A Chinese national flag flutters on the Pearl River in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China. Picture: REUTERS
A Chinese national flag flutters on the Pearl River in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China. Picture: REUTERS
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I wonder if President Cyril Ramaphosa, during his recent face time with China President Xi Jinping, had an opportunity to probe his memories of the Great Chinese Sparrow Campaign of 1959?

Xi should have been old enough to bang pot lids together to stop the sparrows from perching until they literally died from exhaustion. Mao Zedong decreed that all sparrows should be exterminated as they ate grain.

He wasn’t told that they also ate insects. The result was that more grain was lost than had the sparrows been left alone. The situation got so bad that sparrows had to be imported from Russia to curb insect levels.

This all happened as part of the incongruously named Three Years of Difficulty (1958 to 1961) when Mao’s efforts to collectivise agriculture caused the worst famine in world history resulting in the deaths of over 40-million people.

As Ramaphosa has committed himself to “land reform” in SA, it would have been educational for him to understand the possible implications if this ANC project goes pear-shaped.

The Three Years of Difficulty are also behind China’s interest in Africa. The Chinese know that their arable land is under pressure from corrosion, drought and urbanisation. Ever increasing population levels mean that another dreaded Malthusian cliff could be just around the corner.

While brand new ports, railways and other infrastructure will help African countries to develop their economies, they will also facilitate the movement of food and raw materials to China.

James Cunningham
Camps Bay

 

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