Apr 21, 2013 - General    No Comments

Plan for a better future needs backing to succeed

17 APRIL 2013

Dr Ismail Lagardien – leader.co.za

It is often easy to become pessimistic, or even fatalistic, about South Africa. It is also hard to escape the fact that there are, sometimes, valid reasons for such pessimism and fatalism…

What seems exceedingly difficult is to plan for and (actually) establish a better, more prosperous and stable country in which there is a high level of trust among citizens. The National Planning Commission (NPC) report is the latest, the most ambitious and, arguably, the most coherent and widely accepted strategy to help establish such a country. After the National Development Plan 2030 was presented to the president and Parliament on 15 August, the commission received plaudits and fairly widespread support for its work. The plan, it would appear, is solid. Yet, it is hard to shake the sense that drawing up the plan, consulting thousands of people in hundreds of engagements and interactions over several months, was the easy part. Given successive false starts and other clever, but sometimes anaemic, policy proposals over the past 18 years, unless there is intellectual and institutional continuity, the NDP, too, may yet fail.

A review of best practice around the world reveals that implementing a national development plan requires decisive leadership, deep insights into how the world and particularly global capitalism work (what policy space exists), coherence, stability and the humility to learn from others. What happens over the next few months could, therefore, prove decisive in the life and work of the NPC and for the future of the country.

No amount of obfuscation or fudging can conceal two important questions about the commission and the NDP – the future institutional form of the NPC, and where it will be situated. In both cases, best practice around the world suggests that the planning function in government must become a formal, permanent institutional body of the state, and that it should be steered, or at least overseen, from the highest office in the land, by the most competent elected officials and public servants. At present, the NPC is an advisory body created by President Jacob Zuma, and its term expires in 2015. The commissioners are part time and the secretariat is significantly understaffed and under-resourced. That the plan was pulled together, published and presented to South Africa on the dates and in the format(s) that were promised was nothing short of a miracle. What happens in the next six months is probably more important than the work that the NPC has done over the past two years. To even meet the objectives in the NDP halfway, the commission requires capable leadership, intellectual and institutional continuity, stability and better-than-adequate resources. South Africa can learn a lot from the planning functions of other countries.

The planning function in governance

Planning is increasingly considered vital for successful statecraft and governance, more recently because of the successes of China, India, Brazil and Malaysia, among others. While planning is considered to be a function of ‘developing countries’ – as Gang Zhang of the OECD told me earlier this year – some of the most developed countries in the world have established various permutations of planning functions. One research project by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis in the United States lists at least 70 bodies responsible for planning in countries around the world. Not all these functions are situated in specific ministries dedicated exclusively to planning. In some countries, the planning functions are coupled with ministries or departments of finance, trade, statistics or budget management. Among several others, Belgium has a Federal Planning Bureau; Brazil has a Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management; Ghana has a Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning; Hong Kong has a Central Planning Department; India has a Planning Commission; the Netherlands has a Social and Cultural Planning Office and, in the US, the planning function is situated in the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Two things that stand out from almost all the examples is that the planning function in each country is located in the office of the president or prime minister – or as close to the centre of government as it can be. In India, the prime minister chairs the planning commission. In Malaysia, the planning function is the responsibility of a cabinet minister in the prime minister’s office. In almost every case, given the coupling of planning with management, budget and the economy, planning is integrated in a type of nested hierarchy in which all component elements converge on a single objective – the protection and advancement of the country’s national interests, regardless of how these interests may be defined. National planning becomes, therefore, the institutional driving force of policymaking (while specific departments maintain their core functions), monitoring and evaluation of implementation and performance.

The NPC is, at present, only an advisory body in the Presidency. Politically and institutionally the NPC will, however, remain relatively weak, because it is not a government department, and because there is, for now, no clarity about its future – beyond the fact that the president gave it a five-year term and that the term expires in three years. That it is led by some of the most intelligent and respected people in the country is beyond doubt; what can be questioned is whether the political courage exists to follow best practice in the world, and place the commission in a position of authority and provide it with resources. One outcome of this is that the commission’s work becomes interwoven with that of national, provincial and local government departments.

Overcoming political bewailed political inertia

The creation of the NPC was a bold and decisive move by the president. Deeper retreat into inertia, amid the current phase of uncertainty, can only result in a significant loss in credibility on the part of the government and lock the country into a vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty and inequality. In political economy, there is an understanding that greater transparency (the typical reference is to policies like inflation targeting) ensures credibility and effectiveness in policymaking and implementation. As things stand, the NPC, having submitted to the government and the nation a plan to lead the country towards greater prosperity, equality and stability, through inclusive growth and an expansive economy, appears to be at a loose end – notwithstanding the outstanding work that has been done by the commission.

