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Thread: Chinese Colonialism in Southern Africa

  1. #1

    Chinese Colonialism in Southern Africa

    Continental China attempts to be the new imperalist player in Southern Africa.

    While Botswana with its liberal immigration laws opened the sluice gates to Chinese 'immigrants' in the 1980s (at a time when Red China's borders ironically had not been opened yet!), the Black government of the newly independent Namibia effectively allowed the destruction of its building industry in the 1990s by permitting newly-established, foreign-subsidized Chinese construction companies to apply for government tenders.

    The Chinese government is even suspected of having dispatched ex-convicts to Namibia as from 1990, and a number of Chinese 'business people' have been murdered by unknown black men in recent years. All these cases have received considerable media attention, since all victims are known to have had links to the Chinese underworld.

    In recent months Black South African columnist John Matshikiza published two opinion pieces about the 'yellow peril' in the Mail & Guardian. It makes it quite clear that that Black South Africans too are opposed to Chinese colonialism in their country (see first two articles below).

    Matshikiza's columns from January and February have provoked a reaction ("Columns incite a new 'yellow peril' in SA") from two Chinese academics, one of whom lives abroad.

    The debate recalls the fierce violence between Black and Chinese mineworkers in the early years of the 20th century, when the Rand gold mines were indentured with 'catamite coolies' as the latter were also called. The importation of Chinese labourers to South Africa was only terminated when the Liberal Party won the British elections in 1906. All 50.000 Chinese mineworkers were subsequently repatriated.

    Hoe's my China nou? [tr. How is my China now?]

    John Matshikiza: WITH THE LID OFF

    22 January 2007 10:17

    It’s just one of those Johannesburg phenomena you have to get you head around, I suppose. I currently live in the eastern suburb of Observatory and my nearest friendly shopping neighbourhood for food and such like is the formerly predominantly Jewish suburb of Cyrildene.

    The Jews have quit Cyrildene big time in recent years, of course. The joint is now famous for being Chinatown. There is the odd functioning synagogue (the main one, on a quiet suburban street off the main drag, looks more like a Dutch Reformed Church and, with its English/Afrikaans cornerstone, very much represents the good old apartheid time in which it was constructed.)

    Chinatown used to be in downtown Johannesburg, having established itself in Newtown during the times when that was still a racy, pacey, funky place to be. Newtown nowadays, of course, is undergoing something of a renaissance, and the city authorities are doing everything in their power to bring it back to its place of prominence in the inner city after its long decline, and the haemorrhage of money, talent, and whites generally in the direction of Rosebank, Sandton, and Rivonia to the north, leaving the Barbarians to take over where the former Randlords left off.

    White business cleared out of downtown Jo’burg in pretty short order once it was clear that the Mandela people were on their way in. The Chinese were a little more sluggish, but eventually saw the oncoming trend and packed up and trekked northwards in their own turn. Downtown Chinatown rapidly became a shadow of its former self, although you can still see the odd emporium here and there in the shadow of the formerly formidable environment of John Vorster Square, the grim Home Affairs building, and the Indian trading area, now invaded by sangoma shops selling “traditional” medicine, colourful blankets, cheap shoes, belts and sandals from the Far East.

    But the new Chinatown that was rapidly established in Cyrildene turns out not to be particularly associated with the old Chinatown of Newtown. The old Chinese community, bless their cotton socks, appears to have been overtaken by new realities on their new long march out of the pending doom of the swart gevaar that was making central Johannesburg look increasingly like a rowdy suburb of Kinshasa, Abidjan or, God forbid, Umtata or KwaMashu.

    The new Chinatown that sprang up virtually overnight in Cyrildene represents the new-wave China that we all have to be very aware of, if not directly terrified and scared. The days of mysterious fah-fee traders and inscrutable hawkers in fish and chips and chopsticks are long gone.

    The new Chinatown that the former Jewish landlords sold lock, stock and barrel to the neo-Chinese is a different story all together.

    At least in the old Chinatown downtown you could have a reasonably sensible conversation in English, and sometimes even in Zulu, when you were negotiating buying cigarettes, cheap clothes or a plate of chop suey.

    This new Chinatown is a different story altogether. The suburb is owned and run by hard core Chinese from China itself. The lingua franca is Mandarin, or whatever they speak out there. English is a foreign language and when you try to do the most basic vegetable shopping on the strip the traders look at you askance. No use putting on a bunch of bravado and telling the dude, “How’s it, my old China?” If you don’t sound like Mao Tse Tung himself, you’re toast.

    This, of course, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Duke Ellington told me personally way back in 1973 the following: “The whole world is turning rapidly Oriental, so much so that soon no one will know who they are. Not even the Orientals.”

    The prophetic point he was making was that China was on the way to get us, willy nilly, and soon there was going to be no place to hide. With a few billion personalities in the back pocket, the Chinese authorities have little incentive to give a damn about anything. Think about it. China has said precious little about key events of recent times: the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the execution of Saddam Hussein, global warming or anything else. It doesn’t need to. It’s got it all under control.

