By Barry van Wyk, Africa-China Reporting Project, Research Associate
South Africa has a vibrant Chinese community with a vast array of organisations, business chambers and other associations. The following is a summary of the most notable such bodies.
On Commissioner Street in Newtown, Johannesburg, stands the building of the 120-year-old Chinese Association of Gauteng (TCA) (南非杜省中华公会), on the site where one of Johannesburg’s Spring Festival celebrations are held annually. Founded in 1903, the TCA’s website proclaims it to be the oldest Chinese association in South Africa. Established to represent the interests of the approximately 900 Chinese people who resided in the then province of Transvaal (a part of the TCA’s Chinese name, 杜省 dusheng, still retains the Chinese name of Transvaal), the TCA is still protecting and promoting the interests of the Chinese community.
As per its website, the objectives of the TCA include “to promote, preserve and propagate Chinese culture, heritage, language and religion within the South African context,” and “to promote and protect the physical, economic, social, intellectual and educational welfare of the Chinese community.” One prominent recent example of the TCA’s activities was a hate speech case brought at South Africa’s Equality Court in 2019. In February 2017, pay television channel M-Net’s investigative journalism programme Carte Blanche broadcast a segment on the trade in donkey hides, describing donkeys as “the next animals targeted for use in oriental medicine.” Following the broadcast, a wave of malicious anti-Chinese comments was posted on the Facebook pages of Carte Blanche, the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary and the TCA.
In response, the TCA registered a complaint of hate speech with the South African Human Rights Commission, the first time that the South African Chinese community laid a complaint with the commission as a group, and in 2019 the TCA laid charges of criminal injuria against the writers of the problematic Facebook posts at the Equality Court. The case eventually concluded in July 2022 when interdictions and penalties were imposed on nine of the defendants.
With its compound role to provide security, emergency response and various other communal tasks, the South Africa Chinese Community & Police Cooperation Centre (南非华人警民合作中心) (“the Centre”), also known as the Chinese Community Police Forum, is intended to provide support to any Chinese person in South Africa in case of distress or emergency, irrespective of whether they are located in a city or in a remote rural area. With its headquarters in Cyrildene, Johannesburg, and with a network extending across every South African province, the primary objective of the Centre’s 13 offices around the country is to liaise with the South African police and to provide support to Chinese people interacting with the police. In practice, the Centre’s staff act not only as first responders and problem solvers but often tread on the firing line of violence and criminality to support and protect Chinese people. There are also several Chinese security companies active in South Africa, and a Chinese gun club was formed in Johannesburg in 2015, the All-Africa Chinese Firearms Association (全非洲华裔枪械总会), to train Chinese people to use firearms to defend themselves.
In the South African Chinese community, various region-based organisations have been established (formed by people that originated in the same region, usually a province, in China) that usually focus on business and take the shape of business chambers of commerce, but can also engage in other activities. As the vast majority of the local Chinese community have roots in Fujian province, several Fujian-based associations have been formed in South Africa. The Southern African Fujian Chinese Association (南部非洲中华福建同乡总会) is the most notable in this regard, and plays an active role in the community. On 18 April 2017, for example, it organised a farewell dinner in Johannesburg for a team from the Fujian Police College, located in the city of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, who had just completed a three-week period providing training to 20 police officers in South Africa. In his remarks at the event, the president of the Southern African Fujian Chinese Association as the most influential Chinese community organisation in South Africa. There is also a Cape Town Fujian Chinese Association (开普敦福建同乡会), a Free State Fujian Chinese Association (自由州省福建同乡会), and likely several more.
There are several more such region-based associations in South Africa, e.g., the Southern African Jiangsu Chinese Association (南部非洲江苏同乡总会), the Southern Africa Guangxi Chamber of Commerce (南部非洲广西总商会) and the Guangdong, Hong Kong & Macau Commercial Liaison Association (南部非洲粤港澳总商会). The latter organisation was formed in Johannesburg in 1998; at the election of its new president in April 2018, the outgoing president stated that in the preceding five years the association had worked hard to assist Chinese people from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau who had encountered difficulties in South Africa due to crime, illness or other causes, and had contributed to various other events and activities in the community.
