In South Africa, Punkah Mdaka is one of the government’s many employees who started to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Along with 12 other staff with the Department of Science and Technology, she has a two-hour class every Thursday given by a Chinese teacher who comes to teach at the office building.
Difficult but interesting, so does she call the Chinese language. What drives the 59-year-old to learn Mandarin is not only a personal interest in foreign languages, but also a need felt in her career.
“Learning Mandarin will assist me in engaging in basic conversations with the Chinese at both formal and informal levels,” said Mdaka, who is the director of Overseas Bilateral Cooperation at the science ministry.
Her ministry is among the government departments encouraging their staff to take Mandarin classes at the Chinese Culture and International Education Center. The confucius classroom there opened in April 2015, and now gives Mandarin courses for half a dozen government departments.
The tourism department is the latest to join the ranks. With the direct flight from Beijing to Johannesburg newly in service and visa facilitations, Chinese tourists to South Africa totaled 58,000 in the first half of 2016, more than doubling that a year earlier.
Mandarin courses have been introduced this year in more than 40 schools in the country, and planned to be extended to 500 schools in the next five years.
Learning Mandarin has become popular in South Africa, due to the country’s increasing trade and economic links with China, its largest trading partner.
At the southernmost tip of the African continent, the country is expected to be among the major beneficiaries within a decade as an important stop on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative aiming to seek common development and growth across the world.
“The relations have begun and they are getting stronger. Last week we had the South Africa-China Hi-Tech Exhibition in Johannesburg,” said Mdaka.
“We expect Chinese companies to do business in the country and hope South Africa will do the same in China. The relationship is here to stay, ” she added.
Mdaka thought South Africa could benefit in particular from China’s experiences in energy preservation and technological development. Traditional Chinese medicine is another sector.
Along with Chinese food and music, it is also a cultural attraction to Mdaka, who has visited China about 80 times.
She is happy that her knowledge of Mandarin can contribute to trade ties or people-to-people exchanges between South Africa and China.
“When Chinese speak during meetings, I am able to pick up a few words that I know and note the ones I do not know and that expand my vocabulary,” she added.
Mdaka has also a plan for the rest of her life with her knowledge of Mandarin.
After retirement, she intends to use her knowledge of Mandarin to work as an interpreter.