Reimagining identity: South African Chinese associations in post-apartheid Gauteng


  • Willem J Pauw University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa



Associations, Associational life, Migration, Community, Identity, Africa-China relations


This research focuses on Chinese associations in postapartheid South Africa and is primarily based on oral interviews done with numerous members and leaders of the different Chinese communities. Since democracy, longstanding Chinese associations, which draw their membership from the South African-Born Chinese (SABCs), have reimagined themselves and transformed from having largely political aims to focus predominantly on community and cultural pursuits. This is the result of political shifts and the increasing freedoms guaranteed to all races by democracy, although their membership is declining. However, partly owing to their ambiguous status and identity during apartheid, the Chinese have continued to face discrimination. Specifically, being initially excluded from affirmative action policies as well as being subjected to racism and prejudice in the democratic era. Thus, there is still space for these associations to act politically as these issues have been and are being addressed through democratic institutions. Lastly, the third wave of migration has further impacted the associational lives of the Chinese in South Africa. The significant differences between SABCs and recent Chinese migrants have not only created divisions between these two groups but have also called into question the “Chinese identity” of SABCs. However, there has also been significant, albeit situational, instances of collaboration and solidarity between these two groups and their relevant associations, thereby adding complexity to the interactions and identities of said communities.


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