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Why South Africa's Large Chinese Population is Known as the "Quiet Community"​


The Chinese community in South Africa is one of the oldest and largest in Africa. But even though the history of Chinese migrants in SA dates back to the 1800s, most people in South Africa still know very little about this population.

Known as the “quiet community,” the Chinese in South Africa have built complex social and business networks that largely exist outside of the margins of the country’s fractious racial and political landscape.

That is now beginning to change with China’s emergence as South Africa’s most important trading partner and one of the country’s largest sources of foreign direct investment. Just as Chinese diaspora communities elsewhere around the world play a vital role in facilitating cultural, business and political ties between China and their adopted countries, the same is true in South Africa.

“On the surface the South African Chinese community can resemble a quiet community that is visible to outsiders but one day a year at Spring Festivals. Yet this community is actually a highly networked community that has developed networks and support structures to protect itself and to maintain its unique and vibrant identity in a dangerous environment. ” — Barry van Wyk, Africa-China Reporting Project

Researchers are now beginning to explore the inner-workings of this community and the complex social networks that bind it together. Barry van Wyk, Project Coordinator of the Africa-China Reporting Project at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, focused on two specific areas, law enforcement and in-language local Chinese media, that have been little-understood by outsiders.

Show Notes:

About Barry van Wyk:

Barry van Wyk has been Project Coordinator of the China-Africa Reporting Project at Wits Journalism since June 2015. In 2006, he started Chinese language studies in Tianjin, China, and in 2008 started working as a China-Africa business consultant in Beijing. In 2012, he was appointed project manager at Danwei, a research firm analyzing the Chinese media and Internet, also based in Beijing. Van Wyk holds a Master’s degree in South African history from the University of Pretoria, and a second Master’s in Economic History from the London School of Economics

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