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Issue #235
22 October
ISSUE #235 ON SALE TILL 22 October

Why SA shouldn’t bow to the East

Posted on January 27, 2012  /  Comments Off on Why SA shouldn’t bow to the East  /  Show post tags

I read Stanley Kwenda’s report on the rising tension between Zimbabweans and Chinese investors and entrepreneurs in our neighbouring country in The Big Issue’s latest edition with a creeping sense of dread. Alarm bells began to ring as similarities between China’s business interests in Zimbabwe and the powerhouse’s dealings with our own country became ever more striking.

On a grassroots level I’m worried that, like in Zimbabwe, South African small businessmen, blue-collar workers and the mass of unemployed will begin to see burgeoning Chinese businesses as one of the reasons they’re struggling to put food on the table. Cheap Chinese imports have long been blamed by unions for the mass of job losses in our textile industry (although the rate of job losses slowed by around 50% last year). And, I may be imagining it, but it feels to me as if there is animosity brewing over the number of shops selling cheap goods imported from China, which are springing up almost everywhere — from the city to dusty Karoo towns.

All this may lead to a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment. We’ve already seen how Somali shopkeepers have been targeted in xenophobic attacks for undercutting local businesses. Why would Chinese business owners be immune to the same threat?

I’m equally concerned about China’s relationship with South Africa in the higher echelons of power and how our government appears willing to sell its people, resources and morality for thirty pieces of silver. Let’s not forget how government bowed to the East over the Dalai Lama’s visa and what little good all that knee-scraping did convicted South African drug mule, Janice Bronwyn Linden, when China refused to stop her execution despite diplomatic intervention.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti China or against South Africa doing business with the economic giant. In fact, I would much prefer South Africa to accept aid and trade from the East than most of the Western powerhouses because at least China’s pretty upfront about the reasons for their interest. The Chinese make no bones about the fact that they see Africa as a rich supply of natural resources. They want first dibs and they don’t seem to care too much if they have to pay off dodgy despots like Mad Bob or strike deals with corrupt politicians to get what they need. That, to me, is a far more honest approach — although no less revolting — than the West’s tendency to hide their quest for control and resources under the guise of spreading the gospel of democracy to the “third world”, when in reality they prop up dictators to serve their own means. That is, of course, until the puppet cuts the strings and has to be taken down…in the name of democracy, of course (think Gaddafi).

But I digress. The point is Chinese investment shouldn’t be spurned. And, with China pumping more than US$120 billion into Africa in 2010 alone, we quite frankly can’t be turning up our noses at their business and aid. But neither can we afford to clench our jaw in a sycophantic smile and meekly hold out the begging bowel while China determines the rules of engagement.

This isn’t about whether China is “good” or “bad”. It’s a question of how far we — or more aptly, our government — are prepared to bend to get investment and foreign aid into the country’s coffers from any economic giant. Will it be at the expense of our progressive labour laws? Will it cost people jobs? Will we have to compromise our national morality to get the loot?

There’s a lesson to be learned from the growing discontent with Chinese business across our border, and our leaders would do well to heed that. Go on, call me a naysayer, but my bet is they won’t.

Melany Bendix
Editor, The Big Issue SA


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