China is reportedly in active talks with South African authorities about the construction of a high-speed rail linking two of the country’s economic hubs – Johannesburg and Durban.
The plan to build the rail has been in the works for over a decade, reports Business Insider, though only recently has it emerged from dormancy. The Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, spoke at the JobFairSA 2022 event last week, saying that 100 Chinese companies are planning to introduce 20,000 more jobs to the economy over the next three years.
“China stands ready to work with South Africa to move China-South Africa ties forward towards a deeper level and broader scope,” Xiaodong said, continuing that China is “also continuing to connect with South Africa on major projects, such as a Joburg-Durban high-speed railway.”
The major obstacle to the construction of the proposed rail system, which would see the largest ever investment in a single transport project in South Africa, is funding. The idea for a similar rail system has been in the works since 2010, with then Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele saying that details about the Joburg-Durban rail were being finalised. However nothing concrete ever materialised even though several Chinese firms offered to provide project financing.
Currently, the project seems more like a pipedream than a serious cause for investment, with only those in the political space showing enthusiasm and non-politically aligned associations like the US credit rating agency FitchSolutions publishing a “negative outlook” on rail infrastructure construction in South Africa.
FitchSolutions believes that the project simply won’t be finalised ever due to its enormously high costs, as well as the project wasting away in the pipeline for over a decade, the government’s limited fiscal capacity for funding such a project, and the likely limited private sector interest in funding such a massive ordeal.