MORE than 1 000 Chinese expats and South African dignitaries attended the Chinese New Year dinner at the Time Square Sun Arena. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Over 1000 Chinese expats and South African dignitaries attended the Chinese New Year celebratory dinner at the Time Square Sun Arena in Pretoria on Sunday.

It was there that Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom announced that Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian’s vision was to increase the number of Chinese tourists to South Africa from 100 000 to half a million annually.

This was roundly applauded as a way to inject much-needed foreign currency into the economy and grow the tourism sector.

It was no accident that Hanekom was invited as the keynote speaker and Deputy Director-General of Home Affairs Jackie Mackay as one of the guests of honour at the head table.

Hanekom told the media at the event: “There are 140million Chinese travelling abroad annually, but only 100000 came to South Africa last year. We need to make it easier for Chinese tourists to come here. We have just signed a visa simplification agreement with China and agreed to 10-year multiple entry visas. The goal is to have a five-day turnaround time, as well as to introduce an e-visa system in South Africa."

Asked what South Africa could do to make the country more attractive to Chinese tourists, given concerns about the physical security of tourists, Hanekom emphatically stated: “We are aware of the challenge of security and we are committed to rooting out crime and corruption in this country. Most places that tourists visit, such as Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Point, the Waterfront, the Wild Coast, Kruger Park and the Cradle of Humankind, are safe for tourists."

Ambassador Lin told Independent Media: “President Cyril Ramaphosa understands investor concerns when it comes to safety and security and he is committed to rooting out criminals and fighting corruption.

“China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for a decade, and South Africa has been China’s largest trading partner in Africa for nine years. South Africa has so many advantages when you look at its resources, agriculture and location on two oceans. China will support South Africa to become a locomotive and production base for Africa’s industrialisation.”

The event included an interactive display of Chinese cultural heritage, an array of traditional Chinese dishes and a martial arts show featuring a troupe from Tianjin.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.