Conclusion: Becoming South African or Using Chineseness to Get Ahead?

Even as South Africa is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, particularly with increasing in-migration since the end of apartheid, definitions of South Africanness appear to be narrowing. South Africanness is, in some discourses, increasingly equated with blackness.16 However, as indicated by the continued if sporadic outbursts of xenophobic violence targeting black

Africans, not all blacks are viewed as South African. Ethnic minorities, specifically members of the colored, Indian, and Chinese South African communities, complain that they are increasingly being excluded, and the common refrain heard across these communities is that before “we weren’t white enough,” but now “we are not black enough.” 17 Processes of inclusion and exclusion are uneven and, at times, contradictory. For example, it would appear that even with a predominantly black government, the white minority continues to benefit economically, while those defined as amakwerekwere (foreigners), especially the black African amakwerekwere, suffer the most vicious attacks.18

The negative responses to the Chinese South Africa affirmative action court case decision indicates that these shifting and narrowing social perceptions may ultimately determine the levels of acceptance of any ethnic minority or new migrant group. Perceptions of ethnic Chinese in South Africa are confused and ambiguous at best.19 In the South African case, despite the protection afforded by citizenship, the constitution and other progressive legislation, all Chinese people in the country continue to occupy an ambiguous, marginal, in-between, and sometimes precarious position within South African society.

This may be changing. As the love affair between China and South Africa continues to grow, we have seen that ethnic Chinese in the country can (and often do) take advantage of certain relationships and privileges afforded to these most valuable economic partners. However, close identification with China also poses a potential danger. As several prominent scholars of overseas Chinese have noted in other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, such (perceived) close ties with China have been used to single out and target ethnic Chinese (Purdey 2006, Reid 1999). Perhaps the best road for Chinese in South Africa to take, then, would be to become luodi shenggen (seeds that take root where they fall) (Wang 1998). Some Chinese migrants to South Africa have clearly taken this road, but it will likely take a much greater critical mass for it to make a difference in how Chinese are perceived in the country—as more South African than Chinese. Given the extent of social media use and the ease and relatively low cost of air travel, it would appear that many more Chinese have maintained their close ties with China. Chinese South Africans, too, are traveling to China and reconnecting with long-lost family. Still, conversations with both Chinese South Africans and long-time Chinese residents of South Africa indicate that they are home; South Africa, while sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally dangerous, is home.

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