Josef Sheehama | Feb 8, 2024 | 0
Namibian Chinese community adapts fast, also going to Swakop like the rest
It takes a bit of getting used to, to come across a Chinese walking along the beach just like any other ordinary Namibian on vacation. Not that this implies the Chinese do not know how to spend a holiday, but finding Chinese families and individuals happily walking along the beach, certainly raises the eyebrows, especially if it is the first time in more than twenty years that an oriental presence is visible along our coastline.
Compared to previous years and compared to what we regard as the norm, it was quite noticeable how many members of the local Chinese community chose to go to the coast for their annual vacation. It would be an unfounded statement to say I have never encountered a Chinese in Swakopmund since their small shops are spread across the entire country and it is just conceivable that if everybody heads for the cold water, they will do the same. But I will fail as an observer if I do not explicitly state that this holiday was the very first time in my entire life that I have actually found the Chinese on vacation in Swakopmund. To me this is an indication that for some members of the Chinese community, the assimilation process has progressed to the point where they are confident enough to actually go to exactly the same holiday spots as everybody else.
Finding Chinese residents along the beach, and not only one but several families, can be viewed from many different angles. As far as I know, there was only one family group of Chinese resident in Namibia at Independence, and this is a Taiwanese family. The large influx of Chinese nationals took place in the middle nineties but in the period since, they have become so ubiquitous, there is hardly a town where they are not present. I have even come across Chinese families in some of the larger villages in the rural areas.
But finding one, or many, on the beach certainly forces one to adjust their perspective on what is conventional and what is not. Chinese residents on holiday on the beach is definitely not conventional. It is the glaring exception, the statistical anomaly that slaps one in the face.
So why does it matter where our Chinese community choose to spend their holiday? It matters because the Chinese Ambassador is so concerned about the popular negative perceptions attached to any person with oriental features, that he has scheduled a press conference to enlighten us about Sino-Namibian relations. True, he is using this official event to slip in his own government’s point of view on their relationship with Japan, but I am fully convinced the average Namibian does not care the slightest what China and Japan do to each other over military flying zones, and over rocks in the sea. For us the issues are about undercutting tenders by not complying with the law, by exploiting local labour, and by displacement of local labour, all under the pretext that Namibians are useless for the more skilled jobs in construction.
There is also a serious measure of hypocrisy from both sides regarding the presence of Chinese nationals in Namibia. Many newspaper reports have alleged that Chinese nationals marry locals just to obtain citizenship, and there were also many allegations of citizenship dished out by the government to Chinese nationals as a favour to the Chinese government. This may be true or may be not. Personally I only know of a very limited number of individual cases of either allegations and to this day I have not seen evidence to substantiate the allegations. But if I visit China as a foreigner, I have to join a tourist group of which both the accommodation and the tourguide must be approved in advance by the Chinese government.
The point is that if I visit China, I am severely restricted in my civil liberties, for instance, who I may marry, and where I may go. As a foreign visitor to China, I am monitored by the state, and my movements, were they to depart from the scheduled itinerary, will quickly draw attention. Even people seconded to China for work, have told me that movements and rights are restricted and monitored all the time.
But when Chinese residents are allowed into Namibia, they enjoy all the liberties that I associate with our free society without any form of restriction or impairment. And this is where my main issue with finding Chinese on our beach lies. Chinese residents who are legally in Namibia, can pursue the vocation of their choice, that is, if their own government will allow them. They can stay and trade where they want, anywhere in the country, and they can go to Swakopmund on holiday without any limitation.
Perhaps the most important question is why do these individuals who enjoy our hospitality and our freedom, not speak up publicly, condemning their own government, and using their local sojourn as an example to the tell the world how free they are on a Namibian beach?