‘Who is Xi?’ What do South Africans really know about the Chinese leader?
During his more than nine-year tenure, Xi Jinping, who is expected to assume a third term as leader of the Communist Party of China at his congress this week, has stressed the importance of China-Africa relations.
In South Africa, which counts China as its biggest trading partner, not one of the dozen South Africans interviewed by VOA in a bustling Johannesburg mall this week knew the name of the man many consider to be one of the most powerful people in the world. .
Neither Gundo Dzivhani, a banker in his thirties, nor his brother Mulanga, an entrepreneur, could name the Chinese leader.
Michelle Stoltz, 51, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, didn’t know either. “Uh, ah, his name is on the tip of my tongue,” she said.
What most agreed on, however, was that they were happy for Xi Jinping to retain power as long as trade, investment and economic relations between China and South Africa remained strong.
Last year, bilateral trade reached $29 billion.
Fiyin Kupolati, a 27-year-old legal analyst, noted that the two countries are also members of BRICS, a group of emerging economies.
“Relations between South Africa and China are good at the moment and if the president stays in power, I think for the foreseeable future it would still be good,” Kupolati said.
When asked if they were concerned that South Africa, the continent’s first democracy, was so close to authoritarian rule, most respondents thought it was good that Pretoria had a relationship with countries with different political systems – and swept aside human rights concerns in China.
“With such a population, I’m sure they could revolt and all that, but they seem happy, they seem to like what’s going on there,” Gundo Dzivhani said.
Aubrey Netshikweta, a 55-year-old Uber driver, said he would prefer the Chinese system. In China, he said, he thinks order has been restored and things are working well, even if Xi remains in power indefinitely, as some analysts predict.
“Being president for life, as long as everything works out, so for me it doesn’t matter, because here in South Africa the problem we have, we have it from the leaders, up and down, the leaders are corrupt,” he said.
Netshikweta said it looks like in China the president is getting things done, while South Africa might be a democracy, but its politicians don’t care about the people.
“They only remember people when there’s an election, when they come in with these big cars, give people these fake T-shirts, vote for our party, and then they call people, ‘Our people, our people’ , but after that nothing happens,” he said.
Some analysts told VOA they believe China-Africa relations, not only economically but diplomatically, have been at their highest level ever under Xi’s tenure in the past decade and expect that they are as strong as ever as we approach an expected third term.
Cobus van Staden, a China expert at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said he thought African governments would appreciate the continuity.
“I don’t think there will be massive complaints from Africa if Xi ends up serving a third term,” he said.
One shift analysts expect, however, is a move away from the massive infrastructure projects in Africa seen under Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, towards a focus on other areas like information technology. information and communications.