Chinese residents in South Africa have won a landmark court case that
will allow them to benefit from affirmative action programs intended to
help disadvantaged blacks. The court has ruled, in effect, that
Chinese are black people, too. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick explains in
this report from Cape Town.
The owners of Zonnebloem Bakeries
are of Chinese descent, but they are South African citizens, born and
raised here. Alice and Patrick Chong are proud of the business they
have built. They provide a variety of baked goods to hotels and
"We have a croissant table, a Danish table, a bread table, a muffin table," explains Alice Chong.
"All of the bread products over here are made from scratch," adds Patrick
don't use pre-mixes. This is the bread that was baked from days gone
by. We still use the original recipes of bread."
But the Chongs are angry about a certificate tucked away on a shelf in their office.
"This is my classification," Alice says.
certificate is the bakery's BEE rating. That stands for Black Economic
Empowerment, it is South Africa's program to give black-owned companies
a helping hand to correct inequality created during apartheid.
Businesses are currently being audited, and those with good BEE ratings
get preferential treatment. "One" is the best score a business can
get. "Eight" is the worst. Alice Chong is not happy with the score on
"I'm supposed to be faxing this to my customers to show them I'm a "four"," she says.
Chongs did not get a better score because South Africa's black
empowerment rules classified them as whites. The Chongs say that is
unfair and, along with other members of the Chinese Association of
South Africa, they sued the government. The argument in their lawsuit
was simple: Chinese were regarded as people of color during
apartheid. Like blacks, they endured discrimination. So, the Chongs
say it is wrong to now classify Chinese as white.
"To me it's a slap in the face. It is apartheid in reverse," Alice Chong says.
"Yes, we weren't white enough in the old days, and we definitely aren't black enough now," adds Patrick Chong.
"Apartheid in reverse," quips Alice.
rules regarding ethnic Chinese made work difficult for the man whose
company conducted the black empowerment audit of the Chongs' bakery.
right, what we have is a file of a client in terms of all the
information that we would review when we go through the whole rating,"
says Pieter Carstens.
Carstens' firm, Empowerdex,
evaluates if a company has enough black owners, managers, employees and
suppliers to get a good BEE score.
"Moving on, skills development, on-the job-training," he says.
says the government's new race-classification rule for Chinese was
based on historical patterns of international trade.
look at what type of access those individuals would have had to South
Africa during the apartheid years," he says. "They would say Chinese
individuals were having free access, certainly with the fishing
trawlers coming around the coast and coming into the harbor, and as
such they were not disadvantaged."
The South African government
declined to comment on its BEE policy or the lawsuit. But others
expressed support for the Chinese.
"Anybody who was
historically disadvantaged, and that person couldn't vote because of
race, that person is entitled to BEE," explains Mbulelo Bikwani, an influential
member of South Africa's Black Management Forum. "So, if those Chinese,
they were not allowed to vote, they are entitled."
the South African government switched course, and decided not to oppose
the lawsuit. Wednesday, a court ruled that ethnic Chinese are
previously disadvantaged persons who deserve the same benefits as
blacks under the nation's affirmative action rules. The Chongs say
the case closes a difficult chapter in South Africa's painful history
of racism. The Chongs say that all victims of apartheid deserve equal