On Thursday, 22 November 2018, the University of Johannesburg’s Confucius Institute (UJCI) launched Africa’s foremost Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), with the aim of building a better understanding of SA’s largest trading partner.
The Africa-China Studies Centre will allow UJ researchers to bring a wide range of multidisciplinary knowledge, to complement the University’s research priorities and strengths, and promote our China expertise across faculties and research programs.
The launch of the Centre saw attendance and speeches by the UJ Vice-Chancellor Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, as well as the Chinese Ambassador, Lin Songtian.
Other luminaries in attendance included Dr Essop Pahad, the former minister in the presidency, Professor Arthur Mutambara, the former Deputy Minister of Zimbabwe (and currently a UJ Engineering Visiting Professor and a Visiting Research Fellow of the new CACS). University leaders included Senior Director for Administration and Strategic Initiatives, Dr Linda Mtwisha, and Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, who is the Deputy Director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS).
“The Centre being established here today is the culmination of a vision we have had for a long time as the university. There is no doubt that China has emerged as one of the most critical players in the international arena today. For Africa, in particular, this relationship is crucial, with China ranking highly among Africa’s trade and investment partners.”
In his speech, the VC envisioned the Centre playing a critical in knowledge creation. “This Centre will close another crucial gap; it will be an example of something that is too rare; and that is knowledge about the Africa-China relationship being produced by Africans and Chinese themselves in an academic context of excellence.”
The Chinese Ambassador, who has previously attended and participated in a UJ Confucius Institute seminar in March, spoke on the Centre’s important role in helping Chinese and Africans understand each other.
“This, in addition to being rigorous and extensive, will no doubt be made distinct by the fact that it will be home-grown research that seeks to understand the relationship for what it is, and will therefore assist our governments, business leaders, civil society, community leaders and other critical role-players in taking stock of areas of attention, areas of improvement and areas of success,” said Lin Songtian.
Dr David Monyae, the Centre Director noted that the research would have to have real-world impact and that its primary aim is to gauge the amount of difference made in people’s lives by the growth of China in Africa, “we aim for research that is relevant to policymaking and allows us to better respond to issues confronting us,” he said.
Also speaking was Mr Bhaso Ndzendze, the Research Director at the Centre, stating that CACS has three broad programmes, including Economic Relations, which will have a special focus on the Belt and Road Initiative and Agenda 2063 as well as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as well as People-to-People Relations and Africa-China in International Forums.
“These would be pursued though quantitative, scientific protocols and lead to verifiable findings. This is the “CACS factor” he said. In five years’ time, it is the goal for the CACS to be a reference point for all interested in the Africa-China relationship, and they would offer means and mechanisms of measuring the relationship,” explained Mr Ndzendze.
Dr Matambo, a Visiting Research Fellow with the new Centre and who is based in the University of KwaZulu-Natal, indicated that the relations should be understood not from the bigger, state-to-state level, but on the basis of the experience of the grassroots, “from the average African, and the average Chinese.”
Professor Peng Yi, Co-Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) gave her remarks before the commencement of the second session. She emphasised that the Centre would play a critical role in sending students for advanced study to China.”
The Centre has already amassed 10 Visiting Research Fellows, straddling 4 of the 5 BRICS countries, with researchers in South Africa, Brazil, China and Russia. The CACS also has researchers throughout Africa in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.