When read and understood, intertextually (to borrow a phrase) with, especially, the constitution and with successive policies, the NDP is a solid basis for the expansion of the economy to make it more labour-absorptive, and to spread prosperity gains more equitably across society. While the plan makes specific reference to engaged and active citizenry and to the need for social cohesion, the people have spoken, as it were, and endorsed the plan. It is, for now, the political leadership that seem locked in inertia when it comes to giving effect to the NDP. The commission needs to be strengthened by giving it the best leadership and resources that are available in the country – and consolidating its work and place in the Presidency. South Africa must overcome the much-bewailed inertia that besets political decision-making and the implementation of otherwise sound policies. Pessimism has become widely embedded in our political culture.

Pessimism about South Africa’s future should, however, not become a fig leaf for inertia. With the NDP, the commission has overcome this tendency towards inertia. While I do not speak on behalf of the NPC (I write this in my private capacity as a political economist with a deep commitment to creating a better future for our country), I can say, unequivocally, that the NDP is a plan to build a better future for all South Africans. We may never have the society that we seek for South Africa, but that does not mean we should stop fighting for it; for now, the National Planning Commission is our best hope. The country’s political leadership must shore up the institutional basis of the commission. We can do this.

Apr 21, 2013 - General    No Comments

SA’s drinking water world class

SA’s drinking water world class
Thursday, 04 April 2013
South Africa has the distinction of being one of only twelve countries in the world where it is safe to drink our tap water. As at 2012, the quality of South African tap water is ranked as third best overall.
In solidarity with the focus on World Water this past month, the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) applauds our municipalities for their continued monitoring of, and attention to, the quality of our drinking water.
South African municipalities have wholeheartedly embraced the international Blue Drop certification programme which is an incentive-based initiative that is used to regulate water services bodies worldwide in order to improve and maintain the quality of tap drinking water. Blue Drop certification covers a multitude of aspects of water management.
Deidre Nxumalo-Freeman, President of the IWMSA says “In South Africa, our constitution dictates that access to safe drinking water is a basic human right. The Department of Water Affairs instituted the Blue Drop programme in 2008 and since then, we have largely seen continuous improvement in the rankings of our municipalities in respect of drinking water quality.
“One source of our water is groundwater, water that collects underground from runoff; we consider it essential that people are aware of how easily our water tables can become contaminated through bad waste management practices. We also need to be vigilant when it comes to maintaining and upgrading the infrastructures that allow us to have a high quality of drinking water.
“The IWMSA is strongly focused on education and training, and has worked effectively with a number of municipal bodies in order to better equip them with an understanding of the importance of effective waste management issues from the ground up. As such we believe in the efficacy of getting a message across, particularly to those working at grass roots level, in order to engender a greater appreciation of the importance of their various functions.
Nxumalo-Freeman concludes “Whilst our local and district municipalities are responsible for ensuring that we have access to safe drinking water, the quality of which must be regularly monitored and measured to see whether it matches up to national drinking water standards; we must all assist in the process and we believe that the IWMSA has an important role to play in creating awareness along with empowerment through information.”
The IWMSA is a non-profit organisation comprising a body of dedicated professionals in their respective fields, who give freely and voluntarily of their time and expertise in order to effectively educate, promote and further the science and practice of waste management.
SA – the Good News via SAPA

Apr 21, 2013 - General, Visa    No Comments

Botswana toughens travel rules

Botswana toughens travel rules

2013-04-11 12:19 . News 24

Johannesburg – Botswana will no longer accept emergency travel documents for routine visits to the country, the South African home affairs department said on Thursday.

In a diplomatic note to international governments, Botswana’s government said: “The Republic of Botswana wishes to communicate a notice from the immigration department informing that travellers using emergency travel documents will not be admitted to Botswana for routine visits.

“Only those travelling under circumstances of emergency will be admitted under the authority of an emergency travel document.”

The home affairs department issues emergency travel certificates to South Africans who have to travel urgently for deaths, sicknesses, and other emergencies.

Botswana said emergency travel documents would now strictly be limited to emergency situations, which had to be supported by documentary proof.

Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said South Africans wanting to travel to Botswana should make the necessary arrangements to acquire the appropriate documents.

- Sapa

Apr 21, 2013 - General    No Comments

Public Service Delivery, South African Style!!!

MyNews24 is a user-generated section of News24.com. The stories here come from users.


