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South Africa: Chinese Account of Attacks on Foreign-Owned Businesses

On June 27 riots started in Botshabelo, east of Bloemfontein, in reaction to the Mangaung Municipality's decision to remove makeshift stalls and evict street vendors from a site in central Botshabelo. The rioters’ anger then turned towards foreign-owned businesses, and more than 13 shops owned by Bangladeshis, Somalis and Ethiopians were attacked and looted. In the following days the looting spread to nearby Thaba Nchu.

Shen Beilei, a Chinese employee of a factory in Thaba Nchu, provided her eyewitness account of the rioting and looting on Sina Weibo [zh].

Such riots are taking place more and more frequently due to high unemployment amongst South Africans. The official unemployment rate in South Africa was above 25% in the first quarter of 2012.

The following clip posted by SABC News on June 29 reports on the violence and looting at Botshabelo, which were the catalyst for the attacks in Thaba Nchu:

Shen Beilei's account reveals much about the life of Chinese immigrants in South Africa, and shows how racial stereotypes have been reinforced through such conflicts with South Africans. The following is a translation of her micro-blogs from July 3 to July 6 [Beijing time]:

July 3, 2012

南非自由州Free State Thaba Nchu发生骚乱,众多黑人从周日晚上就开始打砸抢烧中国人和印巴人商店,今天早上10点多开始有几十个人冲击我们工厂和附近工厂。经过我们抵抗黑人没有得逞。隔壁印度人开的家具厂因为缺少警卫已经被半空。黑人town上我们的中国人客户开的店,昨夜已经被抢空。

A riot broke out in Thaba Nchu, Free State. Many black people started attacking Chinese, Indian and Pakistani shops on Sunday night. This morning [July 2] around 10am, a couple of dozen people started attacking our factory and other factories in the district. We fought back and the black people failed. But the Indian furniture factory next door has been raided as they don't have enough security. In the black town, all our Chinese clients’ shops were emptied last night.

骚乱目前没有结束,本地警力根本不够应付,白天打电话报警,据说有附近中国人店及印巴人店到处被抢砸烧,警察不够。只来了一辆警车。厂区过大,厂里的人只能分成几批看守各处。有人纵火。现在我们厂妇女儿童先撤离到Bloemfontein市区,男同胞仍留在厂里和保安公司的人以及几个警察一起守在厂区。

The riot hasn't stopped yet. The police force cannot cope with the situation. It is said that some Chinese, Indian and Pakistani shops have been set on fire, and only one police vehicle has arrived. The factory campus is too huge. Workers have been divided into several groups to guard the factory. Someone tried to light a fire. Now all the women and children have retreated to the centre of Bloemfontein while the men have stayed to guard the factory with the security staff and police.

骚乱由部分黑人带头,绝大多数的附近黑人区的人闻讯乘火打劫。骚乱起因是南非本地政府取缔街头黑人小摊,黑人迁怒于中国人和印巴人开的店,然后波及到附近工厂。不知南非政府何时能控制住这个局面。在我带家人和同事撤离的时候,看到一辆可以押送大量犯人的囚车抛锚在高速公路上。骚乱的人暂时没有枪。

The riot is led by some black people. The majority of the rioters are from the black district. They joined the riot to rob the shops. The riot is a reaction to the municipality's policy of cracking down on street hawkers, and the black people blame Chinese, Indian and Pakistani shops for that. The riot then spread to the factory district. I wonder when the South African government will be able to take control of the situation. When I retreated with my family and colleagues, I saw a large police vehicle broken down on the highway. So far the rioters have not had guns.

#南非小镇黑人骚乱,华人受难#希望能够找到帮助我们的人,转发也是力量,大使馆目前没有做出明确回复。我们只能靠一己之力对抗,情势不容乐观,目前骚乱地区的黑人仍然大量聚集,现在是南非时间晚上11点。

Hope to find someone to help us, please repost my messages. The Chinese consulate has not replied to us yet. We can only defend ourselves and the situation is not looking good. A large number of black people are still occupying the town. It is now about 11pm South African time.

会的,现在暂时有保安公司持枪警卫和几个警察,因为骚乱的人群暂时没有枪,拿着铁棍砖头等威胁,早上被攻破一次,抢了点东西。当时我们没有足够防备,我都懵了,后来来了一辆警车,于是我们组织起来抵抗。暂时我们准备抵抗等待情势好转。

Now there are security and police armed with guns on the factory campus. The rioters are only armed with iron rods and stones. They managed to break in once and steal a few things. They caught us by surprise and we were not prepared. Later a police car arrived and we organized to defend ourselves. Hope the situation will get better.

早上事发时我们听到外面喧哗,本以为是普通劳工问题,结果我走出去才发现比较严重,来人都手拿铁棍,见中国人就要打。我当时被抓住无法逃脱,因办公室当时全是女的,我把钥匙扔给同事让她赶紧关门。对方拿砖头恐吓让我开附属小店的门,并砸了办公室玻璃门,一名同事因担心我站在门口被碎玻璃击伤面部。

In the morning, we heard noise and thought that it was just some labour conflict. When I went out then I realized that it was far more serious. The intruders had iron rods in their hands and they beat up all the Chinese they came across. I was caught at first. Since all the staff in the office are female, I threw the key to one of my colleagues and asked her to close the door. The rioters threatened me with bricks and asked me to open the door of a campus shop. They also broke the office window; a colleague was hurt by the glass as she was standing close to the window to see what was happening to me.

