ZOOM seminar on people-to-people relations during COVID-19

Prof Siphamandla Zondi
Prof Qin Shengyong
Dr Ying Cheng

On 20 May 2020, CACS hosted a virtual seminar on people-to-people relations in the time of COVID-19 with a specific focus on Africa and China. Cases of alleged racial discrimination in China against people of colour made the seminar a necessary and timely initiative. This was underlined by the participation – about 80 people, some from as far afield as Nigeria, China, France and the United Kingdom, joined the seminar online.

The seminar was hosted by the CACS Research Director, Bhaso Ndzendze, and chaired by its Executive Director, Dr David Monyae. The speakers were Dr Siphamandla Zondi, Professor of Political Science at Pretoria University, and Chairperson of the South African BRICS Think Tank; Prof Qin Shengyong, Director of the International Office of the Zhongshan School of Medicine and a Senior Research Fellow at the One Belt One Road Institute at Sun Yatsen University; and Dr Cheng Ying, Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian and African Languages and Cultures at Peking University.

Prof Zondi provided the background to current Africa-China relations by noting the pioneering work done by scholars such as Ian Taylor and Garth Shelton. He then outlined political frameworks such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), and how this intersected with the the American-led Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Increased interaction

According to Prof Zondi, political and economic synergy had fostered increased interaction among non-political actors from Africa and China, and the two parties had to be candid about the challenges that came with such interaction. Provocatively, he noted that many Africans infected by the coronavirus did not contract it from China, but rather from European countries, and asked what this signified about people-to-people interactions between Africa and China.

Dr Cheng suggested concrete ways of deepening Sino-African understanding and coexistence at the people-to-people level. Initiatives such as cultural exchanges and presentations could play significant role. Culture straddled a gamut of components from art, religion, music and poetry. Language also played a key role in gaining insight into another culture, and breaking through the boundaries of misunderstanding.

Professor Qin offered reassurances about the Chinese government and the high value it placed on its relationship with Africa.

Chat panel

Throughout the presentations, participants posted questions on the chat panel. Several centred on allegations that Africans in China are encountering discrimination, and that some have been prohibited from pursuing their professional activities, such as teaching. Others centred on the political dimension of what COVID-19 entails for future Africa-China relations.

The seminar underlined that the people-to-people component of Africa-China relations is still in its infancy, and that some uncomfortable realities should not be ignored. Specifically, the racial tensions that occasionally sully Sino-African synergy can only be resolved if their existence is acknowledged. Another caveat to emerge was that Africans in China and Chinese citizens in Africa have to adhere to the legislation of their host countries.

To conclude, the seminar outlined not only how far Africa-China relations have come, but how much still needs to be done to build a relationship that will help to shape both Africa’s and China’s futures.

China at 70: Policy, Institutions and Development

On 9 October 2019, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, held a seminar on ‘The People’s Republic of China at 70 Years: Policy, Institutions and Development’. The speakers were Prof Martin Jacques, author of the global best-seller When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and Ms Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined. The event was chaired by Dr David Monyae, Co-Director of the CACS. To view a video of the seminar, click on the link above.

ZOOM seminar about Thandika Mkandawire

On 29 April 2020, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ LIbrary, staged a ZOOM seminar on ‘the INtellectual Work and Legacy of Thandika Mkandawire’. The speakers were Prof GIlbert Khadiagala of the African Centre for the Study of the United States at Wits University, and Dr Ibbo Mandaza of the Southern African Political Economy Series Trust. The seminar was chaired by Elinor Sisulu, human rights activist and author. To view a video of the seminar, click on the link above.

Seminar on Iran-US crisis

From left to right are Mr Naeem Jeenah, an Iranian Embassy official, Ambassador Ghomi, Dr David Monyae, Professor Suzy Graham and Mr Bhaso Ndzendze.

On Monday 17 February 2020, CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a public seminar on ‘The Iran-US Crisis: Implications for Iran-SA Relations’. The main speaker was H.E. Mr Mohsen Movahhedi Ghomi, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to South Africa.

It was chaired by Prof Suzy Graham of the Department of Politics and International Relations at UJ.  The discussant was Mr Naeem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre.

Attended by about 130 people, including present and former government officials, business people, representatives of civil society, academics and students, the event successfully highlighted the Centre’s Pan-African and Pan-Asian outlook.

Ambasador Ghomi first explained why the US-Iran crisis has worsened since the start of 2020, and then gave a summary of Iran-South Africa relations, their evolution over time, and how they had matured after the 1994 transition to democacy.