By User : DikgosiThokoane


Public Service Delivery, South African Style!!!

18 April 2013, 14:00

Here, I am taking a look at the sobering effect of a poor public service experience in two governmental institutions; the department of Hate (umm, Health) and the department of Horrors (Home Affairs); that’s what the public actually calls these departments. Funny enough, this situation did not make me angry or annoy me; it gave me a real fright about the future of service delivery in this country if things carried on like this.

On the 22nd February this year, my baby girl was born in Tembisa Hospital on the East Rand; an amazing moment in my life this was.  She was born in a public hospital because yours truly registered his wife late onto the medical scheme and therefore the pregnancy was precluded from cover till the baby is born. She was not able to register the child in the hospital because we are still in the process of legalising our marriage and we wanted to register the baby with the father’s surname.

The following day, mom and child were discharged from hospital and we were all happy to get home; my wife was complaining about the service rendered in the hospital but our cold comfort was that at least she is out and if we have things our way, it will be a long time till she has to do use a public hospital again. Ya well, that is what we thought.

On the same day, I took them to Limpopo, to go honour a few traditional rituals for a new born baby. The following weekend I went to Limpopo and while there, we decided to go register the baby for a birth certificate. That is when all my troubles started.

1st attempt:  Monday, 04th March

My wife and I drove from Apel (Fetakgomo municipality) to Lebowakgomo in Limpopo, to go register the child; an approximately 40km drive in one direction. When we got there we found a very long queue, but luckily the security personnel there are part of the team and seemed to have been trained to engage people when they got to the line and show them where to go.

The security lady engaging us asked for our documentation (our ID’s and the clinic card), which she checked and realised that it was not stamped. She then advised us that we might not be assisted if the clinic card is not stamped. True to the fact, she took us to a supervisor and explained what she realised with our clinic card; the supervisor confirmed that unfortunately they will not be able to assist us unless the document has an original stamp on it. We had no choice but to leave.

My wife remained in Limpopo for another 4 weeks and when she got back she went to the clinic to get the clinic card stamped. Last week we decided to try again to register the child’s birth. I needed to do this ASAP because I cannot just stay away from the office; also the Medical Aid needed this certificate to register the child on my scheme.

2nd attempt:  Wednesday, 10th April

In the afternoon, we arrived at the department of Home Affairs in Ivory Park; before I went in I called the departmental Call Centre to verify if I had the correct documentation with me. The lady on the line explained to me that all we needed was the parent’s ID’s and a clinic card for the baby and we are good to go. We were so upbeat when we heard this, so I went in; when I got in I was told that their computers are off-line. Their advice to us was to come back the following day or go to another branch.

I then called the Call Centre again, to get contact numbers for the possibly closest branches. The lady gave me the number for Kempton Park and Centurion; while she was still on the line, I dialled the Centurion number, only to hear that the number is not correct. I told her and she rectified the number she gave me, that number was still wrong when I dialled later. So I dialled Kempton Park and they were online, so we rushed there.

We got to Kempton Park and there were about 4 sets of parents in front of us; but the queue was moving slow regardless. After about 45 minutes, we got to the front; the lady helping us did not even ask for the clinic card, instead she asked for a little piece of paper which should have been issued by the hospital the baby was born in. The only other piece of paper we had from the hospital was the right one but was cut off in the wrong place and the hospital personnel did not stamp it either. This lady told us that she wasn’t even allowed to register a child without this document because it is a registration certificate from the place the baby was born. We had no choice but to leave.

We decided to rush off to Tembisa Hospital to get the document rectified; when we got there at about 15H30, I stayed in the car with the baby and my wife went in. She came back in about 30 minutes and told me that the responsible department that needs to fix this has knocked off for the day; therefore, she was told to come back the following day at 08H30. My wife also told me that the staff member assisting her was irritated with the respective colleague that drew up the paper because according to her they always pulled such stunts with paperwork issued to mothers of new born children when discharged from hospital.

3rd attempt: Thursday, 12th April

We got to Tembisa Hospital around 09H30; intentionally because we know how hospital employees slack off in the morning before they get things done. Again, my wife went in and I stayed back with the baby. This time she was gone for just over 2 hours; when she got back with the document she told me that I was right and we should have come in later than we did. She told me that the people that were meant to help them ignored them for the best part of the time they were sitting there, while they were going up and down for no apparent activity.

