South African President Jacob Zuma views an honor guard with Chinese President Hu Jintao outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
South African President Jacob Zuma views an honor guard with Chinese President Hu Jintao outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. - 
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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: South Africa's president is in China today. South African officials say the two countries are set to sign some key free trade deals. The visit is just South Africa's latest effort to reach out to several of the world's fastest growing economies. Reporter Gretchen Wilson is in Johannesburg. She's with us this morning to talk about it. Hi Gretchen.


CHIOTAKIS: Tell us more about this visit. What's at stake with this visit?

WILSON: Well, South Africa's like many African economies. It grew steadily in recent years, but quickly had to downshift when the global economy slowed down. That's because overseas markets cut back on commodities, things like copper, platinum and aluminum. President Jacob Zuma's message in China is that Africa's biggest economy is open for business. He's looking for new investment and he wants to create jobs and infrastructure back home. He also wants to narrow the trade deficit with Beijing. He's hoping that China will buy more from South Africa than just raw materials. Zuma's really made it a priority in recent months to visit each of the so-called BRIC countries -- that's Brazil, Russia, India and China. And this is his last stop on that tour. He really wants to nail down South Africa's place among the emerging economies, and he wants those countries to see South Africa as a gateway into the rest of Africa.

CHIOTAKIS: Well then, Gretchen, how's his visit being received back home?

WILSON: Well, it might have been a huge deal originally, but his message was really hijacked when the main economic story in South Africa became the government worker's strike that's going on now. More than a million teachers and nurses went on strike last week to demand wage increases, so state schools are empty, hospitals are actually operating on skeletal crews, and volunteers are keeping emergency rooms running.

CHIOTAKIS: And bottom line, what are they striking about?

WILSON: Well, they want a greater stake in the country's growth on the international stage. So while Zuma's negotiating trade deals with China, government employees are saying they want a piece of that success, they want to hold out for a higher wage increase than the 7 percent that the state is offering.

CHIOTAKIS: Reporter Gretchen Wilson from Johannesburg, South Africa. Gretchen, thanks.

WILSON: Thanks, Steve.

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