    So the advent of the new, modern, South African Chinatown in the formerly Jewish suburb of Cyrildene (which was home, incidentally, to a wide range of peculiar individuals in the past, including L Ron Hubbard, founder of the bizarre cult of Scientology), and its monolingual Chinese behaviour is a harbinger of how the world is going to look in the near future. South Africa can boast, once again, that it is at the cutting edge of world change.

    It’s interesting, pleasant, fine and dandy to stroll down the main drag of Chinatown, formerly Cyrildene, and pick up your daily necessities. You discover new things all the time — and so you should, because the world that our children are going to inherit is going to be full of stuff you and I never dreamed of.

    Different varieties of fresh spinach and fish are one thing. All the other stuff that comes in tins and bottles, whose secrets you are given little access to by the baffled stares of the nouveau Chinese in the hood, is quite another.

    The Chinese have taken the immediate streets around here and the Jews, let alone the natives, appear to be helpless, hopeless, and possibly indifferent to their own impending fate.

    So now we have to learn to say, “Hoe’s it, my China?” in Mandarin. Get with the programme. Your life depends on it.


    Sleaze: strictly for 'Chinese'

    John Matshikiza: WITH THE LID OFF

    26 February 2007 11:59

    A friend of mine called me up the other day and said he thought I should check out what smelled like a bit of a racial rat in Chinatown.

    His experience went like this: having been introduced to a massage parlour in Chinatown by a friend, and having tried it out, he decided he liked the service, the massage, and so on. As he pays and leaves on this particular occasion, he mentions to the Chinese lady who guards the reception that he would like to introduce his girlfriend to its delights ...

    “Sure, sure, any time!” she tells him with a wide, toothy, businesslike smile, taking his cash and putting it securely in the till before pressing the button to open the entrance gate to let him out. “Just come any time,” she repeats, as he steps towards the threshold.

    This is where his ears, for some reason, thought they smelled a rat. He thought, as the superstitious and suspicious Macbeth would have said, that he had better “make assurance double sure”.

    “Er … by the way, she’s black, you know,” he told the madame.

    Everything in the shop stopped dead. “No, we can’t do that,” she managed to say. “Sorry, can’t do black people.”

    My friend (who is Jewish, by the way, but passes for white) doesn’t quite remember what he said in response to that, but in response to my prodding later on admitted that the one thing he didn’t ask was: “Why not?” He was just too flabbergasted, he says.

    “Prease, prease, you don’t tell her like that,” said the madame. “You tell her something else. But no come here.”

    My friend, I would guess, staggered out into the sunlight, dazed. It was a wake-up call, I guess. White people just don’t know what it’s like to be on the blunt end of generalised racism, and aren’t used to experiencing the way it comes at you from way out left-field without warning, logic, or even style.

    Black people are generally all too familiar with it. Which doesn’t mean you don’t react: sometimes with blind anger, sometimes with Uncle Tom-ish resignation, sometimes with a dangerous, seething determination to work out a slow revenge that seeps like acid through a rope before bringing the sky down on the head of the abuser.

    My friend’s girlfriend, when he tried to break the bad news to her gently, responded with anger, but had a practical solution: “Burn the place down,” she said coldly.

    “But, darling, I …” he stammered.

    Instead, he called and asked if I didn’t want to check it out. The hell I did, I said. So I phoned and made an appointment. The voice on the other side of the phone was full of smiles and welcomes. Couldn’t wait to see me. Rush on over.

    “R120 normal massage,” she said, her teeth virtually gripping the mouthpiece with that commercial grin that I could feel tingling all over my cellphone. “And R300 special massage,” she said brightly. In answer to my query, she explained that “special massage” was if you needed “help”.

    I showed up at the gate, looking straight into the waiting area, a row of rather scrawny Chinese girls lounging in tired sofas against the wall immediately to my right, just inside the door. On seeing me, the girls let off muffled screams, shouted something to the lady at the reception desk, and ran to hide in a corner where I couldn’t see them from the street. The Devil, it would seem, was walking in broad daylight in Cyrildene.

    The madame was braver — that’s her job. She strode on short legs to the gate.

    “Can I herp you?” she asked. She wasn’t smiling much, but when she opened her mouth to speak, I recognised the teeth from the phone.

    “Massage,” I said, trying to keep to simple English.

    “Here, massage only for Chinese people,” she replied.

    “I made an appointment, on the phone,” I said.

    “Yes, but I not know you not Chinese. Many kind of Chinese people here — from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland. Some Chinese born here, can’t even speak Chinese, sound like South African, like you. But still Chinese.”

    I managed to ask the question my friend had failed to ask: “Why?” says I.

    She shrugged. Then she had an improvised brainwave. She went to her reception desk and came back with her business card. “You can come in if you have a stamp on a card like this,” she said.

    “How do I get the card with the stamp on it?” I asked.