Then we were off to Home Affairs in Kempton Park again; we got there just after 12H00. Again, there were about 8 sets of parents in the queue to register birth certificates. There were a whole lot of other people who were waiting for their certificates and all other documentation to be issued; this gave the impression that the branch was too busy. Anyway, we waited our turn to get in line and while we were waiting, the people around regaled each other about service in government departments.

 A little while later, two women walked in, one with a baby on her back and another in her hands; it turned out a little later that the babies are twins and they belonged to the lady carrying one on her back. The poor lady was all alone and the lady carrying the other child was actually just helping her; as I was taking care of our child, my wife helped the lady with the twins. I hoped that the officials would see her and fast track her application, but they just looked and didn’t take notice.

During the exchange of ‘war stories’, the twins’ mother was telling me how she went full term without knowing that she was carrying twins. No one in the clinic or the hospital suspected a thing, even though her pregnancy was not regular and she kept mentioning it to nurses and the hospital doctor. She was telling us that they only found out upon delivery that she was carrying twins and only because after delivering the first child, she still felt movement inside her. When she told the nurses, they reprimanded her about seeking all their attention to herself; the lady said she reached down and felt the child’s head between her legs and screamed for help; that is when they noticed that she was carrying twins.

Anyway, about two hours later, we walked out of Home Affairs with birth certificates; the twins’ mother came with us because we gave her a lift home.

I am scared, really scared. If this is the service we receive now, how bad is it going to be in future, because the government is doing nothing to jerk it up? They are paying lip service to public service delivery as far as I am concerned. All they do is draft policy after policy and splurge money on some tenderpreneur scheme or another; all in the name of public service delivery. No one bothers to monitor the quality of work done by any service providers or the public servants.

They could take the 240 million they spent on Nkandla and send this people to some course or another, to train them about customer service. Government employees do not realise that the public is their customer; hell, even politicians don’t seem to realise that either. That is why I am so scared for us and our children.

Apr 21, 2013 - General, Visa    No Comments

SA in talks with UK over entry visas

SA in talks with UK over entry visas

2013-02-28 10:00 – News24

Johannesburg – The government has renewed its efforts to convince the British government that South Africans do not require a visa to visit the UK, Beeld reported on Thursday.

The British visa requirements were introduced in March 2008, for several reasons including the fact that South African passports and ID books were found among the possessions of two terror suspects who were not South African citizens.

The department of home affairs said on Wednesday it was of the opinion that internal corruption had been eradicated and that South African passports complied with international security standards.

The department’s communication chief, Ronnie Mamoepa, said South Africa was in talks with the UK government to revise its decision.

“Watertight measures have been put in place to eradicate any negative elements,” he said on Wednesday.

He would not elaborate any further on the issue.

A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency would only say that it was continuing to co-operate with the South African government on the matter.


Apr 21, 2013 - General    No Comments

Spread the good news about South Africa — Zuma

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma called on ambassadors and diplomats to form partnerships with stakeholders in their respective countries of office to “spread the good news about South Africa” and counter “distortions and lies that may easily flourish about the country”.

President Zuma also referred to reports by the media regarding the ill-fated deployment of South African National Defence Force personnel to the Central African Republic (CAR), saying that “lies and rumours” regarding South Africa’s diplomatic decisions and positions would have a negative effect on the way the world viewed the country.

The ill-fated deployment, labour unrest and service delivery protests and instances of crime have received international coverage over the past year.

President Zuma was speaking at the Heads of Missions Conference in Tshwane on Thursday and told South Africa’s 126 heads of missions to continue with the work of promoting the country as an investment destination of choice and a nation headed in a positive direction.

“We have witnessed this in our country following the tragic event in the Central African Republic, how information gets quickly distorted and rumours and lies easily flourish. Prioritising communication and marketing is therefore a key strategic goal,” he said.

“Our country plays an important role in global economic and political relations. This means that we must prioritise communication and the marketing of the country abroad. In this era of globalisation, information flows like fire and can easily be misrepresented. Our diplomacy cannot afford to neglect public opinion,” Mr Zuma said.

Zuma asked that stronger networks be built with universities, think-tanks, nongovernmental organisations and other civil society structures “at home and abroad”.

“This is important because economic decisions to invest in, trade with or visit a country are not always made solely based on the facts. They are often emotional and based on perceptions,” he said.

Mr Zuma said the National Development Plan (NDP) would drive the economic and social progress of the country that is “envied by many around the world”. He said the commission and public consultation would make the NDP different from other plans proposed by other governments.