The US-Iran crisis

On 3 January this year, Amb. Ghomi said, General Qasem Soleimani of Iran was killed in an air strike while on an official visit to Iraq. US President Donald Trump had accused Soleimani of being a terrorist who had killed US troops in the Middle East. However, in his view the reasons advanced by the US to justify the assassination were invalid.

‘The US sees its hegemony in danger with the rise of China and India. For the US to guarantee this, it needs to control vital energies in the Middle East. And if they want to do that, they need to control Iran as well.’

He was convinced the US was simply trying to destabilise Iran and the Middle East in order to promote its imperialist ambitions, but had come up against a ‘revolutionary and anti-imperialist Iran’.

Iran-South Africa relations

Ambassador Ghomi mentioned key areas of partnership between Iran and South Africa. For instance, he revealed that Iran was the second most profitable market for MTN, the South African mobile network company. He noted that South Africa could benefit from Iranian expertise in water management, energy, mining equipment, and the exploitation of gas resources.

Naeem Jeenah, who had recently attended General Soleimani’s funeral in Iran, said US-Iran relations had been strained since 1953. Since 1979, the situation had been complicated by the fact that the US had a strategic interest in Iranian oil, but continued to protect Israel, to which Iran was hostile. In contrast with earlier remarks by the Ambassador, he said Iran aspired to becoming a superpower in the Middle East.

He also added nuance to the Ambassador’s depiction of Iran-South Africa relations by raising some diplomatic obstacles between the two countries. Among other things, due to US sanctions, South Africa had not officially imported oil from Iran for the past five or six years. Mr Jeenah concluded by criticizing the use of the terms ‘anti-imperialism’ and ‘terrorism’ as they could be used to mobilise support by dictators or autocratic regimes.


During the question and answer session, members of the audience expressed their concern about the global implications of the Iran-US crisis, the role of constitutional values in South African foreign policy, and South Africa’s role in the UN Security Council in which it sits until later this year. Responding, Ambassador Ghomi emphasised that all countries were interconnected, and needed to collaborate. Dr David Monyae, co-director of the UJCI, thanked everyone for attending.

Seminar on Zambia

On Thursday 5 March 2020, the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) and CACS hosted a seminar entitled ‘The state of Zambian democracy and China-Zambia relations’. The seminar was led by Dr Emmanuel Matambo, a senior CACS researcher.

About Emmanuel Matambo

Dr Emmanuel Matambo started his tertiary education at Saint Joseph’s Theological Institute in Hilton, KwaZulu Natal, and went on to obtain a PhD at the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a thesis on Zambia-China relations.

CACS seminar on Russia-Africa relations

Heads of delegations – including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – with the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the Sochi summit.

Exactly a year after its launch, the CACS hosted a public seminar on ‘Russia-Africa Relations in the 21st Century: Renewed Focus and Engagement’, with H.E. Mr Ilya Igorevich Rogachev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to South Africa and Lesotho, as the main speaker.

The discussant was Dr Essop Pahad, former minister in the South African Presidency, and the event was chaired by Khadija Patel, editor in chief of the Mail & Guardian.

The seminar was well attended, among others by diplomats, policy-makers and planners, and academics. It took place in the wake of the first ever Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum (the Sochi Summit), held in Sochi, Russia, on 23 and 24 October, which was attended by 45 African heads of state and government as well as regional and private sector representatives.

Opening the seminar, Prof Peng Yi, CACS Co-Director, spoke about the Centre’s role in fostering mutual understanding between not only China and Africa but also Africa and other countries in the Global South.

Recounting some of the comments made by Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, at the close of the Sochi Summit, Khadija Patel noted that the seminar would seek to unpack the high-level discussions and closing declaration, focusing on how Russia intended to achieve its stated goal of achieving a mutually beneficial partnership with Africa.

In his presentation, the Ambassador placed contemporary relations between Russia and Africa in the broader context of the continent’s relations with the Soviet Union, which, he said, had played a vital role in partnering with the continent’s liberation movements in combating ‘colonialism, racism and apartheid’.

H.E. Mr Ilya Igorevich Rogachev.

‘Russia is returning to Africa’

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia went into a recession, and these relations became less active. However, the friendship and solidarity between Russia and Africa never ceased. Today, be declared, ‘Russia is returning to Africa’, pointing out, among others, that the Federation had already cancelled some US$20-billion dollars in debt owed by African countries.

