The re-establishment of a “solid” infrastructure platform, through large-scale investments into energy, transport and water infrastructure, is South Africa’s most urgent priority, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industries in South Africa chairperson Sachio Kaneki said at a seminar in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Speaking from a platform shared with South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Japanese Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, Kaneki argued that once such a platform was in place more Japanese investment would follow.
There were currently some 130 Japanese companies operating in South Africa, employing around 150 000 people and Kaneki, who is Mitsubishi’s VP and chief regional officer for Africa, said that many more were showing interest in the country as a “gateway” to the rest of the continent, notwithstanding the fact that Africa’s most developed economy was “was facing its most difficult times since 1994”.
“More Japanese companies are taking an interest to either commence or expand businesses in Africa,” he said, noting the chamber's membership had increased for 49 to 65 forms over the past two years.
Japanese companies, he said, had the technology, the funding and the experience to assist South Africa in dealing with its infrastructure backlogs. In addition, Japanese firms were willing and eager to pursue public-private partnerships at a time when South Africa’s fiscal resources were under strain, owing to the country’s weak growth performance.
South Africa had many priorities, but the “most important thing now, is to build a solid infrastructure platform” so as to restore investor confidence.
Ambassador Hiroki said that the electricity challenge was particularly urgent and that Japan – which itself faced major electricity constraints following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami – had valuable lessons to share with South Africa in areas of expediting gas infrastructure, increasing savings and improving energy efficiency.
Ramaphosa indicated that South Africa was also keen to draw on Japan’s industrial prowess, with the National Development Plan placing emphasis on the further industrialisation as a core part of the ‘2030 Vision’ of reducing unemployment, poverty and inequality.
He was also keen to deepen partnerships in the areas of skills development and education, lauding Japan’s decision to facilitate the education, to a masters level, of 1 000 African students, including students from South Africa. Japanese companies had also offered these individuals internships following he completion of their two years of study.
Hiroki also handed Ramaphosa a letter of intent stating that Japan would be setting up a task force to investigate a new artisan training initiative for young South Africans. The Deputy President welcomed the initiative, which he described as a positive response to what he considered to be a “casual conversation” with officials during his recent visit to Japan.
He was also optimistic that the two countries would find ways to partner on the further development of the hydrogen fuel cell, with Japan having emerged as a leading innovator and South Africa keen to foster the commercialisation of a technology that used platinum as a catalyst.
“This technology holds the promise of a cleaner, more sustainable future,” Ramaphosa said, noting that he had driven in a fuel-cell powered car while he was in Tokyo.