“If we had said the ruling party, which has capable people, must produce a plan — no matter how beautiful it was — it would have been attacked by everybody … but if we said government must produce a plan, it would also have been attacked … as representatives of this country there are things you can say that others may not know … we felt we need a plan that will not be made by either the party or the government, but by the people,” he said.

Mr Zuma said South Africa is better off now than in the past, especially “now that we have a long-term plan … to unite the country”.

He said the South government had delivered more in 19 years than any other government on the continent within the same amount of time.

Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations previously said in the past that the South African government had made “more progress in service delivery than most would think” but that the progress was undermined by higher expectations.

Apr 1, 2013 - Business Permit, General    No Comments

Howzit China?


Issue #157, 1st November 2012

In the last five years, more than 6,000 Chinese shops have popped up in every dorp of South Africa, effectively forming the country’s biggest-ever chain store. And, say retail experts, it amounts to a largely unlawful enterprise that threatens to destroy local commerce and cost the taxman billions.

Suddenly there’s a Chinese shop (maybe three) in every suburb, village and town in South Africa. Every single one. Noseweek has checked. In a matter of five years, no matter how small the dorp, there it is, generally signposted simply as “China Shop” or “R5 Shop”, sometimes endearingly called something like The Happy Store. Very occasionally just a door in a wall, heralded only by that tell-tale display of brightly coloured dresses on the pavement.

In some larger towns there are up to 10 of them; across South Africa anything between 6,000 and 12,000 “China” shops, each selling cheap imported Chinese goods and bravely manned by a very young couple, of humble origin, so fresh from China that they scarcely speak ten words of English.

Visualise it: 12,000 couples equals 24,000 young, start-up Chinese shopkeepers who have managed to enter, settle and work in South Africa, most of them in 2006. That’s 240 Boeing-loads of would-be Chinese shopkeepers. Add to those, the hundreds of new internet cafe and Chinese restaurant operators in evidence, and then you ask yourself: How did they manage to get into the country and get residence and work permits – or continue operating for years without them – when immigrants from other countries with superior skills are famously refused residence and work permits?

It all happened, virtually unremarked-upon, in just five or six years. In that time growth in imports – much of it illegal – from China have rocketed.

Exports of clothing from China to South Africa have risen from R4 billion in 2005, when the shopkeeper migration got under way, to R8.5bn in 2006, and to R11.3bn in 2010. The growth in trade is matched only by the increase in fraud associated with it. As our graph illustrates, while the Chinese government in 2010 recorded R11.3bn in clothing exports to SA, SARS recorded only R6.7bn-worth entering through SA customs. The missing balance was either under-valued (“under invoiced”) or smuggled past customs to avoid the 45% duty payable on clothing.

Besides the loss to SARS, it also gave the importer an unlawful competetive advantage.

Their low prices and the vast variety of fun “junk” crammed on the shelves of these myriad stores are aimed to make customers smile. Unlike the shops set up by Somali immigrants, the Chinese shops appear to have elicited little hostility from their host communities.

Most South Africans, perhaps ignorant of the scale of the phenomenon, appear to have accepted them as just the umpteenth bunch of brave, eager immigrants to reach our shores who will further enrich our multicultural, multi-ethnic society.

But researchers have found that the phenomenon is not nearly as benign as it looks. To quote a recent confidential report prepared by Stellenbosch research company, Econex: “The conspicuous growth of the community of foreign, mostly Chinese, traders operating in South Africa in an unregulated fashion would seem to indicate an absence of concerted efforts by government to address the issue. They have the guise of formal traders, renting premises in the formal business areas of towns and cities, while deliberately avoiding tax and business registration, as well as the requirements contained in labour legislation. They cannot be romanticised as informal traders simply trying to make a living; they entered the country with the explicit intention of operating under the radar of domestic law. Effectively, they are criminals who cannot even plead ignorance of the law.”

Says Professor Colin McCarthy, retired professor of economics at Stellenbosch University and former chairman of the International Trade Commission of South Africa: “I am not a conspiracist. All the empirical evidence indicates that the project to set up such an extensive network of Chinese shops, all following the same pattern and targeting the same market-segment, was well researched, well planned, well organised, and well financed. It effectively now constitutes the biggest retail chain in South Africa – bigger than Pick n Pay, Pep Stores, Woolworths, Edgars, Mr Price – any you can name.

“And there we were, wasting our time worrying about Walmart! In simple terms, this growing activity forms part of the criminal economy.”

So, how did this burgeoning of Chinese shops come about? Who made it possible? Who planned it? Who has financed it? And why has the South African government gone soft on Chinese immigration – or, rather, turned a blind eye to the mass of illegal immigrants from China who have quietly settled in as if nothing was the matter? This, in the context of South Africa’s concerted efforts to force hundreds of thousands of well-adapted refugees from neighbouring countries to return to their countries of origin.

