South African Chinese now considered ‘black’

June 19th, 2008 - 4:37 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Pretoria, June 19 (IANS) South Africans of Chinese origin are now officially recognised as part of the previously disadvantaged “black group”, which by definition includes South African citizens of African, Indian or “coloured” mixed race origin. The Pretoria High Court ruled Wednesday that the over 10,000 South Africans of Chinese origin be included in the definition of “black people” for the purposes of black economic empowerment status.

Fighting back tears of joy, Patrick Chong, chairman of the Chinese Association of South Africa (CASA), welcomed the decision by Judge Cynthia Pretorius, calling it “a relief”.

Chong said the local Chinese community would use “this newfound freedom” to help create more job opportunities for all South Africans.

“The uncertainty until now has caused a great deal of confusion. Finally we also now belong to South Africa as Chinese South Africans. In the apartheid years we were second class citizens. Since democracy in 1994 we never knew where we belonged,” he said.

“Today I am more proud than ever before to be a South African. I am proud of my heritage, but I was born in South Africa, got my education here, and work here. South Africa is our country, where we also now have a future.

“Despite the fact that our children can go and work anywhere in the world, they prefer to remain in South Africa and contribute to the country’s economic development,” Chong added.

The Chinese community has been waging a battle for more than a decade now to be recognised as part of the communities that did not have the privileges of the white community in apartheid-era South Africa, with the battle eventually ending up at the high court here.

In recent years, various legislations have been introduced to level the playing field by forcing businesses to give black communities a bigger stake through such schemes as special public offerings of shares that were only available to these communities. State enterprises that were privatised also did the same.

But the Chinese community was excluded from this exercise, even though it was classified as “coloured” in the apartheid era and was subject to the same restrictions as Indians, Africans, and others who were not of European descent.

CASA took legal recourse in 2007. Initially opposed by government, the state withdrew its intention to fight the case in April this year.

The main thrust of the action by CASA was the discrimination against the Chinese community by legislation such as the Employment Equity Act and the broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act, both of which introduced affirmative action measures to address historical imbalances for the disadvantaged groups.

South African Chinese are mainly descended from migrants who first came here at the turn of the last century to work in mines.

Since the advent of democracy, there has also been a considerable influx of new Chinese immigrants who have set up businesses across the country.

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