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23 Dec, 2008 09:08

When is a Chinese not Chinese?

In post-apartheid South Africa, the Chinese population is benefiting from laws aimed at removing discrimination. But many in the country's black community aren't happy about it.

Under the country’s black empowerment codes, South Africa is trying to even up the distribution of wealth by giving black people who suffered under apartheid privileged status. The 10,000 Chinese in South Africa claim they should also enjoy the fruits of freedom in post-apartheid society.

Today, the courts agree they suffered under apartheid, while many black South Africans do not.

However, Lerato Ratsoma, Executive Director of Empowerdex, insists that the laws are necessary:

“The classification is very important because we're trying to right the imbalances of the past, by putting people on the same field so they can compete like everybody else. If you're unable to give them the jumpstart, they'll always be lagging behind the other races.” Ratsoma said.

Leon Lang, a shop owner in Johannesburg, was born Chinese, and now he's considered black in terms of his rights according to a South African court ruling. For twenty years Leon has lived in South Africa.

“I know who I am. I'm Chinese. I never want to be a black or a white or another race. I'm a Chinese,” Leon said.

However, being classified as black will change little for Leon. He imports beads from China and has two shops in Johannesburg where he sells them. If he wants to talk about his new found status, he need look no further than the two stores he owns.

The Chinese in South Africa are renowned for their business acumen – and being able to stand on their own two feet. The living proof of this is in the bustling Chinatown area of Johannesburg.

The idea behind this law is that the Chinese community will become part of greater South Africa, and in a few years from now places like Chinatown will no longer exist. But with big business in the Chinese community, who knows, very soon it may be better for black people to be classified as Chinese.