And what of the mass of non-essential imports flooding the South African market and those of neighbouring states, at the expense of local manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and our own unemployed workers?

“Government’s current industrial policy supposedly regards the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturers as a specific cluster worthy of support, but the conspicuous growth of the community of foreign traders – most, of Chinese origin – operating in South Africa would seem to indicate the absence of coordinated government action (or success) in addressing the problem,” is the conclusion drawn by the authors of the Econex report.

“It’s not the Chinese who are the problem, it’s a law-enforcement problem. We either don’t have the policing capacity or the political will to enforce the law,” said another researcher in the field who asked not to be identified.

“The governing party – for some mysterious reason – feels the need to go softly-softly when it comes to China,” the researcher added.

The impact of the unchecked growth of the black-market economy is huge. The government has lost vast sums in tax revenue due to under-invoiced and undeclared imports, and the non-payment of VAT and various labour-related levies. (It is estimated that SARS last year lost more than R2bn in customs revenue as a result of under-invoiced or undeclared clothing imports from China.)

Imports that are cheaper due to non-payment of tariffs and China’s manipulation of currency exchange rates – China’s currency is deliberately undervalued by 30%, effectively ensuring that all goods exported from China come at a 30% discount – make it impossible for local manufacturers to compete. As they shrink and go out of business, local job opportunities are lost. In addition, the Econex survey found that the unregulated Chinese shops invariably pay their few local employees significantly less than the minimum wage.

Also, some tariff protection on cheap imports was removed soon after 1994 – as the local clothing industry knows only too well. China badly needs South Africa’s raw materials such as iron ore, coal and chrome, so, many believe, South Africa made unnecessary concessions in its trade and tariff negotiations with China.

Why? The negative impact of Chinese immigration and trade is not unique to South Africa. Only the reaction to it here has been different. In several African countries, there is popular resentment of it, mostly directed at Chinese small traders.

Zambia’s presidential election last year was won by Michael Sata, riding on anti-Chinese rhetoric, which resonated with many Zambians claiming Zambia was becoming a “dumping ground” for Chinese traders.

And in Malawi, the government passed a law in July which resulted in Chinese retailers being evicted from small towns and rural areas and restricted to the country’s four city centres. The move has been branded as xenophobic by civil rights groups.

Curiously, the Chinese Ambassador to Malawi, Pan Hejun, raised eyebrows when he said China did not support the small Chinese vendors. “They are capitalising on government’s failure to screen foreign traders,” he told a press briefing on July 23.
This seems at odds with China’s desire to create new markets for its manufacturers. Perhaps when Chinese small traders were first recruited to set up in African countries, no-one had anticipated the xenophobic attacks on Somali traders who had set up spaza shops in SA’s black townships.

They had clearly learned from that precedent when it came to setting up small traders in South Africa. Here none have gone into competition with township spaza shops or with pavement and bus-terminus stall operators. Instead, all the evidence suggests they followed in the footsteps of Pep Stores, invariably setting up shop within 150 metres of a Pep Store in former white town centres or on the fringes of typically coloured residential areas – where they were least likely to antagonise local, usually black, informal traders, while enjoying maximum exposure to their lower-income target market.

Africa attracts the poorest and least- educated of the Chinese migrants. Amongst the interviewees in a study of Chinese traders in Southern Africa by the Brenthurst Foundation, Africa was rated the least desirable choice of location and for most, not their end destination – after Canada, Australia, London or the US. The only reason Chinese traders are here is because of unemployment, stiff competition at home and the prospect of saving enough to one day own their own businesses. Most hope to return home eventually.

Nine out of 10 of the new Chinese immigrants in South Africa are from the Fujian province in south-eastern China, according to a Chinese-speaking researcher who travelled from Joburg to North West, to the Botswana border, Limpopo, Free State, Karoo, Transkei and to Eastern Cape interviewing Chinese shopkeepers. Noseweek’s own research across the Southern and Western Cape confirms this.

In China, Fujian is known as a place from which people migrate, says Isabella Fang, a trader in Sea Point, Cape Town. Mr Bu, a Fujian trader who has lived in South Africa for 22 years, says the reason people migrate from Fujian is “it is very poor with too many people who cannot all find work”.

“Fujianese people often make a lot of trouble… and when it comes, they use the natural way to fix the problem,” says one Chinese trader, confirming that she meant “money”. However, she hailed from another province in China.

