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“Historical ties keep us together” South African Parliament Deputy Chairman describes the pathway for the further development between Russia and South Africa

Sylvia Lucas
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

The Saint Petersburg Mining University of Catherine the Great is known for receiving high-profile guests from all around the world, which constantly enlighten and diversify the atmosphere in the halls of the University. This week, Mining University received a delegation of diverse representatives from different countries from Africa. Forpost had the opportunity to interview Honorable Deputy Sylvia Lucas, current Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces in the Republic of South Africa, who gave her insights about the current panorama, both in Russia and in the South African Republic.

What is your attitude to the idea of creating a Russian-African consortium of universities "Subsoil of Africa"? In your opinion, how interesting is this idea? Can it contribute to the sustainable development of the extractive and processing sectors of our countries?

Sylvia Lucas: The possibility of creating a unified system of like-minded universities that makes possible to collaborate between them is definitely an attractive idea. In South Africa, we count with the TVET (technical and vocational education and training) colleges, which are educational centers that provide education in the different areas of technical knowledge.
Unfortunately, we do not have a specialized mining educational center, such as the Saint Petersburg Mining University of Catherine the Second. Forming a consortium of universities that act together towards a common goal is a wonderful opportunity to the progress of both countries. It is important to note, however, than the opportunity to develop can also be applied to other areas, such as the economical and construction sectors of the education.

Sylvia Lucas 2
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

Nowadays in the Russian Federation, a reform of higher technical education is beginning, aimed at improving the quality of engineers' training. What is the higher education system in South Africa? How many years do students study before receiving a diploma? Are there compulsory internships at mining companies during their studies? How satisfied are employers with the caliber of South African graduates?

Sylvia Lucas: In South Africa, there is a broad spectrum of possibilities for getting education. In regards of the undergraduate students, most of people chose to opt for a three-year theoretical education, complemented with a practical and professional education lasting one year more. Then, after these four years, the students are given the opportunity to opt for an internship, or continue with their master's specialization. It is important to notice that, even during the theoretical years, there is always a practical implementation of knowledge, since we strive to deliver a 50% of theoretical knowledge, and a 50% of practical knowledge during the education years.

Speaking about artisanship work, we have a certification level: the so-called Red Seal system of certification. (Editor’s note: a Red Seal is a certification that guarantees a person has completed an apprenticeship and has had the proper training necessary to operate in working environments that go with artisanal trades. It demonstrates capacity to balance theory and practice. It's the equivalent of a four-year bachelor's degree). This ensures the quality of the formation of our welders, carpenters, electricians, among other occupations.

Sylvia Lucas 3
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

There is also is a big influence from the private sector in the formation of professionals. Mine companies usually possess their own training school, with their classrooms and facilities for people to get the required education. Some of them work the following way: in a two-year training plan, one year is dedicated for the future worker to attend and perform full-time in the classes. After the first year, the student will have the opportunity to have a part-time job that complement their studies to acquire the required experience.
For each and one of these study opportunities mentioned before, additional competences are not only well received, but also taken as a plus for the student. Thus, those students with additional skills such as knowledge of several languages, outstanding mathematical abilities, or strong leadership or soft skills are not only motivated, but compensated for them. We understand in South Africa that human competences are essential for the industry, and we strive to implement professionals that enrich their workplaces with their skills.

So, as you can see, there are several opportunities for students, although the most popular one remains the 3+1 year of education in universities, followed by either an internship or a further education.

In Russia in recent years the prestige of engineering specialties among schoolchildren and university entrants has noticeably declined. This is partly because it is easier to study in humanitarian universities. How popular are engineering specialties in South Africa and what is the Government doing to increase their attractiveness?

Sylvia Lucas: I think the issue is related to the schooling system by itself. There is a disjunction between the level of education that the schools are capable to offer, and the one that the universities are willing to accept. Naturally, since technical areas require a broader handling of more abstract areas such as math and physics, at least 80% of the students prefer humanities-related professions. This is because the students end up understanding math and physics as tough, difficult to understand subjects, instead of an opportunity for professional progress.

