Fascinating how much the local conditions for Chinese economic sojourners differ from one place to another in Africa and how similar the strategies and practices of the Chinese are regardless of these place based differences. Johannesburg probably can be regarded a rather exceptional place for Chinese economic engagement within Africa for a number of reasons. Not only is South Africa the by far most developed among the African countries, it also hosts one of the oldest and largest Chinese population on the continent.
Fortunately I was met here by my colleague Romain from Luxembourg, who had conducted some related field work in Senegal before he chose to concentrate on Chinese traders in Johannesburg. To get at least some superficial first impressions of how Chinese trade is organized here in Joburg, he drove me around last Friday and we visited two Chinese and one Indian shopping malls. What can I say: business as usual with regard to the individual traders from Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, and Taiwan that I had the opportunity to chat with. On the other hand the Chinese traders here are operating from by now 15 malls along the outskirts of the city, that combine wholesale activities with catering to the growing number of individual shoppers from the lower income strata (irrespectably of their skin colour!) who have begun to patronize these malls.
Those Chinese that I spoke to were all from the group of newcomers who have arrived in growing numbers during recent years. And all stated that they followed hearsay of business opportunities and chose the place because of trustworthy sources of information, namely relatives and friends who settled here earlier. The beginning of this process, however, remains in the historical darkness. But although Romain convincingly argues that those Chinese (mostly from Shandong and Guangdong/Hong Kong) who constitute the first and second wave of Chinese sojourners are distancing themselves from the PRC newcomers of these days, I dear to hypothesize that some of them actively or passively facilitated the very beginning of this new wave of Chinese private investors through their own kinship relations in China…
Even in my fancy Motel Mi Pi Chi I met two Chinese from Guizhou and Sichuan working for an export company in Guangzhou. They had come for participating in a trade show and had found this guesthouse on the Chinese website of booking.com.
From the Taiwanese trader I bought this nice little iPhone gadget looking like a silicone grammophone and called vuvuzela locally. Guess how much I paid, Pozi?