According to the Brenthurst study, “Fujian has been extremely successful in facilitating migration to Africa, both legally and illegally. But Fujianese traders are often viewed in a negative light by other Chinese communities. ‘FJ’ traders have a reputation for hard work but also ruthlessness and, in some cases, criminality.”

According to an HSRC “State of the Nation 2005-2006” report by Janet Wilhelm, “…the attitude of South Africa’s original Chinese community (who settled here more than a century ago) towards the new arrivals from mainland Chinese is… at times quite hostile. In this instance, there is a class difference… exacerbated by the negative media coverage, which has focused mainly on the criminal activities of the Chinese triads and, more recently, on job losses that are being blamed on cheap Chinese imports”.

Most of the Chinese migrants since 1994 are believed to be in South Africa illegally. “It is not as if they do not have papers. Many would enter on tourist or student visas then simply stay, forfeiting the deposits they paid at the SA Embassy in Beijing,” says Patrick Chong, chairman of the Chinese Association of South Africa.

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs was asked how many unclaimed deposits are held at the embassy in Beijing, but did not respond.

As Wilhelm observes: “…it is amazing how so many people can enter a country seemingly unnoticed.”

Many blame the endemic corruption at the Department of Home Affairs.

Wilhelm quotes the SAPS’s Aliens Investigation Unit as saying “many immigrants travel to South Africa via Johannesburg to Mbabane, Maputo and Maseru where they buy false identity documents which they use to enter South Africa by road.

“More often than not, in the case of traders, migration is facilitated with the help of illegal or unlicensed employment agencies or even human smugglers known as ‘snakeheads’.”

The Brenthurst Report relates a case where one family member serves as the pioneer, establishing him/herself as an informal trader in one location before moving upward to become a business owner or wholesaler – in the process, drawing other members of their extended family or hometown to the same location, a phenomenon known as chain migration. (From one pioneer in the ‘Chen’ family, there are today 172 members of the same family scattered across Lesotho doing various types of trading.)

But this is not typical of the recent migration of Chinese shopkeepers. None of those interviewed by Noseweek in their shops in the little Karoo and the South and Western Cape had relatives in South Africa. They did not even know the Chinese couple trading in the next suburb or town; in country towns they appear to lead a lonely life in the shop. All slept in a cubicle in the back of the shop. For company, they all had a TV set in sight of the till, tuned to a mainland Chinese channel. The young Fujianese woman who minds the till in the Chinese shop in Prince Albert told Noseweek she had not left the shop for the past four years and did not know nor had she met any other Chinese shopkeepers. In broken English she said her husband occasionally travels to collect stock, so he might have met other Chinese traders. Her two small children, left in China in the care of her in-laws, she only ever sees and speaks to on “Chinese Facebook”. She was not prepared to answer any further questions.

Several of the young couples encountered by Noseweek have started a family since their arrival in South Africa and it is common to find a toddler scooting in the aisles while mother minds the till.

A SARS official who spoke off the record, estimated that “40-50%” “of traders are not registered for tax. Most deal in cash to avoid registration. The official recounted a story about a small rural shop that was raided where R1.2m was found under the counter. But she quickly added that not all Chinese traders operate illegally.

It is uncertain how much of what is sold in these shops bypasses customs, or is counterfeit.

Noseweek’s SARS contact says that in the past, containers that arrived at Durban would be inspected by a handful of customs officials who would do a spot-check – an almost impossible task, she said, when you could be talking about 40 containers and 20,000 bags being unloaded at a time. Often the first half of a container would be fine, but the other half that was not checked could contain illegal goods.

SARS recently computerised its system to try to cut out any corrupt officials at the port of entry. The new system works according to a “risk profile”. “With a high profile, your goods will be searched all the time,” she said. If not, they simply pass through because – according to the new system – they would already have been electronically declared in China. The new system is not faultless but, says Noseweek’s source, it’s a “slight improvement”.

The official said containers with counterfeit goods are trucked to Joburg in the middle of the night and offloaded at warehouses run by Nigerians. “The Nigerians are big in this and the Chinese importer does not dirty his hands with this stuff.”

[cid:F62577416B5F405C8FA098C8E85800C9@smiths]After sorting, most of the counterfeits go to African street traders. Chinese traders from small towns arrive in small delivery trucks at the warehouses to pick up stock. “They buy with cash and there are never invoices” said Noseweek’s contact. A new trend is to use local courier companies because they are not inspected or searched, the official added.
Last year R10bn in counterfeit goods was seized by police at Durban harbour.

