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How Chinese quashed ANC Youth League protest against businesses

2020-02-24 00:35

Fearing a diplomatic fallout, ANC heeds appeal by consul-general and pulls rank over youth league to stop its march against China Mall from going ahead

A protest against the employment of undocumented immigrants at China Mall shopping centres, instead of South Africans, has been brought to a halt.

This, after the Chinese community pulled strings and appealed to both ANC officials and the Chinese embassy.

The protest action was initiated by the ANC Youth League in Soweto.

According to youth league member Bheki Nkuta, who was one of the organisers, the demonstration raised the hackles of the Chinese community in South Africa.

The youth league had placed posters in and near Soweto, giving details of the march, which was supposed to have taken place on Friday.

These ads were circulated on social media and were eventually seen by one of the affected business owners, who then reported the matter to Chinese community leaders.

The leaders were initially sceptical and went to great lengths to find out if the march was going ahead.

Eventually, they received confirmation from the ANC’s mother body.

High-ranking ANC representatives then sprung into action and immediately called Nkuta to account.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule confronted Nkuta and expressed his concern that the protest might ignite unnecessary conflict between the two nations, which have been allies for decades.

The protest was called off after a meeting was held between the organisers and Zhongdong Tang, the consul-general of China in Johannesburg.

South Africa and China are part of the Brics bloc, comprising five member states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and have maintained diplomatic ties for almost 22 years.

In addition, a number of leading Chinese nationals residing in South Africa are ANC supporters.

Tang is also said to have discussed the matter with various other stakeholders, including David Tembe, chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department.

Tang was also planning to hold a meeting with Gauteng’s community safety MEC, Faith Mazibuko.

At the meeting that was held to call off the protest, Nkuta and his associate, Wendy Makhoba of the SA Communist Party, were accompanied by TJ Masilela, chairperson of the Gauteng Community Policing Forum board.

They met with Tang and his deputy, Qu Boxun, as well as Chinese community leaders.

The meeting was held on Thursday.

Its purpose was twofold: halting the protest and engaging with Chinese business owners about prioritising South Africans when employing staff.

In the meeting, Tang and his team argued that the youth league had not even tried to engage in a dialogue with them before embarking on protest action.

Tang also expressed concern about the potential damage and bad publicity it could generate for China and relations between the two countries.

He added that, while he was fully aware that South Africa’s economy was under strain, China had already invested in the country and would continue to do so in the future.

Tang and his team also explained that it was not within their power to strong-arm business owners to employ locals, given that there was no formal legislation stipulating that South Africans be hired instead of immigrants.

But Nkuta told City Press that it was crucial that South African citizens be employed as it would help ease the jobs crisis in the country.

According to the latest statistics, 29% of South Africans are jobless.

“Yes, they are our brothers, but they have money and do not want to assist us. There are more than five China Mall shopping centres in Joburg and none of the businesses are owned by South Africans. We want to work with these people, but they are employing foreign brothers,” said Nkuta.

He said immigrants were given preference over South Africans “because they are cheap labour”.

Makhoba told City Press that this was not a witch-hunt against Chinese nationals as plans were also afoot to target areas like Fordsburg, where a similar situation is occurring.

“It is not that we are targeting China Mall centres,” she said.

“We have looked at the whole landscape, visited certain areas and spoken to a number of fraternities to see if there is a level playing field. Should it not be a case of hiring South Africans first? If a scarce skill is needed, then we can consider employing foreigners.

“We do not have a problem with foreign nationals, but let it start with the people we are trading with.”

Besides postponing the protest, Nkuta said a forum was being established to find ways to include South Africans, particularly Soweto residents, in running China Mall centres.

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March 29 2020