Inaugural meeting of South African Students in China Association during the year of the Ox

By Sibusiso Bakana

23 March 2021

While South Africa is in the Autumn and facing Winter. Around the country and in the international theatre the pandemic known as COVID-19 is predicated to hit with a third wave. As the current South Africans studying in China, both still trapped back home and those experiencing the Spring in China are following the Chinese Zodiac.

Indeed, the South African community in China during this time is motivated by such a year as declared Ox year, which is interpreted by the Chinese as hardworking and methodical. A new fruit since the diplomatic ties between Sino-South Africa has been spotted from a long-planted tree, such fruit is constituted by the future thinking tank of South Africa and a genuine bridge to keep strengthening the two countries relations, as President Xi once said it depends on young people such a shared future.

As the famous philosopher, Socrates said in interpreting human life, like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Indeed, after such long diplomatic ties, more sand already escaped the hourglass of our diplomatic ties and the South African Students in China Association (SASCA) makes it clearer to see through it. The formation of SASCA became a spontaneous event, as students far away from their native land were frustrated in both what is known as students challenges and further growing student networks in a view to contribute to a prosperous South Africa.

The 20th March 2021 marked as a turning point as a shared future in South Africa-China was witnessed by Dr. Deng Yanting, who is the Deputy Director of Security Studies Division of China-Africa Institute; His Excellency Ambassador Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, who is the South African Ambassador in China and two guests who were representing Minister of Higher Education, Training, Science and Innovation Dr. Bonginkosi Nzimande, who are Deputy Director General of Planning, Policy and Strategy and Director of Asia, America and Europe, Ms Nolwazi Gasa and Ms. Mokgadi Tena respectively.

In the inaugural meeting, Dr Yanting emphasized one of the five mechanisms of the Belt and Road Initiative, the people-to-people exchange. He firstly outlined language as the challenge facing people-to-people exchange, which becomes a barrier. Further indicated that China-Africa support the people-to-people exchange and university students will play a paramount role in promoting it as when they are in China, they become an enabler as the challenge of language fades and therefore SASCA will be a bridge for the two countries. He concluded by welcoming the guests and by opening doors to SASCA to collaborate with China-Africa Institute and said further that we are the first African student’s association to establish a relationship with China-Africa Institute.

As his excellency Ambassador Dr Cwele, was his first time interacting with South African students since his arrival in China, he acknowledged the platform initiated by students since diplomatic exchange between China and South Africa, that at last such formal platform is achieved between the embassy and students, that the embassy views it as a perfect one. As the pandemic has cultured new normal and disturbance in economy and activities, it was unfortunate that the students met their ambassador virtually. He then encouraged students as they are on the ground that they should be ambassadors of South Africa through an engagement with the host friend. Towards his conclusion to introduce the delegates sent by Dr Nzimande, she said “This is a memorable day for a cohort of students and befitting that DDG on behalf of Minister Nzimande gives blessings to this inaugural association.”

Ms. Tena firstly appeared on Zoom with a twinkle to say “this is a big step for establishing such a platform and we are excited as DHET to work with SASCA”. She indicated the importance of studying abroad as it gives students new perspectives and cross-culture awareness, which influence the world view to students. Further indicated how SASCA can play a role in uniting over 2000 South African students in China, who are both self-funded and government (Chinese and South African) funded. She could not stop indicating how progressive DHET has managed to sign a mutual agreement with the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) during past BRICS meetings in recognizing Chinese qualifications. Then she tasked SASCA to develop a program focusing on their alumni for plans of plowing back in South Africa on their return and also in advising how DHET can improve deliveries on post-education by emulating the Chinese educational system.

Students interacted with all guests and raised sharp challenges that SASCA has to face and also advised for opportunities particular when high delegations visit China to be partnered with as they command the Chinese language and can help in translations and Ambassador Dr. Cwele added that even for training South African diplomats and business people as students are better off in understanding their culture and can know how to ease the understanding of the language. DDG Ms. Gasa in her closing remarks indicated the importance of South African traditional medicine and how students can assist in formalizing the sector through emulating the traditional Chinese medicine that is already formalized.

Guests were thanked and logged off, as students continued with the second part of the meeting as they adopted the SASCA constitution with new amendments. After the adoption of the constitution, a democratic process prevailed where eight National Executive Committee members were elected and tasked to launch chapters in all provinces in China to disseminate information and tasks for the growth of the association. In this, like Socrates said, it is indeed clearer to see through the hourglass.

Sibusiso R. Bakana is a Ph.D. candidate at Beihang University (Artificial Intelligence), the Inaugural President of SASCA, and the representative of The Diplomatic Society of South Africa in China and writes in his personal capacity.