Africa · China · South Africa

Can’t escape China anywhere

Whether in Durban or Zimbabwe or Lesotho, Chinese businessmen and workers seem to be flourishing. In fact those are probably the least surprising areas. There’s been a growing focus on China in Africa as books and magazines have looked at increasing investment and immigration in many countries on the continent. When I was in South Africa, what I heard about Chinese seemed to confirm that China’s presence and influence is becoming more formidable. In Durban,  several Taiwanese told me how all the Chinese coming now were from the mainland while the Taiwanese population continued to diminish. Meanwhile Zimbabwe is known to be on good terms with China and it was no surprise to hear people say that “China runs the country” as Zimbabwe is said to have turned to Chinese to run their large farms, most of which were seized from white farmers in populist moves that turned out to be disastrous. I’ve also read some pieces on Chinese businessmen making waves, though not necessarily for the right reasons, in Lesotho (2008 article) and Namibia. There has also been backlash in some places, such as in Zambia where there was anger over poor conditions in Chinese-operated copper mines. The way how I heard people talk about China wasn’t in the most positive of attitudes, whether black or white. And that Economist piece I linked to in the first line smacks a little of sensationalism- “The Chinese are everywhere”!, even though it only talks about Lesotho. But China is definitely becoming stronger in Africa and not just only because of state investment but individual efforts. Its main goal might be to benefit itself economics-wise and not any humanitarianism but it, so far, hasn’t engaged in propping up dictators or provoking wars to advance its agenda such as the US, the Soviet Union and Western powers during the Cold War. Howard French’s piece (the link on “magazine” above) is well worth a read as he gives some good examples of the shortcomings with China’s economic deals such as in the DRCongo and Zambia. Another note is that as exploitative or competitive Chinese businesses seem, it’s nothing compared to the sad state of affairs that has existed since colonialism.

An interesting excerpt from the Namibia article: “The latest generation of mainland Chinese migrants have brought with them such a cheap and competitive array of products and services that they are even pushing out the first wave of ethnic Chinese migrants, the small groups of Taiwanese or Hong Kongers who arrived ten or 20 years ago.”