“BRICS: In the Mirror of the Times”. How Russia and South Africa can be useful to each other in the development of peaceful nuclear energy
The fifteenth episode of the joint project by TV BRICS and GAUGN is devoted to the main areas of bilateral co-operation
In the fifteenth episode of the joint project of the international network TV BRICS and GAUGN “BRICS: In the Mirror of Time”, dedicated to the beginning of the strategic partnership between Russia and South Africa, Nikolay Shcherbakov, PhD in History, leading researcher at the Institute of Asian and African Countries of Lomonosov Moscow State University, told what has changed in the relations between Russia and South Africa over the past 30 years.
The project is supported by a grant from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science under the federal project “Popularisation of Science and Technology”.
Relations between Russia and the Republic of South Africa have reached the level of strategic partnership without exaggeration over the past few decades. This is confirmed by co-operation within the BRICS framework, as well as many bilateral documents on co-operation in various spheres. What attracts African applicants to education in Russia and how can the countries be useful to each other in the development of the peaceful atom?
– Some 30 years have passed since the apartheid regime in South Africa collapsed. What has changed during this time? Has the country flourished? Has it breathed a sigh of relief?
– South Africa has certainly changed a lot since the abolition of the apartheid regime, which occurred after the first non-racial elections in 1994. A lot of time has passed: presidents have changed in South Africa, there have been quite serious changes in various spheres of life… And perhaps the best proof that this country really occupies a defining position on the continent and in the system of international relations in general is the fact that many people are now trying to cooperate with South Africa in various fields.
Usually, in the mind of the uninitiated, South Africa is the land of gold and diamonds, diamonds, but that is not the main thing there, because it is a very rich country. Firstly, it is very big. Secondly, it has a very large population. And very different people from very different countries find in South Africa something worthy of co-operation and development of relations. Our country is also involved in this process. Especially considering that we have a very special history of relations, which goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
For the last 30 years or so, we have been reaping the fruits of that previous history of bilateral co-operation – not with the country, of course, but with the people of South Africa, and this has helped us a lot.
– What has changed in relations between Russia and South Africa over the past 30 years? Why have we become strategic partners?
– First of all, what has changed is that we can now communicate at the state level, which was never the case during the apartheid regime. What has changed is that we can now utilise the accumulated knowledge that even at the end of the twentieth century we did not have much about South Africa. And there was probably even less of that knowledge in South Africa about our country. Now it’s all grown substantially because people are travelling, and not just tourists. A lot of people go to South Africa to work.
Many South Africans are travelling as far as Russia. Snow, bears, balalaika – this image has not gone anywhere, but still they come because they (very many of them) directly know about Russia from their elders (it can be parents, it can be older comrades who have been to Russia, to the Soviet Union, studied here, worked here, lived here on duty). This historical memory is working now. I think that of the European countries that are well known in South Africa, we are in a very good place, a really large number of people know about us. Plus South Africans, as Nelson Mandela said, are now keen to build a new South Africa together.
South Africa has many peoples, big and small. They want to learn something else, to learn something else from the experience of other countries. And here our country (again due to historical ties) has offered them a lot before – both experience and some established results – and can offer them quite a lot now.
– In what spheres and areas do we currently interact and co-operate with South Africa?
– This is trade, cooperation in the development of South African mineral resources, some ties in the transport sphere, because South Africa is a maritime power. Let me remind you that the absolute majority of Antarctic expeditions always stop in South Africa. This is the last stronghold of civilisation before the rush to the South. So here too we co-operate, but of course we would like much more.
– As far as education is concerned, do South African students or just African students really like to be educated in Russia and why?
– Again we turn on historical memory. The fact is that during the anti-apartheid period, very many students from South Africa studied in our country. And if I were to start naming the names of the people who are leading the country today, a very significant number of them studied in one way or another in the USSR, and some of them even managed to study in the Russian Federation. They made it to the top both professionally and as human beings, not least because they had a very good educational background. And those young people today who dream of making their way to the top (and for many, education is the only lift that can guarantee their growth) know that the competitiveness of Russian education today is still high.
In many areas, especially in the natural sciences, we can compete on an equal footing with the best, most famous universities in the world. They know perfectly well that a speciality obtained in our country is a good level in South Africa and in Africa in general. And that is why it makes sense to strive to come to the Russian Federation today, which is quite difficult, because the most reliable way to study with us at all times is to get a state scholarship, and we have very few of them now, unfortunately.
The number of scholarships for African students in general (for the whole of Africa) should be significantly increased. And I think South Africa will be a priority here. So I think that state scholarships will help energetic guys from South Africa to become students in Russia again.
– Speaking about the potential and co-operation between Russia and South Africa, one cannot fail to mention energy, in particular the development of peaceful nuclear energy. In your opinion, what are the prospects for co-operation between Russia and South Africa in this area?
– You know, the prospects always seem the brightest. The whole question is how to realise them. South Africa is the only country on the continent that already has nuclear power, and its own nuclear power plant – the only one on the continent, I should emphasise – is operating. In the early 2000s, there was substantial talk that it would be good to realise the vast experience and high competitiveness of ROSATOM (it was not called ROSATOM at that time) in South Africa as well. These conversations started, and negotiations were underway. Even some interim documents of intent were signed, about these prospects, but for many reasons the project did not take place. It became a pretty major setback for both countries.
But the prospect remains, because regardless of what new energy is coming now, approaches to what this energy should look like, what it should be based on, are changing all over the world. So far, no one has really found an alternative to nuclear power. South Africa has a very important thing: it is a country with a developed industry and a large demand for energy generation. Plus, like Egypt, it’s a big country with many cities, and we know that one of the very difficult problems for nuclear power is the lack of demand for power at certain hours. The new water-to-water reactors that ROSATOM is offering allow us to take this feature into account.
South Africa is exactly the country where such a facility could be realised. Not having its own specialists, South Africa could have received the project and further trained specialists in parallel. By the time it would have been completed, they could have used their own labour reserves, which could have already been trained at that time, they could have been trained at operating plants.