The Sochi Summit, which was co-hosted with the African Union, was not only symbolic but was also flanked by business meetings and round-table discussions on various topics. Besides the main declaration, agreements were concluded on trade, investment, and security cooperation. A total of 500 Memoranda of Agreement were signed, including  agreements on minerals with Morocco, on railroad construction with Egypt, on manufacturing and robotics with Nigeria, on nuclear energy with Ethiopia, and on scientific development with Rwanda and Zambia. Added to this, security cooperation in the war-torn Central African Republic would continue.

Ambassador Rogachev expressed his appreciation for the platform provided by the CACS which, he said, had enabled him to clarify his country’s policy in Africa, and promote mutual understanding.

In his response, Dr Pahad commented further on Soviet assistance to Africa going back as far as 1956 during the Egyptian Suez Canal Crisis. According to him, the Soviet response gave impetus to a wave of decolonisation in Africa. The presence of Soviet troops in Angola in the late 1980s helped to precipitate the collapse of the apartheid regime. Moreover, Russia’s social scientists had placed a valuable role in helping to theorise the struggle against apartheid, including, among other things, developing the concept of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

He suggested that improved relations between Russia and Africa should not only involve security and economic issues, but also continue to involve an exchange of ideas, theorising current global trends, and exploring what they mean for the Global South as a whole.

The discussions dwelled on Russia’s role in infrastructural development in the light of Africa’s rapid urbanisation, as well as the reform of the United Nations Security Council. Noting that Moscow was one of the five most digitised cities in the world, Ambassador Rogachev stated that Russia was willing to accelerate technology transfers to African states. On UNSC reform, he stated that this would require consensus among the world’s major powers represented at the UN. The system needed to be modernised, but some features of the UN were fundamental.

CACS seminar on Zimbabwe’s challenges and prospects

A street scene in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe.

On Thursday 15 August 2019, the UJ Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a public seminar on ‘A New Dispensation Tackling Accumulated Challenges: Understanding Zimbabwe’s Future Prospects’.

The speaker was H.E. Mr David Hamadziripi, Ambassador of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the Republic of South Africa.

The moderator was Dr Nolitha Vukuza, Senior Executive Director in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at the University of Johannesburg

The respondent was Prof Chris Landsberg, Professor and SARChI Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg.


In April 2018, the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe released a policy document entitled Towards an Upper-Middle Income Economy by 2030, which sought to share key initiatives and commitments aimed at transforming the country into an upper-middle economy by 2030 with the international community as well as domestic shareholders.

While pledging to remain loyal to the principles that animated Zimbabwe’s pursuit for independence, the Zimbabwean government acknowledged that the document followed ‘more than 18 years of economic isolation and the erosion of investor confidence, which has seen Zimbabwe losing phenomenal ground in terms of development’, and stated that it was meant to herald a new era.

The isolation it referred to has generated a range of challenges, including economic stagnation and a loss of political and economic credibility, especially among those countries that have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in recent years.

While some of these challenges are specific to Zimbabwe, they cannot be entirely divorced from dynamics elsewhere in Africa, and indeed the world. In recent years, bigger economies such as China in Asia and South Africa and Nigeria in Africa have also registered lower rates of economic growth. What is more specific to Zimbabwe is its ‘brain drain’, or its loss of people with professional and technical skills tht are crucial to its economic recovery.

Zimbabwe’s potential is immense. If properly harnessed, its literacy rate of almost 95% could help to transform the country into an example for the rest of Southern Africa as well as Africa. Extensive arable land and vast mineral wealth are among its endowments that could drive economic growth. The responsibility for changing Zimbabwe’s current fortunes for the better ultimately rests with the Zimbabwean government, as well as its citizens. However, the first step in the quest to triumph over current circumstances is to correctly diagnose what has gone wrong, and then to identify remedial action.

Objectives of the seminar

Southern Africa is undergoing leadership transitions in Botswana, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will hopefully consolidate democracy in the region. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) also has a key role to play in Zimbabwe’  economic recovery, among others by easing the exchange of exports and imports. Ideally, SADC should also provide effective and principled oversight over all its members, including Zimbabwe. Beyond Southern Africa, the recently ratified African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) has also rekindled hope of intensified intra-African trade, a highly significant development in an era when insular politics seem to be in vogue.

Following its isolation by mainly Western states, Zimbabwe has proactively pursued a ‘look East’ strategy, notably intensified trade relations with China. This remains controversial, with detractors arguing that China’s policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of African countries has helped to prop up odious leaderships.

