Why The Growing Fear In South Africa’s Chinese Community?

Street sign says China Town located in South Africa
Credit: Cape-Town Photos

Recent criminal acts against Chinese nationals in South Africa have led to the killing of seven Chinese people in 50 days, which has sent a chill through South Africa’s Chinese community. 

This heightened panic especially comes after Zhong Zhiwei and his wife Hua Xuejie was shot dead by bandits in Johannesburg on the afternoon of August 13. Zhong was the chairman of the Shandong Province Overseas Association of Southern Africa.

According to China Daily, “the murders have shocked the Chinese community in South Africa, causing great indignation among Chinese both at home and abroad. The community has circulated a petition calling on the South African government to find the murderers quickly and bring them to justice.” The Chinese Embassy in Pretoria has since condemned the crimes and “immediately contacted police offering its assistance in the investigations, and lodged solemn representations with the South African government on the recent violence against Chinese people. It urged the government to mobilize all its manpower and resources in carrying out the investigations,” China Daily reported. 

Wang Wei, who has worked in a Chinese company in Johannesburg for five years told Global Times that “we are deeply shocked by and grieving the death of Zhong and his wife. It was the first time that we felt death so close to us.”

The national commissioner of the South African Police, Khehla Sitole, is reported to have “said the police have attached the highest priority to investigating the crimes and will update the embassy on progress in the cases.” Sending his condolences to the victims of the crimes and to the relatives of those killed, he also “expressed gratitude for the great contributions that the Chinese community has made to the social and economic development of South Africa over the years.” Four out of seven cases have been solved, and 10 suspects have been arrested so far.

Crime cases against Chinese Expats in Africa

Earlier this year, as Nigeria battled with Covid-19 cases, four Chinese workers in a query site in Nigeria were abducted by unknown gunmen but were later released. Similarly, in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, two men and a woman allegedly broke into a Chinese-owned clothing factory and killed three Chinese nationals before setting fire to the building. In 2018, Nigeria’s police investigated the murder of three Chinese people whose burnt bodies were found in Lagos. Attacks on Chinese-owned businesses, mostly in central Uganda, with armed robbers grabbing cash and other valuables have also been reported.  

Reasons for these attacks? 

While these attacks are unfortunate, the reasons behind them are mostly shrouded in mystery and complications. However, some of the crimes can be attributed to economic hardships and high unemployment rates, which has in turn led to a high crime rate. Other reasons could be tensions between Chinese bosses and local workers over ‘bad work conditions’ among others. 

For instance, in the recent attacks on Chinese in South Africa, Zhu Yiyuan, Chairman of the African Chinese Woman Association and Consultant of the Consular Protection Affairs of the Chinese Consulate General in Johannesburg, told Global Times that, “the growing social instability in South Africa is a result of the worsening epidemic situation, which has slowed the country’s economic development and spiked unemployment…Chinese are easy targets as they usually bring cash with them, and tend to work from early morning to late at night when crimes are more likely to happen”

The number of Chinese workers in Africa by the end of 2018 was 201,057.

In which strategic ways can Beijing and African countries cooperate to ensure the safety and security of Chinese nationals in African countries?

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