'No BEE for those who didn't fight'

Black economic empowerment and affirmative action are not meant for Chinese people ­- no matter what apartheid did to them or how long they have lived in South Africa. So said Soweto residents interviewed by the Mail & Guardian this week.

They were reacting to the recent application to the Pretoria High Court over the apartheid-era status of Chinese as coloured. The court upheld the application, with the automatic spin-off that they qualify for BEE.

Many Sowetans were under the impression that the government had “reclassified” Chinese people to give them access to BEE benefits.

They saw this as a further blow to black people already struggling to make ends meet.

They also argued that the Chinese had not “earned” redress by participating in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Goitsemang Maledu, a shop manager from Rustenburg:
“Not the Chinese! BEE is for blacks, not Chinese, whites or whatever.
If the court gives Chinese the same privileges as blacks, then whites should be included too, because they’re also South African.

“I don’t think the majority of Asians living in South Africa suffered as much as Africans did.

“For me it is difficult to differentiate between the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans any way. It’s even harder to tell which one was born in South Africa and which one was not.

“But what I know is that they all live as whites in this country—so allowing them access to BEE deals and all that is unfair to blacks.

“As it stands, it is hard for us to access these deals.”

Mdudu Mofokeng, a spaza shop owner:
“It seems government is hell-bent on making black people’s lives even more difficult.

“Already the Chinese run big businesses in this country and the majority of them live fairly good lives. We, on the other hand, continue to struggle no matter how much government tries to assist us.

“My business is thriving but I’m concerned about the difficulty of expanding it after years of hard work.

“I don’t want to see them [Chinese] here. For years they’ve had factories where they mistreated our people. Yet today we’re expected to accept that we’re the same.”

Danny Sehume, an upholstery business owner from Pimville:
“I’ve been running my business for two years and it’s getting worse by the day. Reclassifying South African-born Chinese people as black is a slap in the face for the black public.

“Our government seems to be letting everything go crazy. This Chinese thing cannot be right, given the rate of unemployment among the black population.

“It’s so difficult for us. And lately I find it extremely hard to keep my child at school. Many of us are unemployed and we’re trying to make ends meet. The least we can get from government is these BEE deals—but what do you do to get these deals? It’s hard.

“Government must pay special attention to emerging black businesses first before it includes other people.”

Obed Fenyane, a Diepkloof fruit and vegetable shop owner:
“It can’t be true. Why the Chinese? And what about all these black people who are suffering in the motherland?

“The government is crazy to be overlooking the plight of the black people in favour of the Chinese. For many years I tried to look for funds to make my business bigger but I failed.

“Where were they when we fought the whites and apartheid? They were there with the whites having a nice time, but today they are black like us.”

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