Against this background, H.E. Mr Hamadziripi provided an insider’s perspective on how the Zimbabwean government viewed the current situation, and aimed to begin unlocking the country’s potential. He also addressed a range of other issues such as forging unity among citizens, combating corruption, entrenching responsive and accountable governance, and creating conditions attractive to old and new investors.

CACS seminar on Sino-African relations in the UNSC

From left to right are Prof Peng Yi, Ambassador Welile Nhlapo, Dr David Monyae, Ambassador Lin Songtian, Dr Sithembile Mbete, Adv Doctor Mashabane, and a political counsellor in the Chinese Embassy. Image: The Visual Studio.

On Thursday 16 May 2019, CACS and the UJ Library hosted a seminar on the subject of ‘South Africa and China at the United Nations Security Council’.

Attendees at this timely gathering included UJ staff; UJ students; government officials; and Australian, Russian, British and French diplomats. Dr Essop Pahad, former Minister in the Presidency, and Aziz Pahad, former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, also attended.

The speakers were Prof Tshilidzi Marwala; UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal; Prof Saurabh Sinha, UJ Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation; Amb. Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa; Adv Doctor Mashabane, Chief Director: United Nations in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO); Amb. Welile Nhlapo,  former South African Ambassador to the United States; and Dr Sithembile Mbete, lecturer in international relations at the University of Pretoria, and an expert on the UNSC.

The seminar focused on South Africa’s current two-year term (its third since the advent of democracy in 1994) as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), on which China occupies a permanent seat. The seminar provided a platform for scholars and policy-makers to reflect on previous shared terms, paint a clear picture of the present policy landscape, discuss areas of mutual interest between South Africa and China as strategic partners, and assess the outlook for collaboration on the UNSC.

In an opening address, Prof Sinha spoke about the work already done by the seven-month-old Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), which  was launched in November 2018, as well as the importance of China to the fortunes and prospects of Africa in general and South Africa in particular. ‘There is no doubt,’ he said, ‘that China has emerged as one of the most vital players in the international arena today. It has done this at a very rapid pace. For Africa in particular, this relationship is central, with China ranking highly among Africa’s trade and investment partners, and with these figures growing by exponential rates at each year at an average rate of 20 to 40 percent each year.

‘The Africa-China relationship needs to be studied and understood from dynamic and fact-based angles. The CACS is therefore a hub and a go-to facility for knowledge on all matters related to the political economy of the Africa-China relationship in its many layers.’

Prof Tshilidzi Marwala welcomed guests to the University of Johannesburg, and spoke about the ethos of UJ as an institution that not only promotes answers, but also encourages its research staff and students to ask as many critical questions as possible.

Dr David Monyae, CACS Co-Director, gave a brief overview of the UNSC in terms of its origins and the powers vested in it by the UN Charter, and highlighted some of the pressing issues surrounding the UNSC, including the need to democratise this important body. He then welcomed the chair of the two sessions, Prof Peng Yi, Co-Director of CACS.

Adv Mashabane spoke about a range of pressing issues surounding the UNSC, including its apparent undermining by some UN member states, resulting in a declining budget. This, he argued, had major implications for Africa, notably because it was the largest recipient of peacekeeping assistance from the UNSC. In 2016, he noted, US$5-billion of the US$8 billion budget allocated to peacekeeping for that financial year was spent in Africa. He argued that, as like-minded countries, South Africa and China should utilise the time they will spend together on the UNSC to promote an ‘African agenda’. He also stated that, despite its many problems and difficulties, the UN was still a vital role player, and the next best thing to a global government capable of bringing international order.

Amb. Lin Songtian discussed the ascent of China to the UN in 1971 and the vital role played in this by African states, many of which  voted in favour of the resolution that granted China entry and removed Taiwan. He then spoke about the interconnectedness between economics and security, China’s willingness to invest in the UN security agenda, its continued intention to pursue a ‘win-win cooperation for shared development’, and also its intention to support ‘African solutions to African issues’.

Amb. Nhlapo spoke about South Africa’s place and role in the UNSC, and reviewed some of its past decisions. Perhaps the most controversial was to vote in favour of UNSC Resolution 1973, which sanctioned a blockade of Libya, leading to the invasion of that country and the removal of Muamar Gaddafi from power.

He also highlighted the need to expand the UNSC, which at present only provides two  non-permanent seats to two African countries at a time. While arguing in favour of creating two permanent seats for African countries, he cautioned that the selection and entry of those two countries was a potential point of contention, as there would be no guarantee that they would always advance the continental agenda.

