed between the two trade partners more than a decade ago in 2010 – the year South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup – but was subsequently shelved.
A feasibility study regarding a possible network between Johannesburg and Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal capital, Durban, was announced by Public Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula, in April.
In addition to the rail deal carrying passengers and freight between the major metropoles, the country’s entire rail network would be overhauled, said Mbalula.
A high-speed rail between the two major population and industrial hubs has long appealed to the South African government. In 2010, Sinusiso Ndebele, then Transport Minister, announced that plans had been “finalised”, with several interested contractors on board.
However, despite the seemingly advanced nature of the discussions, nothing came to fruition. Since then the idea has sporadically made an appearance in speeches but has failed to find the same traction it once had.
The rail infrastructure requires some overhauling too. American credit rating firm, Fitch Solutions, published an analysis of South Africa’s rail infrastructure, describing its outlook as “negative”.
Fitch elaborated on its position, saying the project would require significant private investment because of the government’s limited budget and previously stagnated negotiations surrounding the project.
In 2020, Department of Transport Director-General, Alec Moemi, said a framework for a rail system had been developed and was being implemented.
Moemi said he was aware the potential mega-project would almost certainly require investment through private-sector channels. He added that the massive undertaking would disrupt the monopolies enjoyed by Prasa and Transnet, the country’s state-owned public transport and freight players, in the rail industry.
Along with the Johannesburg-Durban high-speed line, China was considering several other large-scale investments in the region, said Chinese ambassador, Chen Xiaodong, while speaking at a Johannesburg jobs fair.
Trade partners were also looking to collaborate in fields including smart cities, vaccine development and production, clean energy, 5G and the digital economy. More than 400 000 jobs have been created through Chinese development and an estimated 20 000 more could be made in the next three years, added Xiaodong.
Chinese and South African collaboration not only creates jobs, according to Xiaodong, but also facilitates the transfer of skills and technological competence to local employees.