Time-honoured China-South Africa military friendship
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Just a month ago, South Africa celebrated, together with the peoples of the People’s Republic of China, the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on the 1 st of July 2021.
The CPC is one of the oldest communist parties in the world, and spurred the development of the People’s Republic of China after the revolution.
This would however not have been possible to achieve without military power and the mobilisation of the masses of the people.
It is also worth noting that since the Chinese Revolution there were ground breaking epochs within China for the good of her people.
Therefore the People’s Liberation Army became a bedrock on which the country depended on as a critical pillar, growing from strength to strength at the same time as the country was growing.
In less than a decade, six years to be precise, since the founding of the CPC, it was deemed critical to have an armed formation, and thus the PLA was founded, drawn from the people by the people and it was to become a critical element in the foundation of the PRC and the execution of the revolution leading to independence in 1949.
In relation to South Africa, the PRC had relations with the people of South Africa from the early days of the struggle against apartheid rule, wherein there was support to the country’s liberation movements by the PRC.
It was thus no doubt that at the height of repression in South Africa, characterised by the banning of liberation movements, the ANC and the PAC, the leadership of South Africa found succour in China, thus characterising the beginning of solid military to military co-operation which is still palpable today.
In the early period of the banning of the liberation movements, some of the leadership underwent military training under the auspices of the People’s Liberation Army.
Most notable among these was Andrew Mlangeni, the last of the famed Rivonia Trialists to depart a year ago.
Casting an eye back to history reveals that at the completion of his military training and pass out parade, Mlangeni had the distinguished honour to have met with Chairman Mao, who took great pride in the training undertaken and the state of preparedness to return to South Africa to fight against the racist apartheid regime.
It was thus no mistake that Mlangeni became a founding member of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, and its High Command.
He was together with his fellow comrades Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Wilton Mkwayi, all of whom were sentenced to death which was later commuted to life.
The Rivonia Trialists served their time in incarceration until their release from late 1989 onwards.
They later became integral to the formation of a democratic order… The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into between our two countries have been since the dawn of our democracy in 1994.
This was also coupled with the adoption of the one China policy, leading to recognition of the People’s Republic China as the sole representative.
In this regard, South Africa established full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and entered into Memoranda of Understanding on Defence Co-operation, which have resulted in extensive engagements ever since, including resident defence attaches in each other’s capitals; training opportunities; navy exercises – the highlight of which was the joint trilateral sea exercise involving South Africa, People’s Republic of China and Russia during 2019.
This can be read as the precursor to the BRICS defence as the three are within BRICS.
This notwithstanding, South Africa is fully appreciative of the continued cooperation with the PLA on matters as contained within the MoU.
Beyond that, have been the collaboration and communication on matters related to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and measures to find solutions, including exploration of vaccine solutions between our two armed forces.
Furthermore, the donation of equipment to our training colleges, in particular the National Defence College and the South African War College.
Exchanges and engagements continue within the defence establishment – both civilian and military.
In conclusion, as the People’s Liberation Army celebrates its birthday, just a month after the centenary of the Communist Party of China, the fact that the PLA has been integral to the formation of the state.
This is a very important factor that must not be lost and South Africa and the People’s Republic of China continue to enjoy cordial defence to defence relations and diplomatic relations overall.
Happy 94th anniversary to the People’s Liberation Army – its highest leadership and commanders.
* Tsepe Motumi is Special Advisor to the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.