President Ramaphosa has championed the development of new infrastructure and ‘smart cities to help unleash South Africa’s economic potential. So when it was confirmed that Port St Johns – a small town in the Eastern Cape – is in line for a major makeover, few realised that the region has previously been the subject of intense interest from Chinese investors.

The scramble for Port St Johns – from Chinese investors

Plans to redevelop the region were made public this week, by Avril Williamson. She is the Director-General of COGTA (yes, that’s the ministry headed by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) and the official has confirmed that a massive overhaul is likely to take place in PSJ, with a view to make it a new ‘coastal city’ nestled between East London and Durban.

However, our government won’t be the only organisation casting a keen eye over the town’s development. Chinese business representatives have been closely connected to the Port St John’s project for the past few years

  • – A Chinese business delegation from the Zhejiang province recently took part in a three-day investment drive in the Eastern Cape.
  • – Eight project agreements were signed in 2019 – with a view to developing the Port Saint Johns harbour.
  • – The East London and Coega special economic zones (SEZs) were of particular interest to the delegation.
  • – Some agreements signed were between Hangzhou Vocational Technical Training College & Eastcape Midlands College.
  • – Manufacturing, electrical management, marketing and tourism projects will be developed by the parties involved.

Where is Port St Johns?

Port St Johns is home to about 6 500 people on the Wild Coast – despite its small size, it still attracts a healthy amount of tourists each year. It is situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River, 220 kilometres northeast of East London. The nearest other significant location is Mthatha, which is at least an hour away by car.

The Chinese Ambassador to South Africa – Lin Songtian – has previously waxed lyrical about the region and its potential for an economic boom. He told the media two years ago that investors from his country ‘are serious’ about their commitment.

“We want to see how feasible it is to build a small harbour in Port St Johns. This province has 800km of coastline, I think the potential for an ocean economy is there. We want to know how we can encourage more investment from China to the Eastern Cape, particularly in the Coega region. We want to develop and transform this area into common prosperity.”

“The Eastern Cape is a favourite place to work together between South Africa and China. The country itself, meanwhile, is one of the best nations for investment and tourism. Our engagements so far have been productive.”

Chinese bidders stake their claim for new coastal city

A Daily Maverick report from 2019 also highlights the scramble involving Chinese investment groups, as they bid to gain their slice of the PSJ pie. An agreement between traditional leaders and the China-backed ‘Honglin Investment’ was unearthed, detailing how the Nyandeni Kingdom would lease a large stretch of land to buyers in the new coastal city.

The revamp of Port St Johns isn’t just a government initiative, it seems…

“Without informing his subjects, King Mangaliso Ndlovuyezwe Ndamase of Western Pondoland has signed a contract to lease a pristine stretch of the Wild Coast to a Chinese company three years ago.”

“On 27 November 2018, a contract was signed between the Nyandeni Kingdom and a company called South Africa Honglin Investment. At a price of R1-million a year, the former would lease to the latter ’10 000 hectares of land, 30km of coastline and adjacent waters’ in the vicinity of the Wild Coast town of Port St Johns.”

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Presh JM Reporter

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