Police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge was quoted as saying in an IOL report in January that, besides the Chinese traders, several ostensibly reputable stores are also being investigated for selling these illegal goods.

The IOL report said the goods seized included “perfume valued at R1,05 billion; cigarettes worth R8m; R8m worth of Lion matches; R2,8m worth of branded clothing; R1,5 worth of toys; clothes worth R300,000; CDs and DVDs to the value of R156,500; toothbrushes worth R7,3m; wallets and bags to the value of R264,000; shoes valued at R3m; cellphones worth R2,5m; accessories to the value of R2,2m; Doom coils worth R40,960; light bulbs worth R279,650; bags worth R200,000; electronics to the value of R129,900 – and R700,000 worth of rugby jerseys.” (Which makes one wonder: is there any perfume on sale in South Africa that isn’t counterfeit? – Ed.)

“The clearing agents are the poison” said Noseweek’s SARS contact.

Recorded Chinese apparel exports to SA versus recorded SA apparel imports from China, in rands (ZAR). The bars show undeclared imports.

The Brenthurst study quotes one clothing trader in Joburg as saying customs was so corrupt that everyone had to participate in the game in order to compete.

And then there are the police. Wilhelm quotes Peter Sapire, a lawyer: “Small stall owners at China City [Ellis Park, Joburg] say police wait to be paid off in the streets outside the centre on Sundays when Chinese shop owners from small towns come in for supplies.

“Chinese people never want any trouble,” says Shwu Ing Liou, an ex-ship’s captain turned businessman and “father” of the three China Towns in Cape Town (in Ottery, Sable Square and Parow). “The government tells us: don’t make trouble, sort it out. Even if you have to pay a little money, you finish it.”

Chinese traders will sacrifice a lot to provide a better future for their children. This will often mean sleeping and eating in their shop.

“In South Africa the unions are too strong, which means labour is too expensive,” says Liou. “In China, people work 24 hours while here, people only work eight hours a day, five days a week. This is why Chinese people can sell cheaper,” he claims.

That’s of course quite apart from the goods probably being counterfeit, with no taxes having been paid – factors he might be forgiven for not having mentioned.

“In South Africa today there is a need for cheap goods,” says Sea Point trader Isabella Fang. She is amazed at how expensive food and everyday items like toilet paper are in a country like South Africa, where the majority live in poverty. She produces a page torn out of a Chinese newspaper advertising supermarket food prices.

“How can ordinary people here afford to buy at local prices?” she asks.

Fang runs an “upmarket” boutique in Sea Point. She imports more-expensive and good-quality stock from China, but says she might be forced to close soon because she cannot cover her expenses.

“People are reluctant to pay more for better-quality Chinese goods” she says. “When people see Chinese goods they do not want to pay much.”

In the course of Noseweek’s interview, only one customer enters her “more-upmarket’’ shop. In contrast, the R5 store across the road bustles with a constant stream of local customers. The woman behind the counter there is reluctant to disclose what their biggest selling items are. I am told by another trader that it’s most likely counterfeit cigarettes.

Three waves and you’re in

There have been three main waves of Chinese migration to South Africa. The earliest influx, in 1870, was from the southern province of Guangdong – mostly Cantonese and Hakka speaking people.

According to the HSRC’s “State of the Nation 2005-2006” report by Janet Wilhelm, “the face of the Chinese community changed” after South Africa forged ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the late 1970s – when there was a second wave of Chinese immigrants from Taiwan.

The children of these original communities went from running shops to becoming doctors, lawyers and accountants, many of whom left South Africa for Canada, Australia and the US.

But, not long after South Africa cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1998, in order to recognise the People’s Republic of China, a third wave of immigrants from mainland China commenced, eventually “swamping” the original communities.

The period between 2003 and 2008 saw the biggest influx, says Patrick Chong, the Chairman of the Chinese Association of South Africa. He estimates that there are at least 300,000 to 400,000 Chinese immigrants in South Africa.

But it’s difficult to pin down a number. According to Wilhelm, there were an estimated 20,000 Chinese people in South Africa in 1994, which climbed to between 100,000 and 200,000 around 2005 – a drop in the ocean compared to the estimated 10-million illegal immigrants living in South Africa.

Home Affairs media spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa told Noseweek it was not in the department’s mandate to conduct a census. Their mandate was to facilitate legal entry into South Africa’s ports of entry, he said.

The Chinese Embassy did not respond to Noseweek’s request for information but, according to many sources, they do not have the official number of Chinese immigrants either.