The best way to handle such problem is raising the standard for the school graduates, so they can meet the requirements imposed by the universities. Both high schools and universities need to meet halfway, and acquire a “compromise” of some sort, that would allow a balance between amount of professionals formed and quality of their skills.

There are a lot of minerals in the subsoil of South Africa, as well as in the Russian subsoil. However, if we talk about Russia, we cannot say that the efficiency of natural resources processing here is at a very high level; first of all, due to the lack of sufficient capacity for their deep processing. Are there similar difficulties in South Africa? And what, in your opinion, could change the situation? Creating breakthrough technologies? Improving the quality of engineers' training? Some decisions of the Government, perhaps?

Sylvia Lucas: The problem you mention is an issue currently faced by both Russia and South Africa: the lack of a sector that allow us to exploit the materials we obtain from the entrails of the earth. Let me explain: In South Africa, we have plants that extract preposterous amounts of ores such as iron, diamond and coal. We possess most of the world reserves of such raw materials. Immediately after being extracted, we load them on a train, and they are instead taken advantage of by other countries. The result, as can be expected, is the loss of a prosperous opportunity: the second sector of the economy, the one destined to the processing and transformation of raw materials.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

In South Africa, we do not exploit this sector either, which means that the huge amount of earnings obtained by the production of goods is obtained by the big transnational companies, not by the citizens of our country. So there is not a downstream beneficiation that allows wealth to arrive to the sectors of society that need it most.

Russia almost completely abandoned concession agreements with multinationals about 20 years ago. This allowed a dramatic increase in export revenues of the federal budget. In South Africa, the situation is somewhat different. For example, both your national companies - Exxaro and Sasol - and foreign companies - British Anglo American, Swiss Glencore, and Australian South32 - are engaged in coal mining. In your opinion, is co-operation with large corporations useful, as it allows you to attract modern technologies and competent engineers, or, on the contrary, does it deprive the local population of jobs and the state of part of its revenues?

Sylvia Lucas: Neither one nor the other is absolute: there must be a balance between them. It is no secret that South Africa now is a country that faces a big problem of inequality. We find ourselves in an unequal society, in which the richest have more and more resources, and the poorest have more and more difficulties every day. We wouldn’t advance without the progress these companies bring, but they also have the responsibility to bring this same progress to the communities they work in.

In Europe, over the last five or even ten years, there has been a lot of talk about the urgent need for an energy transition, along with the concepts of "sustainability" and "environmental friendliness". At the same time, coal consumption in the EU has been growing rapidly for the last two years. South Africa's energy sector is also based on coal combustion in CHP plants. In your opinion, is it possible to find a balance between the sustainability of socio-economic development of the state and the reduction of man-made impact on nature? Which way is the most effective? Transition to renewable energy sources or, perhaps, mass introduction of technologies that capture greenhouse gases at CHPPs?

Sylvia Lucas: As I mentioned before, there must be a balance between both of them. There is no denying that the clean energies that have been implemented are clean and necessary. But they are extremely expensive and simply impossible to afford for countries with lesser economical conditions, which are usually the ones who need them the most. In order for green energies to be fair, they must be accessible: not only for developed countries, but for developing countries who don’t have the acquisitive power of European powers.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

It wouldn’t be fair for to blame poor countries for contaminating the atmosphere with fossil fuels such as coal, when coal is the only fuel that these countries can afford to survive. Moreover, it is usually the developed countries the one who generate the biggest amount of pollution. Simply said, the renewable sources are a good, noble solution, but they must be done accessible for all, so a real change can be perceived.

Returning to the topic of co-operation between Russia and South Africa, in what areas, in your opinion, could it develop more actively? Science? Academic exchanges of students and teachers?

Sylvia Lucas: Russia and South Africa have long-standing relationships that go back a long time ago. However, there are areas that can be fortified in the formation of professionals in the Economy and Technology sectors. Specifically, technology sectors are an area that we must strive to develop together.

There are a lot of similarities between both of our countries, and historical ties are keeping us together. We can use these points to develop our goals in common to move both countries forward to a better future.