|All photos: Yoon Jung Park|
China in Africa: The Real Story is pleased to welcome this guest post from Dr. Yoon Jung Park, sociologist and author of the acclaimed A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa and a number of other studies on Chinese immigrants in Africa. She writes:
I was recently in Johannesburg and managed
to spend part of my last day there at the China Discount Shopping Mall. While
there are dozens of wholesale/distribution centers around Johannesburg, most
are south of the city center, off the main highway towards Soweto … in an area
that was reclaimed from the mine dumps that had been there for at least two or
three decades. This one, however, is different in at least two ways: (1) it is
located in the northern suburbs – typically whiter and wealthier, and (2) it is
a retail shopping center… or at least a “wholesale prices to the public” kind
It is also, in my view, an indication of
some shifts … a sign of greater economic integration of the Chinese migrant
community, certainly a sign of Chinese migrant “filling in the gaps”
opportunism and risk-taking business behaviour, as well as a sign that the
Chinese are looking to broaden their customer base and bringing the products
closer to the people in the ‘burbs.
|The consumer's choices...|
The China Discount Shopping Mall has
basically replaced the owners and installed new management and new shops in an
existing mall, which likely suffered from the recent economic challenges. While
I didn’t have enough time to do any real research, I did manage to chat with
several of the new shop managers – amongst them mainland Chinese (recently
arrived) and Taiwanese (20 years resident in South Africa), Pakistanis, and an
Ethiopian. There were many clothing shops selling popular fashions, but also
shops selling party supplies, beads, housewares, and curtaining. They even had
a dragon-shaped kiddies’ jumping castle! They also have a website (http://www.sa123.co.za/), but it seems to be
a work in progress.
As I was doing some research for my book
project, I also learned that this sort of management takeover and auction
purchasing of major shopping malls has occurred elsewhere in South Africa. “Rivonia
Square” including the formerly exclusive “The Cloisters”, in a different part
of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, has recently been purchased by a
Chinese migrant and is now called “Rivonia-Oriental City” ; they’re in the
midst of trying to convince some of the food outlets and chain stores to stay
in place as they attempt to attract higher-end Chinese retailers. Perhaps of
greater significance, both the former “Highgate Shopping Mall” just outside
Soweto and the former “Wheel Shopping Mall” in Durban are now part of the China
Mall group owned and operated by Sino-African Property (Pty). Both are located
in more economically marginal areas of the two cities and had recently suffered
a serious downturn in foot traffic.
The acquisition of these two shopping
centres add hundreds of shops to the existing China Mall-JHB, which already had
over 450 shops, a 1000 square meter food court and over 1000 parking bays!
According to their website (http://www.chinamall.co.za/)
this makes them the “biggest Chinese products market” in South Africa and
perhaps on the continent.
Several restaurants from Cyrildene’s
Chinatown (also in Johannesburg) have also expanded over the past couple years,
opening up second “branches” in Rivonia. My friend and former research
collaborator, Anna Chen, surmised that the rationale was two-fold: (1) restaurant
owners wanted to capture the wealthier white South African suburban diner
population and (2) they wanted more space to be able to open up private dining
rooms for larger parties of their Chinese regulars.
Because of growing crime in
Cyrildene (increasing numbers of luxury cars were followed home from Cyrildene
and people were carjacked and/or robbed as they pulled into their driveways and
homes), these moves have proved to be a boon for restaurant owners, as
increasing numbers of Chinese patrons now dine only at the Rivonia restaurants.
On the evening that I was at the Rivonia branch of Northern Foods (a favorite),
the restaurant was fairly quiet, but it was also quite early… by the time we
were leaving, the place was packed.
I can’t say the same about the Chinese
shopping experience … there were no huge crowds at the China Discount Shopping
Mall on the Sunday that I was there… and the survival of this mall (and the
others) will depend in large part on the health of the South African economy,
which continues to be in the doldrums.
So… Chinese traders, having started out
peddling wares in the streets of downtown Johannesburg and fighting with the
black South African street hawkers, moved into wholesale supplying thousands of
retailers from across the country and the southern Africa region, appear to be
moving into retail again, albeit at a very different level. This is a
phenomenon worth watching.