    “You pay R5 000, you get stamp, you come in,” she retorted.

    There is too little space to relate the rest of the exchange, although there wasn’t much of it, since she wasn’t budging anywhere fast.

    I left the gate, but hung around a few metres down the road to see what would happen next.

    A dull-looking white man in a green Fiat Uno pulled up outside. The gate was buzzed open even before he reached it, and he strolled, cool as cucumber, into the interior. I didn’t bother to hang around and time his stay. I walked away.

    My friend says that most of the clientele, every time he’s been there, have been white — male and female. I guess it’s a reversal of the old days, and whites are now honorary Chinese or something.

    But I don’t think the solution is to burn the place down. As many darkies as possible should show up and politely ask for massages, till the headache reaches saturation point for the terror-stricken Chinese chicks inside. The address is A25 Derrick Avenue, Cyrildene. Don’t start fights. Be nice. Then walk away.

    Gong qi fa chai. (Happy Year of the Pig).


    Columns incite a new 'yellow peril' in SA

    Yoon Jung Park and Tu Huynh: RIGHT TO REPLY

    11 March 2007 11:59

    A first reading of the “China” column by John Matshikiza (“Hoe’s my China nou?”, January 19) was offensive, but we didn’t want to overreact -- perhaps he was being facetious, perhaps we weren’t meant to take his more xenophobic points to heart. But after reading his second “China” piece (“Sleaze: strictly for ‘Chinese’”, February 23) we are convinced of his anti-Chinese stance and, perhaps more importantly, concerned that your editorial board has fallen asleep.

    The columns exhibit factual inaccuracies, prejudice and racism bordering on hate speech, as well as a good dose of sexism. Furthermore, he concludes the second piece with an incitement to (non)violence.

    These columns reveal a break with journalistic ethics and a disappointing trend in recent Mail & Guardian articles more concerned with headlines than with more intelligaent pieces of carefully researched journalism.

    Among the various factual inaccuracies, we give just two. First, Cyril*dene is not the Chinatown. In fact, the various Chinese/Chinese South African communities of Johannesburg acknowledge two Chinatowns, one on Commissioner Street in the CBD and the newer one in Cyrildene.

    Second, Matshikiza’s quip about the “reversal of the old days and whites are now honorary Chinese or something” is a common error. Legally, the Chinese were never “honorary whites”. Under the various pieces of apartheid legislation, the Chinese were classified as non-white until 1994, when, for the first time in their long history in this country, they were granted the vote. Only visiting Japanese had the “honour” of being “white” and that was only under the Group Areas Act.

    The more serious issues raised by Matshikiza have to do with his racism and scaremongering. To measure the depths of his xenophobia and incitement to violence, merely substitute “Zulu” and Zulu analogues for “Chinese” and Chinese analogues in his January 19 diatribe: “This new Zulutown is a different story altogether. The suburb is owned and run by hardcore Zulus from KwaZulu-Natal itself. The lingua franca is Zulu, or whatever they speak out there. English is a foreign language … No use putting on a bunch of bravado and telling the dude, “Hau!” If you don’t sound like Shaka himself, you’re toast.”

    Particularly ironic is his mockery of new Chinese immigrants’ inability to speak English, as if English were the mother tongue of most South Africans!

    This is the kind of prejudice that stokes race riots; it brings to mind the demagoguery that preceded the terrible Cato Manor massacres of the 1950s, as well as earlier diatribes against Chinese in South African newspapers from as early as 1876. Despite his nostalgia for the familiar “mysterious fah-fee traders and inscrutable hawkers in fish and chips and chopsticks”, Matshikiza incites a new “yellow peril”. He warns his readers to be “aware”, “terrified” and “scared” of this new-wave of “hard-core Chinese from China itself”.

    Matshikiza’s columns also show a lack of broader understanding. Many new Chinese immigrants are economic migrants, and many Chinese women, including those “scrawny Chinese girls”, have been tricked or coerced into coming to South Africa, trafficked here and forced to work as “masseuses” or sex workers.

    Of course there are some Chinese (and white, African, Indian and coloured) racists. But is the M&G the appropriate place to out these people or incite violence? Or is this special treatment set aside for new Chinese immigrants only? And while there are some real concerns about China’s growing interests throughout Africa, Chinese triad activity in South Africa, Chinese South African exclusion from affirmative action legislation and Chinese as (potentially) targeted victims of economic crimes, Matshikiza doesn’t even begin to touch on these more pressing and controversial issues in any intelligent way. Why has the M&G allowed him to abuse his journalistic position?

    Tu Huynh is a doctoral candidate at Binghamton University, New York. Yoon Jung Park is a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Sociological Studies, University of Johannesburg

  2. #2

    Re: The 'Yellow Peril' in Southern Africa

    So let me get this straight, this is basically some negro complaining about the fact that Chinese women refuse to give him a 'massage'.

    The poor fellow must have been misled into believing that it's just whites that have problems viewing blacks as their equals.

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