Dr Mbete spoke about the differences between South Africa’s first two terms on the UNSC. These were caused by who was at the helm of South African foreign policy, along with international dynamics, including China’s status as an ‘emerging economy’, and the US presidencies of George Bush and later Barack Obama. However, she argued that American foreign policy and its policy at the UN remained intact regardless of who was in the White House, as the US would always safeguard its own interests first and foremost. She also highlighted the deep structural inequalities underpinning the council, defined by differences in alignment between the US, the UK and France compared to China and Russia, which she termed a ‘P3 vs P2’ scenario, which often put the UNSC in gridlock.

Issues raised during the question and answer session included China’s establishment of a naval base in Djibouti and its presence on the Somali coast, and whether this was accompanied by the training of those countries’ own coast guards; the role of new media in escalating the probability of future conflicts;  and the role of the UNSC in preventing nuclear proliferation.

For a CACS Policy Brief about the seminar, click here.

Seminar on SA and China at the UN Security Council

A UN Security Council session in progress.

On Thursday 16 May 2019, the CACS hosted a seminar on South Africa and China at the UN Security Council.

The speakers were Ambassador Welile Nhlapo, former South African Ambassador to the United States; Advocate Doctor Mashabane, Chief Director: United Nations in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO); and Dr Sithembile Mbethe, lecturer in International Relations at the University of Pretoria. The seminar was chaired by Prof Peng Yi, Co-director of the UJ Confucius Institute and the CACS.

South Africa and China are serving together on the UN Security Council – China as one of five permanent members, and South Africa for its third two-year term as a non-permanent member. While they are major trading partners, their interests may not always coincide. To what extent will they collaborate, and what will be the vital enablers of cooperation? Perhaps most importantly, how will they define the African Agenda, and to what extent will they pursue this together? At this timely seminar, leading and emerging scholars explored these questions, and sought to develop cogent answers.

Concept note

South Africa and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) interact on numerous levels. Given that, since 2009, China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner, and South Africa is China’s largest trading partner in Africa, they collaborate intensively at the bilateral level. They also interact quite closely at the multilateral level, with the leaders and representatives of both countries frequently finding themselves in the same rooms and around the same tables in forums such as FOCAC, BRICS, and the G20.

However, one of the most powerful bodies in which these two players interact, but where their cooperation cannot easily be predicted, is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This is so for two main reasons. First, while China is one of five permanent members of the Council, South Africa is one of ten non-permanent members, and its current two-year tenure (its third since 1994) will expire in 2020. Second, given the membership, status and mandate of the UNSC, its members are continually subjected to complex sets of pressures, both from within and outside the Council. This means that cooperation in the Council, even with supposed partners, is less straightforward than it may seem, and the outcomes are often contingent on particular circumstances and the sets of interests involved in particular issues.

South Africa was previously elected as a non-permanent member in 2007-2008, and again in 2011-2012. In those periods, it promoted the African Agenda, namely peace, security and development. China was a founding member of the UN in 1945, and therefore a permanent member of the UNSC. Until 1971, the seat was held by the Republic of China (Taiwan), and since then, following a General Assembly resolution, by the PRC.

Both countries have changed significantly since they last served on the UNSC together. Given this, there has been widespread speculation about what they will champion in the Council, and the extent to which they will support each other. To what extent will their interests coincide, and what will be the vital enablers of cooperation? Perhaps most importantly, how will they define the African Agenda, and to what extent will they pursue this together?

At this seminar, leading and emerging scholars will explore these questions in depth, and seek to develop cogent answers.

Suggested reading

Makgetla, Itumeleng. 2018. South Africa at the UN Security Council in 2019/20: What’s Different This Time? FAPISA. 18 September.

Monyae, David and Gibson Banda. 2018. Sino-South African Relations at Twenty: Key Lessons. UJCI Africa-China Occasional Paper Series. 2018.

Rupiya, Martin R. 2017. China’s Soft-Power Status (via UN Peacekeeping) and its Implications for the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). UJCI Africa-China Occasional Paper Series.

Van Heerden, Oscar. 2018. The reluctant Hegemon – SA’s third United Nations Security Council Seat. Daily Maverick. 13 June.

Brosig, Malte. 2018. South Africa on the UN Security Council: Priorities and challenges. Africa Portal. 20 June.

News24. 2018. US, China at odds over UN push to fund African peacekeeping. 21 November.