Japan is working with a number of South African tertiary education institutions, including Tshwane University of Technology, to set up at least one human resources development centre in this country. At the TICAD V summit in June last year, Japan promised to create ten such centres across Africa. (TICAD stands for Tokyo International Conference on African Development; it was launched in 1993 and is held every five years.)
“The idea is to spread the concept of Kaizen to improve productivity and efficiency, based on suggestions from the shop floor and not just from management,” explains Japanese ambassador to South Africa Yutaka Yoshizawa. “It has been very successful in Japan and has spread to many sectors other than manufacturing.” Kaizen can be translated as ‘good change’ or ‘change for the better’ and is based on the recognition that many small changes over time produce big results (although Kaizen can also, on occasion, result in big changes). The aim is to ensure continuous improvement within a company or institution. “The planned human resources development centre would serve not only South Africa but also other countries in the region.”
The ambassador noted that Transnet National Ports Authority was already implementing its own efficiency improvement programme, inspired by Kaizen. “So we now have a programme to send [Kaizen] experts from the Japan Productivity Centre to their facilities to help them develop their programme.”
Another outcome of TICAD V was a Japanese commitment to invite 1 000 young South Africans over the next five years to each spend two years in Japan studying towards master’s degrees and also doing internships at leading Japanese companies. This programme is part of the African Business Education Initiative. The first batch of South Africans, numbering 14, recently left for Japan. They comprised five people from Transnet, three from Toyota, two from the Department of Higher Education, and one each from the Department of Public Enterprises, Bridgestone, Komatsu and Investec. The disciplines they will study include business, economics, engineering, international management and marine science and technology.
“From next year, we want to ‘go public’ – invite applications directly from students as well as via government departments or companies,” he says. “We hope to send 40 to 45 students next year. We aim to send hundreds of South Africans to Japan over five years. We think that this is a very good programme and that its alumni will be ready and able to contribute to the economic growth of South Africa.”
In July, the eleventh anniversary of the 2003 bilateral agreement on science and technology cooperation was celebrated. As a result of this agreement, some 50 joint research projects have been carried out, involving both government departments and research institutions.
“In the area of cooperation with the [South African] Department of Science and Technology (DST), I can mention the involvement of the Japanese private sector,” highlights Yoshizawa. “Engineering company Hitachi has a partnership with the DST, which sees two to three engineers invited every year for training at Hitachi facilities in Japan. Since this started in 2009, 15 South African engineers have participated.”
Japan is South Africa’s third-biggest single country export destination, after China and the US. In 2013, South Africa exported products worth R53.8-billion to Japan and imported goods worth some R39.3-billion, giving South Africa a trade surplus of almost R14.5-billion. Japan is South Africa’s number six source of imports. The top three South African exports to Japan are platinum (46%), iron-ore (14%) and passenger cars (9%). South Africa’s top three imports from Japan are original-equipment components (33%), passenger cars (12%) and printing machinery (5%). Japanese direct investment in South Africa came to some R35-billion in 2012, with 115 Japanese companies present in this country creating about 150 000 jobs.