In South Africa, Chinese Is the New Black

Sky Canaves, Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2008

A high court in South Africa ruled on Wednesday that Chinese-South Africans will be reclassified as “black,” a term that includes black Africans, Indians and others who were subject to discrimination under apartheid. As a result of this ruling, ethnically Chinese citizens will be able to benefit from government affirmative action policies aimed at undoing the effects of apartheid.

In 2006, the Chinese Association of South Africa sued the government, claiming that its members were being discriminated against because they were being treated as whites and thus failed to qualify for business contracts and job promotions reserved for victims of apartheid. The association successfully argued that, since Chinese-South Africans had been treated unequally under apartheid, they should be reclassified in order to redress wrongs of the past.

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After apartheid ended in the early 1990s, the legal status of Chinese has remained in a gray area, though they’ve generally been lumped together with whites and denied the post-apartheid benefits available to other non-white groups.

South Africa has seen waves of immigrants and investment from China since 1994, and today there are as many as 300,000 Chinese living in the South Africa. But the new court decision is unlikely to benefit most of them or trigger another mass migration—it applies only to those Chinese who were South African citizens before 1994 (and their descendants), a much smaller number of around 10,000 to 12,000.

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