Immigration from Taiwan

Significant changes took place in South Africa from 1961 through the 1980s as anti-apartheid activities intensified. In the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre, when police shot at protestors and killed 69 people, many in the international community began calling for action against the apartheid government. Divestment from the country did not begin on a significant scale until the mid-1980s, but several states began to distance themselves from South Africa. Global economic sanctions forced South Africa to pursue closer ties with other pariah nations, including Israel, Chile, and Taiwan. As traditional economic partners started pulling away, the apartheid government instituted an incentive scheme to attract investors from these three countries. By encouraging investment in the black “homelands,” the government also implicated foreign investors in their plans to staunch flows of black Africans from these rural areas into urban ones. A small but steady influx of Taiwanese industrialists immigrated to South Africa, beginning in the late 1970s. Generous incentives included relocation costs, subsidized wages for seven years and subsidized rent for ten years, cheap transport of goods to urban markets or ports, housing loans, and favorable exchange rates. Combined with increasing competition in Taiwan, these were sufficient reason for some to take their chances in South Africa (Hart 2003: 2).5

These plans were quite successful for a while. An estimated 2,500 immigrants from Taiwan had arrived in South Africa by the late 1980s. By 1989, nearly 150 factories had been established; by 1992, 40,000 jobs had been created and ZAR1 billion invested in these remote areas (Yap and Man 1996: 421; Hart 2003: 2-3). The arrival of the Taiwanese also prompted changes to some of the existing race-based policies: South Africa’s longstanding prohibition of non-white immigration was waived in order to accommodate them, and in the Free State laws were overturned to permit Chinese residence in the province, allowing the Taiwanese to purchase homes in formerly white-only areas and send their children to white schools.

A second wave of Taiwanese migration, mostly comprising small entrepreneurs and students, followed on the heels of the industrialists. This group settled in the larger cities and towns. This later inflow led to the establishment of financial services, newspapers and other businesses catering to this growing community. The Taiwanese established their own community organizations, the Bank of Taiwan established a branch in Johannesburg in 1991, airlines ran six weekly flights between Taipei and Johannesburg, and one entrepreneur started a Taiwanese-run newspaper (Tseng 1991: 7). At their height there were between 30,000 and 50,000 Taiwanese in South Africa (Park 2012a; Grimm et al. 2014); today the community is much diminished, with most officials and community representatives indicating that there are approximately 6,000 (Park 2012b).

These Taiwanese differed from the earlier migrants from China in a number of ways: many migrated as families, they were well educated, and they had resources. They were also different insofar as they engaged in

South African civic and political life in ways that the “local Chinese” never did. When some prominent and wealthy Taiwanese publicly announced their support for the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994, the local Chinese protested, saying that because no one could tell them apart, they would all suffer from the potential backlash. The Taiwanese ignored the cries of the Chinese South Africans and continued to participate in local politics. Unhampered as they were by a history ofracist oppression that kept most Chinese South Africans quiet, the Taiwanese made advances to various political parties when it suited them. Given the general invisibility of Chinese South Africans in local politics up to that point, it was a shock when in the national elections of 2004 four Taiwan-born South Africans were elected to parliament.

Both South Africa and Taiwan, for a time, permitted dual citizenship, so many of the Taiwanese became citizens of their new country. While large numbers eventually returned to Taiwan (or moved elsewhere) when subsidies expired or when South Africa switched official recognition from Taiwan to mainland China in 1998 (see Section 4), those who remained raised children in the country and became committed residents and citizens. The largest communities of these Taiwanese South Africans now reside in the greater Johannesburg/Pretoria area, in the area surrounding Bloemfontein in the Free State province, and in the greater Cape Town area.

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