Cuba and China hot topics in the Free State

2015-02-24 17:08

Friendship with China and Cuba was a common theme that ran through Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s state of the province address today.

Magashule – who recently returned from a trip in Cuba to strengthen relations and seek trade and investment opportunities – told journalists: “Cuba is a wonderful place to visit.”

He encouraged the people of the Free State to visit Cuba too.

He told journalists and guests after his speech that Cubans were patriotic people and loved their country, Africans and Nelson Mandela.

“I want Free Staters to be patriotic too,” he said.

He brushed off media criticism about the trip – which cost in excess of R14 million – by saying the opposition in the country was opposed to Cuba in the past. In his speech he said countries like Cuba and China had been friends to the ANC during the struggle and the Free State would work with them.

Magashule said the main purpose of the Cuban visit was “to strengthen already existing relations with the Cuba province of Matanzas, open opportunities for establishment of direct municipality-to-municipality cooperation, and look at trade and investment opportunities in line with the intended lifting of the United States blockade on Cuba.”

He said the most important part of his visit was to support the 212 medical students from the Free State studying in Cuba.

When asked afterwards what the trade and investment opportunities entailed, Magashule said it related to medicine, but wasn’t specific.

He said the lifting of the blockade would mean that the Cuban currency would be stronger and there would be more opportunities for trade.

Other areas where there would be cooperation with Cuba include the deployment of 40 Cuban engineers to Free State municipalities where skills were needed, as well as 40 doctors, 25 medical specialists, five dentists, family physicians and 100 nurses.

The Free State also recently received an award from the China province of Guangzhou for the “best cooperating province with which China has relations”.

He said this award had inspired the Free State to promote education as an “instrument of social, political and economic transformation”.

He also said the Chinese would invest in the establishment of medical equipment manufacturing companies.

China has already donated R45 million to construct a demonstration fish hatchery centre, which has been criticised for not getting off the ground.

Magashule, however, said the centre was in operation.

China has sent three professors and one technician to help with the South African Agricultural Demonstration Centre project.

In this regard, Magashule also announced the establishment of a mega “agri park” in the Xhariep district.

Other ways in which relations with China and Cuba would be strengthened include:

» The renaming of the provincial government building, which has been known as the CR Swart building, in honour of Cuban president Fidel Castro; and

» A China week from April 13 to 19 with invitations extended to a host of Chinese government leaders and investors to visit the province.

Magashule delivered his speech at the Vista University campus hall in Bloemfontein. Members of the provincial legislature were in the minority in the hall, which was packed with local government leaders and provincial government supporters.

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