China pledged to help South Africa deal with its crippling energy crisis during the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg. At the same time, South Africa has stressed that it wants to balance its trade relationship with China and export more finished products – but manufacturing in South Africa is currently being hampered by unstable electricity supplies. VOA’s Kate Bartlett spoke to business owners in Johannesburg about the challenges they face.
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“We are currently orienting the enterprise to be more international,” says Mr. Mohlala.
His dream is for his creations to span the globe, but he faces a challenge: the almost daily lack of electricity.
“Something that used to take a week to complete now takes up to four weeks, so that’s the biggest hurdle we have right now.”
Although Mr. Mohlala has solar panels that power his machines, they are not enough to power the larger appliances. This is not the only enterprise that has such concerns.
Finally, South Africa has signed agreements with China, its largest trading partner, to help it deal with the energy crisis. The agreement includes financial assistance and emergency equipment from China, worth about 30 million dollars.
Some experts see these investments as examples of how China is moving away from large infrastructure investments under the One Belt One Road initiative towards more strategic investments under Beijing’s green agenda.
Although South African President Cyril Ramaphosa thanked the Chinese leader for the financial aid, he also highlighted the large trade deficit.
Mr Ramaphosa aims for African countries to replace the export of raw materials with finished products. But experts say government mismanagement and corruption over the years have taken its toll on much of the infrastructure in South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized country.
“I suspect that the trade imbalance between South Africa and China will change in the short to medium term, due to the destruction of South Africa’s industrial capacity as well as infrastructure as South Africa’s ports are not working efficiently, as well as problems with electricity..”
South Africa’s Tony Esslinger, who runs the Primal Spirits distillery, is also struggling to break into the export market. The constant lack of electricity is one of the main obstacles.
“The problem with these machines is that they have to work all day, in eight-hour intervals, and if the power goes out in the middle of this process, then we have to reheat the whole apparatus the next day – this means additional expenditure of electricity.”
Whether or not the new electricity infrastructure, supported by Chinese funds, will help businesses such as the distillery and the fashion atelier to expand the trade of their goods further will depend on management within Africa. of South Africa and China’s willingness to import finished products from South Africa.