Most Japanese assistance to South Africa takes the form of the provision of expertise and the secondment of technical experts, Japanese ambassador Norio Maruyama tells Engineering News & Mining Weekly. “[Japan has] a lot of assistance programmes, but each country must request assistance from us,” he explains. “And South Africa is a relatively rich country, so we have a limited number of aid funding programmes here.”
One of the funding programmes in South Africa is the Grant Assistance for Gressroots Human Security Projects programme, which is directed at grassroots community organisations. “This is a programme of the Japanese government, but the selection of projects is delegated to the Japanese embassies in the countries concerned. So we select the projects we support . . . in South Africa, which is why we call it an embassy project.”
For South Africa, what is important is technical assistance. “We send many technical experts to South Africa at the request of the South African government,” he points out. These experts cover a very wide range of activities – technological, educational and administrative.
Thus, Japan has sent an expert in maths education to South Africa to transfer expertise in this field to South African educators. “Japan is well known for the quality of its maths education,” he observes. Another Japanese expert was seconded to South Africa to transfer automotive industry training skills to local technical and vocational education and training colleges.
“We also provide assistance in the fields of health and helping people with disabilities,” adds the ambassador. Japan has a very good nationwide health system, and now that South Africa is developing its own national health insurance system, Tokyo has sent an expert to help with this. His expertise is in the field of health system financing – determining how much things will cost.
All these programmes take place against the background of ongoing trade and investment between the two countries. “South Africa is the gateway to Africa for Japanese business,” notes Maruyama. When deciding to invest overseas, Japanese enterprises seek good local partners. In the case of Africa, they come to South Africa first. Japanese companies are now also seeking local financial partners, including banks, when they go abroad.
“Trade relations are going well for both sides,” he reports. “In particular, we import precious metals from South Africa and export automotive parts. “But we want to import more from South Africa. An example would be wine. South African wine is exported to Japan, but is little known.”
The Rugby World Cup in late 2019 served to make the two peoples more familiar with each other, he affirms. (The Japanese team reached the quarter finals, where it was eliminated by the South Africa team, which then went on to defeat Wales in the semifinal and England in the final to become the world champions.) Some 10 000 South Africans visited Japan for the event, creating multiple interactions between the two nations and expanding mutual knowledge. But more can be done, he affirmed.