In what Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has described as an answer to South Africa’s high joblessness, a large crowd of unemployed youth on Thursday thronged Gallagher Estate during the 2022 SA-China Economy and Trade Association (SACETA) job fair, to complete forms that could see 1,000 of them being employed by Chinese companies invested locally.
Over 100 SA-based Chinese enterprises has pledged to provide 20,000 direct jobs to locals in the next three years – covering such areas as infrastructure, communications, mining, automobile and agriculture, with Huawei to provide 450 and Pengxin to offer 3,500 jobs.
Nxesi lauded the SA-SACETA job fair for “reaching a milestone”.
“The Chinese government and companies know that employment creation is at the centre of our programme.
“On behalf of our government, I wish to express gratitude for this gesture, which will undoubtedly contribute to our efforts of reducing the 35.3% unemployment rate.
“We understand that if we don’t handle the question of youth unemployment, it will lead to a serious social crisis,” said Nxesi.
Urging Chinese companies to partner with their South African counterparts in creating the much-needed jobs, Nxesi said collaboration would ensure that Chinese companies “get the chance to upskill locals”.
“We’re required to intensify our efforts and create partnerships to reverse the global job losses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“All social partners should work together to develop tangible programmes that will contribute to economic growth and jobs,” said Nxesi.
He added: “These challenges often require quick and direct interventions to avoid calamity in society. We realise that the task could be too high to handle on our own.
“Hence, we have to rely on friendships and political alliances to build a functioning economy that can benefit our citizens by creating industries and sustainable jobs.”
People’s Republic of China ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, told the packed gathering of how the initiative, aimed at growing the economies of both countries, would translate into “a win-win”.
Xiaodong said: “President Cyril Ramaphosa attaches great importance to jobs. He always makes job creation a priority of the government, having actively launched an employment stimulus plan.
“At the same time, Chinese enterprises in South Africa are working hard to give stability to the production and supply chains.
“Last month, over a hundred Chinese enterprises participated in the fourth South Africa Investment Conference and they secured a good amount of investment deals.
“President Xi Jinping and President Ramaphosa had a phone conversation last month and reached important agreements on bilateral cooperation.
“Today’s job fair is a concrete initiative and effort to implement those agreements.
“This event aims to achieve win-win results, by creating jobs for South Africans – also providing an opportunity for Chinese enterprises to hire local talents and pursue localised development.”
He said the China-South Africa friendship, brought tangible benefits to both peoples, with China having been SA’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years.
“Even against Covid, our trade reached over 54 billion US dollars last year, up by over 50%. South Africa’s exports to China reached over 33 billion US dollars, up by nearly 60 percent.
“South Africa is also one of the largest investment destinations for Chinese companies in Africa.
“By the end of 2021, China’s investment in South Africa totalled over 25 billion US dollars, which created over 400 000 local jobs.
“China is ready to work with South Africa to connect our development strategies and give full play to each other’s advantages.
“We are ready to seek mutual benefit and work for greater quality, broader fields and higher levels in our cooperation,” said Xiaodong.
China’s efforts on this front will bring more opportunities for all countries including South Africa.
China has been the main driver for world growth, with its gross domestic product last year reaching 17.7 trillion US dollars, up by 8.1%.
“With more than 1.4 billion people and over 400 million people in the middle-income group, China is a huge market that imports about 2.5 trillion US dollars’ worth of goods each year.
“Last year, the fourth China International Import Expo achieved over 70 billion US dollars in intended turnover.
“The China-Africa Economic and Trade Fair last year achieved 23 billion US dollars in signed contracts,” said Xiaodong.
Also addressing the job fair, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Alvin Botes said he wished to underscore the comprehensive strategic nature of South Africa-China partnership, “which spans beyond our political and diplomatic engagements, to economic and social collaboration, which we have successfully cultivated throughout these years”.
“This event today demonstrates China’s efforts to support South Africa’s objectives of eradicating the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality and is evident of the depth of our partnership.
“Several Chinese companies have invested in South Africa and create much needed jobs.
“Today a number of these companies will offer 1,000 jobs and further pledged to create some 19,000 job opportunities over a period of three years for South African youth.
“This will certainly have other spin-offs such as the transfer of expertise and skills, particularly in critical sectors such as ICT, mining, clothing, information technology, construction, food processing, energy, retail, logistics, manufacturing, and finance.
“I believe that the Chinese companies and enterprises participating in this event have already advertised job opportunities and I hope that many young South Africans would embrace these opportunities that are being offered by the Chinese business community,” said Botes.
He added: “While this jobs fair and the opportunities on offer should be seen as complementary to the South Africa-China strategic partnership, it could be viewed as further opportunity to enrich the bonds of friendship and understanding that exist between our people, as well as our cultures.
“No doubt, fortifying such links will serve to further enhance broader relations between our two countries, as well as further cement our economic partnership, which is certain to contribute to the well-being and uplifting of our people.
“China is South Africa’s largest global trading partner, while South Africa remains China’s number one trading partner in Africa.
“In 1998, at the commencement of our diplomatic relations, total trade between our two countries stood at around R1 billion.
“However, as our partnership gained traction, our trade relations strengthened concomitantly, boasting a total trade of R544 billion in two-way trade in 2021.
“Although South Africa’s trade deficit with China decreased by R4 billion in 2021, both countries are continuing to work towards addressing South Africa’s concerns, regarding the trade imbalance which has been skewed in China’s favour for several years.
“While China has increasingly opened its markets to a variety of South African goods and services, more could be done to increase value-added goods to the export list.”
According to Statistics South Africa, SA’s unemployment rate climbed to 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 34.9% in the previous period – the highest jobless rate since comparable data began in 2008.