By Barry van Wyk, Research Associate, Africa-China Reporting Project
A previous article reviewed the history and activities of the South Africa Chinese Community and Police Cooperation Centre (南非华人警民合作中心) (“the Centre”) in the context of recent reports of alleged covert Chinese police stations in various locations around the world. This article reviews all published media coverage of the Centre and its reported activities over the period August 2022 to August 2023.
This coverage was almost exclusively published in Chinese-language media in South Africa, mostly by the news agency African Times (非洲时报). A small number of reports appeared in other South African Chinese news portals and on websites dedicated to Overseas Chinese communities; only one single report was published in English on a local news website (George Herald).
The last year has been a time of growth and enhancement for the Centre, with two new regional offices and a new security system; and of a consolidation of its cooperation with South African law enforcement agencies.
On August 21, 2022, the Centre opened its 14th branch in South Africa, located in Pretoria. The ceremony was attended by Lieutenant General Tebello Mosikili, who in July had become the first woman to be appointed as Deputy National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS), as well as officials from the Chinese Embassy and Centre national director Li Xinzhu (李新铸). Mosikili has attended other ceremonies organized by the Centre since 2019.
This was the first new branch to be opened in South Africa since 2018, when the Centre opened an office in Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth) in Eastern Cape province. At the time, reports of the new branch — claiming that China was “opening police stations in South Africa” — elicited outraged messages on social media about supposed neo-colonialism.
The Pretoria branch’s new director, Wang Jianbin (王建斌), stated in his speech at the event that although Pretoria is the administrative capital of the country, the security situation in the city remains serious. In order to deal with this situation, Wang outlined the core ethos of the Centre as follows: Support and protect Chinese citizens under the guidance of the Chinese Embassy and with close cooperation with the SAPS by a range of services, including issuing security warnings and online networks.
Also speaking at the event, Counsellor Yu Yuan (俞圆), police liaison officer at the Chinese Embassy, described the Centre as a unique organisation in the world and the “glory” of the South African Chinese community; while Deputy National Commissioner Mosikili called for greater cooperation between the two sides.
In his remarks, Director Li stated that the Centre, now 18-years-old, has continuously expanded its services and resources to combat crime and construct security networks. Recently, Li announced, the Centre had launched a “one-click alarm” device for use in emergencies such as hijacking, robberies, home invasions, kidnappings, and traffic accidents.
This new security system was officially launched in July 2023 after six months of development. Users of the free service are issued with a portable device fitted with a sim card and operating with an app downloaded on a mobile phone. The alarm can be activated in case of any type of difficulty or emergency, whereupon Centre staff will be dispatched to any location in South Africa.
On April 16, 2023, the Centre launched a 15th branch in George, the largest city in the Garden Route District Municipality in Western Cape province. Local newspaper the George Herald reported on the ceremony as an “elegant affair” with the “red carpet rolled out for guests and high-ranking officials.” The latter included officials from the Chinese Consulate in Cape Town, the Garden Route District Municipality, and representatives of the SAPS. An officer of the Garden Route police department stated in his speech at the event that the SAPS fully acknowledged the new Centre, “We are not here as bystanders, but we want to join up with this forum and assure them that they can depend on the support of the SAPS.”
The broader context of the state of crime in South Africa is illustrated by the latest crime statistics released by the SAPS in August 2023, covering the period April to June 2023. Over this period, there were 6,228 murders in the country (an average of 68 per day), 13,234 cases of shoplifting (an increase of 18.9% from the previous year), and 11,404 cases of common robbery (an increase of 7.9%). However, these statistics only refer to reported crimes. Later in August 2023, Stats SA published the latest Victims of Crime (VoC) survey, which found that only 41.4% of individuals who experienced theft of personal property in 2022-2023 reported it to the police, and only about half of all housebreakings were reported to the police.
On December 17, 2022, Li Xinzhu attended the Centre’s “Police Commendation Conference and Christmas Party,” an annual event to, as Li put it, thank the police departments at all levels in Gauteng province for their contribution in maintaining peace and security in the Chinese community. A number of SAPS officers were presented with gifts at the event, including television sets and microwave ovens. Also in attendance was TJ Masilela, chairperson of the Gauteng Provincial Community Policing Forum (CPF) Board.
