Dashiki Dialogues – Have you heard from Chinatown?

2011-11-04 07:43

The Chinese community in South Africa must be the most mysterious group in our society.

I mean they are as much South African as all communities of people who have settled here.

But apart from being perceived as signifiers of China’s new ascendency in global politics and economic standing, can anyone tell me if they’ve had any significant dialogue with the residents of their local “Chinatown”?

I think it would be cool to know what our Chinese community thinks about being South African. I’m sure Dion Chang and Darryl Accone are not the only articulate Chinese South Africans.

Okay, I know an elder scribe once tangoed in these woods and it didn’t end up with a bouquet of roses or a bowl of rice, to put it coyly.

So no, this is not that type of party. I’m just saying we probably could benefit from their voice if it was louder in our communities.

Like most boys, I grew up wanting to kick butt, big time!

So I got involved in martial arts.

And come school holidays, boys in my ’hood were kept from the streets by a good diet of movies about sword-wielding ninjas, Jackie Chan and other stories from the Chinese pool of genius.

So in that sense, I love the Chinese for enriching my childhood imagination.Besides, they have been declared black by South African law, which means it’s okay to wonder what they think about BEE, affirmative action and so on.

Think about the recent squabbles around the Dalai Lama’s foiled visit to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s birthday bash. Surely, we should have had some robust comment from the Chinese community.

Just as the Israeli-Palestine issue always activates voices from both the Jewish and pro-Palestine groups here.

And if you doubt how consequential the Chinese presence is, consider that Bronkhorstspruit in Witbank hosts the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern hemisphere.

It’s actually a big deal that our country has the largest population of Chinese people in Africa. The community consists of descendants of early immigrants who arrived throughout the early 20th century, before Chinese immigration was banned under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1904.

Then there are children of Taiwanese industrialists who arrived in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s; plus the post-apartheid immigrants who came predominantly from mainland China.

It might be interesting to mention that these later arrivals now outnumber native-born Chinese South Africans.

To give this context, compare our Indian community, which is the largest grouping outside India, and the “Bengal tiger” has a much more audible voice in SA, unlike the somewhat mythologised space occupied by our “dragons from Beijing”.For all it’s worth, I think weaving some Kesi cloth into our dashikis can only enrich our nation’s dialogues.»?I’m on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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