03 April 2018 Photo Valentino Ndaba
Stanley Trapido seminar interrogates being Chinese in SA
Miyanda Simabwachi (PhD student), Prof Karen Harris (guest speaker), Eleanor Born-Swart (PhD student), and Prof Neil Roos of the International Studies Group at the Stanley Trapido seminar.

Speaking at the Stanley Trapido seminar hosted by the International Studies Group, Prof Karen Harris from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Historical and Heritage, underscored how South Africa-born Chinese (SABCs) have historically been relegated to the periphery of South African society as far as access to opportunities is concerned. She presented a paper titled: “BEE-ing Chinese in South Africa: Black not White?” at the second seminar in the annual series on Monday 19 March 2018 at the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS).

“Chinese are not black enough under the new government and were not white enough under the old government,” said Prof Harris who specialises in the field of overseas Chinese studies as well as heritage tourism. Her paper focused on how this miniscule population group suffered discrimination under segregation and apartheid, and has continued to experience systematic discrimination in relation to education, employment, ownership of property, trading business and voting rights, separate amenities, freedom of movement and marriage, over a period of three centuries.

Prof Harris argued that the manner in which Chinese were treated pre-1994 is similar in the democratic dispensation. “They still have no rights and no place in the broader South African society.”

To drive her point home, Prof Harris made reference to legislations, namely the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and the Employment Equity acts. These laws were an attempt to promote equity and fairness in the labour market and trade, to give members of society who were discriminated against access to employment opportunities across the board post-apartheid. However, the discord ensued when the Chinese discovered that they were not accommodated in this deal, despite being categorised as previously disadvantaged.

Passive resistance towards these injustices reached an apex during a 2008 High Court case which led to 18 June being declared Dignity Day by SABCs. Prof Harris recounts this history as follows: “On 18 June we have the Chinese locals being declared black by Judge Cynthia Pretorius. It was claimed that according to the decision the Chinese fell in the definition of black people in the constitution, allowing them to now enjoy the full benefits of black economic empowerment.”

These prestigious annual seminars serve to honour the life and work of Stanley Trapido – a leading South African historian and Oxford University lecturer. Trapido’s personal library was donated to UFS on his death.