Minister of Transport Sibusiso Ndebele has signed a ground-breaking agreement on railways and other transport related matters with his counterpart Minister of Railways Mr Liu Zhijun in China. Minister Ndebele is part of the presidential delegation led by President Jacob Zuma during the state visit which started on 23 August 2010.
The railways agreement recognises the significant economic challenges and opportunities arising out of and consequential to relations between the two countries. It takes into consideration the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The agreement recognises the need to find new approaches for consolidating, expanding and deepening the rapid developments in the transport sector between South and China. It aims at mutually beneficial cooperation with specific focus on empowerment that seeks to implement world-class projects on a win-win basis. It further seeks to promote investments, industry, trade and cooperation between South Africa and China in the area of rail.
Specifically, the railways agreement will foster close cooperation in the following areas: Rail infrastructure maintenance and development, financing, network safety and regulation, technology transfer, harmonisation of technical standards and human resource development. The agreement includes identifying research institutions and private organisations such as universities and private companies that have the technical and financial capacity to implement the specific projects in the transport sector. There will be bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the implementation of integrated railway transport master planning and network development and railway transport services and the promotion of intermodalism in the area of public transport services.
The two countries agreed that there will be an exchange of engineers and related professionals and broad cooperation in the areas of intelligent transport systems, environmentally sustainable and labour-intensive best practices. It is expected that the two countries will intensify cooperation in training and capacity building in respect of specific technical areas such as salvage engineers, dispatchers, terminal managers, signaling and rail safety technicians, rail transport economists, traffic demand management specialists, railways electrical and electronic engineers.
On the business side the two ministers undertook to cooperate in the facilitation of joint ventures between South Africa and Chinese companies, railway-focused consortiums and marketing potential opportunities to investors including private-public partnerships. On a broader level South Africa and China agree to cooperate at multilateral level globally in the following areas: railway-related climate change, industry development, beneficiation, railway safety and security.
A bilateral working group under the leadership of the corresponding Directors-General would lead the implementation of the agreement.
Speaking at the signing ceremony Minister Zhijun said China was willing to share its expertise in the development of railways networks.
“We operate the largest network of high-speed rail in the world. The Shanghai to Beijing railway line is the largest in the world but in addition we are specialists in the development of highland rail, high speed rail, upgrading of networks and their maintenance,” said Minister Zhijun.
“We are willing to share this expertise with South Africa. We operate 86,000km of railway track, 7,000km of high speed rail, and we have 13,000 high-speed projects under construction,” said Minister Zhijun. In his remarks Minister Ndebele recalled the role rail had played in the colonisation of Africa and South Africa in particular. “Rail played a huge part in the colonisation of our country and continent. Cecil Rhodes once dreamt of a rail line from Cape to Cairo. It was for a reason-to colonise Africa. We can use transport in general and rail in particular to free our people. We will be free when we are no longer isolated from each other by distance created by apartheid – when the movement of goods and people is made easy,” said Minister Ndebele.
“We are characterised as a developing country. We ask the question how long are we going to be developing, when are we to become a developed country? Rail, we are certain, is one way in which transport will bring loved ones together and bring families together. It will help us move South Africa from being a developing country to being a developed country by transporting people and goods efficiently, effectively and with the least cost to our environment and economy. We are confident that our friends in the world including the Chinese can help us leapfrog many stages on our journey to becoming a developed country,” said Minister Ndebele.