China has been operating a network of vocational training workshops called Luban Workshops in over 25 countries around the world. The workshops are named after 4th Century BCE Chinese architect Lu Ban and offer training in a variety of fields, including electric vehicle servicing, drone operation, and robotics. The goal of the Luban Workshops is to extend China's soft power and showcase its technological prowess.

The Chinese consul general in South Africa opened a Luban Workshop at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in December 2019. The facility works directly with  Tianjin Vocational Institute (TVI), improving vocational skills among young South Africans.

The Luban Workshops have been met with mixed reactions. Some countries see them as a positive way to boost economic development and technical skills. Others have expressed concerns about China's motives and the potential for the workshops to spread Chinese ideology.

Overall, the Luban Workshops are a significant part of China's efforts to expand its global influence. They are a way for China to showcase its economic and technological power, to build relationships with other countries, and to promote its own values and ideas.

Pictured: left to right: Professor Bai Haili, (Deputy Director of the Tianjin Municipal Education Commission), DUT’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Thandwa Mthembu, Mr K Mshengu (MEC for Education-KwaZulu-Natal), Professor Liu Bin (President of Tianjin Vocational Institute), Consul General Fei Mingxing, Professor Moyo (DVC: Research and Innovation), DUT’s Professor OO Olugbara and Dr Progress Mtshali at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Luban Workshop monument.

Ebrahim Asmal/Professor Sibusiso Moyo/Waheeda Peters