In addition to the region-based organisations, there are various other chambers of commerce and other organisations focused on business and economic life in the community. At the 2019 South African Chinese Spring Festival Gala (a local version of the annual showpiece event produced by state broadcaster China Central Television that is China’s most-watched television show) the last of which seems to have taken place in 2019, the main speaker was Zheng Xingli (郑星利), the president of the South Africa Chinese Enterprises Association (SACEA) (南非华商总会), a non-profit organisation founded in 2015. SACEA has a wide membership in the Chinese business community, and undertakes charitable, corporate social responsibility and other activities. Another business chamber prominent at the 2019 gala was the Sino-South Africa Chamber of Commerce (南非中国商会). At the latter’s launch event in 2013, the first president of the organisation stated that it would serve as “a platform to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese businessmen and entrepreneurs in South Africa, to develop business opportunities and to strengthen ties between Chinese enterprises and local enterprises and government departments.”
There are many other such chambers of commerce in the Chinese community, such as the Southern Africa Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce (南部非洲温州总商会), the Southern Africa Yiwu International Small Commodities Chamber of Commerce (南部非洲中国义乌国际小商品总商会), the Southern African Jilin Chamber of Commerce (南部非洲吉林总商会), the South Africa Shenzhen Chamber of Commerce and Association (中国深圳总商会和南非-中国深圳联谊会) and the Southern African Minnan Chamber of Commerce (南非洲闽南总商会), to name but a few. Other notable business organisations are the Southern Africa China Entrepreneurs Association (南部非洲中国企业家协会), and the South Africa-China Economy & Trade Association (SACETA), (南非中国经贸协会), the latter of which has members in many of the largest Chinese companies operating in South Africa.
The All Africa Chinese Women’s Association (全非洲华人妇女联合总会) was established in 2007 to protect the rights and interests of Chinese women and children in Africa. In the sixteen years since its founding, this association has organized social welfare activities, and events and exchanges to promote cooperation between women in various fields between China and South Africa. In May 2023, the association held a large ceremony in Johannesburg to inaugurate its seventh board of directors, an event that was attend by government ministers and officials from the Chinese Consulate in Johannesburg. Over the years, the association has collaborated with various high-ranking female government officials and dignitaries; in 2017, for example, it held a number of events with the then First Lady Gloria Bongekile Ngema, Jacob Zuma's fourth wife.
Other notable organisations engaging in charitable, cultural and educational activities include the South Africa Zijing Society (南非紫荆会), established in 1999 to promote social exchanges, friendship and mutual assistance between South Africa and China, whose activities include educational scholarships; the South African Chinese Education Fund (南非华文教育基金会), established in 2012 with support from the Chinese Embassy, which undertakes various activities to promote Chinese language and culture including singing competitions for overseas Chinese people and a beauty contest for Chinese contestants in Africa; and another very old Chinese organisation that retains the name “Transvaal” in its name, the Transvaal Overseas Chinese Association (南非杜省华侨联卫会所), established in 1909 and currently still conducting charitable activities.
The All-Africa Association for Peaceful Reunification of China (全非洲中国和平统一促进会) was established in Johannesburg in 2002 and evidently has a political focus. This association is one of various chapters on the African continent and around the world of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification (中国和平统一促进会), which is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (统战部) that manages relations with individuals and organisations in overseas Chinese communities. In November 2022, the president of the All-Africa Association for Peaceful Reunification of China stated in an interview that the organisation has worked to “unite the overseas Chinese communities in Africa to safeguard the territorial integrity of China and to promote the great cause of the reunification of the motherland, and undertake the unremitting struggle against acts of splitting the country.” He cited several activities of the organisation over the preceding two decades, including public events and conferences, delegations to visit other African countries, and (in 2020 at the start of the COVID pandemic) encouraging overseas Chinese people with good English ability to register social media accounts to counter false information spreading online about China. In addition to political activities, this association also undertaken charitable projects such as organising donations from the community for the Hong Ning Chinese Aged Home in Johannesburg.
Featured image: 'Reviving old Chinatown, Unofficial mayor Walter Pon' by Romain Dittgen and Gerald Chungu, selected and presented in the Africa-China Reporting Project's Photo Exhibition 2018.