Flights to South African border towns have resumed after a brief suspension on Thursday, as Chinese military planes flew to help South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, deal with the worst drought in decades.
The Air China Xian Hao-7 aircraft, which carries about 3,500 passengers, was scheduled to land at the Mozambique border and fly to South Australia’s KwaZulu-Natal region.
But it was cancelled at the last minute due to weather and there were concerns it might crash on its return to Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Jacob Zappa attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 1, 2020.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to visit South Africa in the coming days.
The first flight, carrying about 5,500 people, was due to depart at about 8.30am local time (1630 GMT).
A second flight, which is expected later in the day, will carry up to 4,000 passengers.
It is the first time the Chinese government has flown to South America since it began flights in 2005.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday that the trip would help alleviate the suffering of people in drought-hit regions.
“The Chinese government will take the opportunity to help alleviate people’s suffering in drought affected regions and help them return home,” he said.
Zuma said he welcomed the help, which was also expected to include flights to South Korea and Australia.
“We are ready to cooperate with South Africa as long as it’s a peaceful and safe environment,” he told reporters.
“It’s important that we don’t forget that the suffering and suffering of the people of South Africa has a huge impact on us.”
China and South Africa have a long history of economic ties, including a $2 billion deal in 2007 to develop joint gas and power plants in exchange for a low-carbon energy mix.
China also provides aid to the continent, including water purification and irrigation projects.
It also hosts the African Union’s Summit of the Americas, a summit that draws hundreds of African heads of state and foreign ministers.
South Africa’s opposition African National Congress (ANC) called on the Chinese authorities to cancel the flights, saying the South African government had not done enough to help in the drought.
“China has already announced its willingness to provide help to South Africans in need and we hope they will be able to use their diplomatic power to support the people in South Africa,” ANC spokesman David Mkhize told AFP news agency.
“What South Africa is facing is an international crisis that has now escalated into an international humanitarian emergency,” he added.
“Our party and our people will be holding China to account for its actions, and the government should take immediate action to end the crisis.”
South Africa has been battling a drought since the late 1990s.
The country’s main rivers have dried up and farmers are struggling to make money from crops that are dry.
In May, the government declared a state of emergency to help farmers cope with the drought and reduce food prices.
In February, the country was forced to cut food prices by almost a third, to avoid famine.