玻璃门被砸碎后我怕抢匪会冲进办公室去,无奈之下我只好让同事从破损的门里把钥匙给我,然后开了边上的小店店门,他们几个人手拿铁棍板砖拉我进去,问我钱在哪里,我说我们是给员工设的小卖部没有现金,然后他们拿出大的袋子开始装香烟等贵的东西,这个时候远处已经有警车声,他们就匆忙带着东西跑。

Since I was worried that the looters would break into the office, I asked my colleague to give me the key of the shop, and opened the door. They dragged me into the shop and asked me where they could find the money. I told them that that it was just a snack shop and there wasn't any cash. They took out some huge bags to gather expensive items, such as cigarettes. Then they heard the sound of a police siren and ran away.

现在工厂外多了4辆防爆警车,隔壁被抢空的家具厂厂主今天早上到达,问我们借铲车把剩余的东西通过警车转运出去准备撤离。我们厂里到目前大家都还安全。咨询了当地警察和保安公司,现在如果有黑人暴力冲击我们可以开枪。目前是警察和私人保安公司持枪防卫。目前的情势允许我们抵抗。

Now four more anti-riot police vehicles have arrived. The owner of the furniture factory next door has returned, and he borrowed our forklift to move their remaining goods away. Our factory remains safe. We have obtained permission from the police to open fire to defend ourselves from the black rioters. The police and security are all armed with guns now and we can defend ourselves.

回复@只争昭羲: 隔壁厂被抢空了,就是因为缺乏防守。我们还一直防卫着,现在情势没有恶化,目前不能这么轻易放弃,因为那么多人根本没地方去。在工厂里团结起来还好一些。我们昨天联系使馆,使馆也没再联系过我们,我们联系了上海商会,在条件允许下现在不能放弃。准备去买彩弹枪

Reply to @只争昭羲: The reason why the factory next door was emptied is because they did not have their own defense. We keep defending ourselves and have managed to control the situation. We can't give up as we have nowhere to go. It is better to fight together. We contacted the Chinese Consulate yesterday, but they have not called us back. We also contacted the Shanghai Business Association. We can't give up now. Will buy more [modified] paintball guns.

回复@只争昭羲: 恩,工厂里每个厂区边上都有高压水龙头,厂里也有灭火器,严阵以待。我们只所以不放弃,一个骚乱人群不是武装抢劫,如果是武装抢劫我们肯定全撤了,而且还要考虑以后,毕竟工厂这么大,如果不抵抗一下,我们更怕黑人会习惯性来抢劫。

Reply to @只争昭羲 We have high pressure water cannons on the campus, also fire extinguishers. The reason why we won't give up is that the rioters are not armed. If they were armed, we would definitely leave. As the factory is so big, if we don't defend it, we are afraid that the black people may get used to looting us.

July 5, 2012

本来准备今天回工厂去,结果回程路上接到工厂来的电话,办公室的黑人员工听说骚乱的人因为在我们工厂遇到抵抗没有抢成功,可能准备再次聚集来抢。不过今天一天过去目前还没有再次骚乱的迹象。现在厂外有警察,场内有中国员工和保安公司人员日夜守护,应该没有问题。我们准备明天回厂。

I planned to return to the factory today, but got a phone call on my way. A black colleague heard that the rioters may launch another looting attack again today. But until now there is no sign of it. There are police officers outside the factory and the local security staff and Chinese workers are taking turns day and night to guard the factory. I am planning to go to the factory tomorrow.

周一的南非新闻说本地警方抓了150多个犯罪嫌疑人,同事说目前抓了300多人

Local news in South Africa on Monday [July 2] said that police have arrested more than 150 suspects. But my colleague told me more than 300 had been arrested.

据昨天在Bloemfontein中国餐厅打工的朋友说,昨天来吃饭的福建商人说,在本周一晚上的骚乱中,有福建商人为了捍卫自己的商店,向骚乱人群开枪示警,并没有伤人。结果警察局不去抓抢匪,反而反过来追究是哪个中国人开的枪。听到这样的新闻我们也很无奈,不知道大使馆是否会出面妥善交涉处理。

Yesterday a friend working in a Chinese restaurant in Bloemfontein heard from a Fujian businessman that on Monday night, another Fujian businessman opened fire to warn the rioters away from his shop; he did not hurt anyone, but was arrested by the police. I feel so frustrated about the news and wonder if the Chinese consulate will step in.

July 6, 2012

俺们今天回工厂了。路过黑人区街道时,看到零星的黑人,不知为何他们每个人在我眼里看上去都像罪犯。虽然还是有各路传言,但回到家里还是让我感到放松。办公室被打破的门已经用铁皮补上了。晚饭时间大家聚在一起,体验了一把彩弹枪、大小气枪的不同手感,学了如何上膛。并且我开始很认真的考虑想学枪了

We returned to the factory today. When I passed through the black district, seeing black people scattered here and there, I felt that they really looked like criminals. There are so many rumors, but I found it still peaceful back home. The broken door in the office had been fixed with an iron sheet. We gathered at dinner time and started learning how to use the [modified] paintball guns and air guns. I am serious about learning how to fire a gun.
  • http://www.facebook.com/marius.eric.visser Marius Visser

    I’m disappointed there are no comments here. Thank you Oiwan Lam for bringing this valuable story to our attention. 

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