In his speech, Li stated that 2022 was an unusual year in which the Chinese community suffered various robberies and kidnappings. During the period covered in this article, however, the media coverage included relatively few instances of egregious crimes such as homicide and kidnapping, at least compared to previous years. On August 26, 2022, African Times published a short letter of thanks to the Centre branch in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, for its assistance in rushing to the scene of the murder of a Chinese man and assisting the police to “catch two criminals on the spot.” Another incident occurred on Christmas Day 2022, when a Chinese man was shot and gravely wounded in a robbery in Pretoria. He was visited in hospital by Centre staff and Embassy Counsellor Yu Yuan, and by January 9, R300,000 ($15,834) had been raised by the Chinese community for his treatment. The only other notable incidents were reported in early June 2023, when a report was published on a series of robberies and attempted kidnapping in Eshowe, KZN province, and an attempted robbery at a Chinese mall in Durban.
One other article of note was published on March 19, 2023, in the Mainland Chinese digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻). The unnamed author is likely Zhou Weinan (周伟男), who recounts his experiences during two years (2016-2018) working in the police liaison department at the Chinese Embassy in South Africa. Zhou recounts in detail one case in 2017 when five Chinese girls were kidnapped in Johannesburg and held for ransom. Zhou and his colleagues at first struggled to obtain the prompt cooperation of the SAPS, until one of them put a call through directly to the head of the local police station who, as Zhou put it, happened to be a former student of a police training course organised by the Chinese Embassy. At this, a police task force was assembled forthwith and all five girls rescued within 48 hours.
The last year has been a time of consolidation of the Centre’s relations with South African law enforcement agencies, as well as the latter’s direct engagement with law enforcement agencies in Mainland China. In early June 2023, Bheki Cele, South African Minister of Police since February 2018, led an official delegation to China along with Lieutenant General Mosikili to discuss the strengthening of “China-South Africa practical law-enforcement cooperation and collaboration.” The delegation met with China's Minister of Public Security, Wang Xiaohong (王小洪), and discussed the establishment of a formal law enforcement personnel exchange and training programme.
This was followed in July by an official visit to South Africa by Chen Siyuan (陈思源), China’s Vice Minister of Public Security, who was pictured outside Nyanga police station in Cape Town with Lieutenant General Mosikili. During his trip, Chen visited the Centre’s office in Johannesburg where he met with Li Xinzhu, Chinese Embassy and consular officials, Mosikili, and Cassel Mathale, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Police.
In his speech at this meeting, Li Xinzhu provided Vice Minister Chen with a detailed overview of the history of the Centre. He stated that the Centre is currently equipped with six security patrol vehicles, and provides security services 24 hours a day, along with the new “one-click alarm” system. In addition, the Centre mediates financial and family disputes within the local Chinese community. “Wherever Chinese people find themselves in danger of criminals,” Li stated, “Centre staff will rush to the scene regardless of their personal safety.”
In his speech, Deputy Minister Mathale stated that he was very pleased at the close relations the Centre had established with the SAPS at all levels. Vice Minister Chen responded by saying that he felt deeply gratified at the great contributions made by the Centre to foster harmonious relationships in South Africa, and that his trip was intended to implement practical steps of cooperation agreed to by Minister Wang and Minister Cele during the latter’s trip to China the previous month.
In January 2023, the Centre and Li Xinzhu participated in a number of events to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between South Africa and China. On January 7, the South Africa Chinese Enterprises Association (南非华商总会), whose membership is composed of Chinese entrepreneurs in South Africa, hosted a celebratory gala and Chinese New Year Festival party in Johannesburg, replete with red envelopes for all 300 attendees.
On January 15, the Centre organised a Chinese New Year party in Johannesburg along with the Chinese Consulate-General in Johannesburg and the South Africa-China Economy and Trade Association (SACETA) (南非中国经贸协会), a federation of Chinese businesses in South Africa. Li Xinzhu joined about 180 other guests at the event, which included a full programme of singing and dancing.
On January 29, the Centre hosted another celebration at the Sun City resort in North West province, which was attended by 800 people, and likewise featured singing and dancing. One notable attendee at these events was Dr Xiaomei Havard (张晓梅), a Member of Parliament for the ruling African National Congress who was the subject of media reports in 2021 claiming that she was a Chinese spy.
On March 30, the Centre issued the sole overtly political message that was published during the period covered in this article. A statement appeared in African Times entitled “The whole Centre denounces Tsai’s ‘transit’ through the US,” a reference to a trip to the US in March and April 2023 by Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The text blamed Tsai for seeking independence for Taiwan, and concluded by saying “Our whole Centre vigorously protests and resolutely opposes contact between US government officials and Tsai Ing-wen.”
In conclusion, the last year has been a time of growth and consolidation for the Centre, as it continues to operate at the heart of South Africa’s Chinese community.