African diplomats have threatened to shut down their consulates following the racist attacks and maltreatment of Nigerians and other Africans by Chinese officials in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.
The African Consuls-General in a protest letter to the Chinese Government noted that Africans were being denied hotel accommodation upon arrival in Guangzhou, adding that they were also subjected to an additional 14-day quarantine at various isolation centres after being cleared and issued an appropriate certificate of release by the Centralised Quarantine and Medical Observation.
They warned Beijing that their home countries might retaliate against Chinese nationals if the stigmatisation of Nigerians and other Africans was not speedily resolved.
A viral video had shown some Nigerians in Guangzhou being evicted from their homes and hotels and chased down the streets by Chinese policemen.
The Nigerians complained that they were placed under compulsory 14-day quarantine, adding that despite testing negative for COVID-19, the authorities insisted that the quarantine period would be extended by another two weeks, a directive they resisted.
The Chinese officials were also said to have confiscated the passports of the Nigerians.
A video of Mr Razaq Lawal, head of the Nigerian consulate in Guangzhou, tackling a Chinese official for seizing the passports of some Nigerians later surfaced on the Internet.
Following the incident, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Zhou Pingjian, twice in a week to express the displeasure of the Federal Government on the development.
The minister said the government would hasten the evacuation of Nigerians in China and also demand compensation from the Chinese authorities.
But taking up the matter with Beijing, the African diplomats accused China of discriminating against their nationals, warning that the situation could degenerate if not properly handled.
In line with Article 5 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963, they called on the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office to intervene and address the complaints.
The Consuls demanded a prompt reversal of Guangdong’s policy on “the selective attack on Africans as well as unannounced visits to homes after the working hours.”
They also asked the Chinese authorities to direct hotels to accommodate Africans and stop forcible eviction of the nationals from their apartments.
The diplomats stated, “In the consequence that the issues are not properly resolved promptly, the African Consulates-General will be left with no option but to communicate to our home country the racial bias and discrimination against Africans in China.
“We would also bring the same to the attention of the international community-United Nations, International Criminal Court, International Court of Arbitration, World Health Organisation, Amnesty International, African Union, among others.
“We would have no option but to retaliate the same ill-treatment meted out on our nationals to the Chinese nationals in our various countries; close all the African Consulates in Guangzhou until further notice and engage in general street protest by the African Consulates-General and nationals,” the diplomats warned.
Videos showing the recent mistreatment of Africans living in the Chinese city of Guangzhou have ricocheted around African broadcast and social media in recent days.
Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China, is closely linked to Hong Kong and Macau, and has the largest African community in Asia. The majority are from the West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Mali. As a pioneering city at the heart of China’s economic reform, Guangzhou is the hub of the country’s export-driven manufacturing sector, an industry which has always been considered open, tolerant and progressive.
But amid fear of imported coronavirus cases and a second wave of the pandemic in China, the local government implemented surveillance and mandatory testing and an additional 14-day quarantine for all African nationals in the city, regardless of whether they tested positive for COVID-19. These measures paid no regard to whether people had recently travelled out of China, or how they would be mistreated by landlords, hotel managers and shopkeepers.
As a result, many Africans in Guangzhou, including Nigerians, Ugandans and Ghanaians, have been subject to unfair treatment. Some have being evicted by landlords or rejected by hotels, and some even left homeless.
The city, and the government in Beijing, are now facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis and PR disaster amid accusations of racism. A group of African ambassadors in Beijing wrote a letter of complaint to the Chinese government about the “stigmatisation and discrimination” being faced by Africans. Other African diplomats, facing domestic pressure, have held discussions with representatives from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Many African countries will be particularly disappointed given how much their diplomats have spoken up for China on the international stage. African governments have supported China on issues including its membership of the UN in the 1970s, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
In recent weeks, China has been working hard on its “coronavirus diplomacy” to show it is on the path to recovery from the pandemic. Such incidents threaten its propaganda battle. In Kenya, the hashtag #DeportRacistChinese was trending on Twitter in mid April after Kenyan internet users saw reports of Kenyans and other Africans being treated unfairly. Moses Kuria, an MP from Kenya’s ruling party, even advocated Chinese people in Kenya should go back to China with immediate effect.
Xenophobia and racism online
Previous research has shown how comments with characteristics of right-wing populism and supremacism of ethnically Han Chinese people, xenophobia and racism have increased in Chinese cyberspace in the past decade, with little public criticism.
After reports in early April that a Nigerian coronavirus patient had attacked and bitten the face of a Chinese nurse in a bid to escape quarantine, Chinese social media platform Weibo erupted with xenophobic and racist sentiment.
China’s official discourse on the China-Africa relationship has always been portrayed as either a “win-win” or an “all-weather” friendship. Public sensitivity in China to racism, particularly to Africans, has been low and China’s censorship department appears to tolerate racism online.
Little effort has been made to educate the Chinese public against racism, or to emphasise the importance of political correctness. So it’s not surprising the past few years have seen racist tropes appear in a Chinese detergent advert and on China’s biggest lunar new year television show.
Many Chinese believe that foreigners have been given extra benefits, leading to concerns about unfairness and inequality. In late February, when the government published draft regulations to ease conditions for foreigners to get permanent residency in China, it was met with strong opposition online amid rising nationalist sentiment. Africans in Guangzhou were frequently mentioned by Chinese internet users as an example of why foreigners should not be welcomed in the country.
Local and central government agendas
The recent mistreatment of Africans in Guangzhou shows the different priorities of local and central politics in China. The Guangzhou municipal government faces unprecedented pressure to stop a second wave of coronavirus. If the local government can successfully avoid a second outbreak, it might determine the future promotion of some senior officials.
China’s central government is concerned with containing the virus and restoring economic growth. As countries such as the US have begun to use China as a scapegoat for their own slow response to the pandemic, the party-state is more concerned than ever about its global image.
But there’s a big gap between the central government in control of foreign policy and the local agencies that enforce immigration. So when local governments like those in Guangzhou make decisions in a crisis, they won’t prioritise national and diplomatic interests until they receive pressure and guidance from Beijing.
Beijing has now begun to repair the diplomatic damage. On April 13, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would adjust its coronavirus restrictions on African nationals, provide them with health services without discrimination and adjust accommodation prices for those in financial difficulties. Chinese Weibo also closed 180 accounts for “inciting discrimination” and is discouraging its users from sharing news involving foreigners and foreign countries.
Officials and community leaders in Guangzhou have also began to realise the importance of treating Africans decently and started to send them flowers and gifts, according to people I’ve spoken to in the city in recent days. Civil society groups are also making an effort, with volunteers offering supplies and psychological support to people in need.
It’s possible this may be too little too late. Many African hearts have been broken, but it’s still possible to make amends.
Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 1,775 to 141,672, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday, marking the second consecutive day that the number of new infections had fallen.
The reported death toll rose by 110 to 4,404, the tally showed.
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Sunday extended a lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus by two weeks, but will allow mining companies to get back to work.
Mnangagwa said the lockdown would continue because the country had not yet met conditions set down by the World Health Organization to lift the measures.
Three people have died from the virus out of the 25 confirmed infected in the southern African country, but health experts expect the figures to rise once authorities ramp up testing.
“It has been a very hard decision that my government has had to take reluctantly,” Mnangagwa said in a live television broadcast.
Mnangagwa said the government would allow mining companies, which generate the most foreign currency, to resume full operations while manufacturers would work at limited capacity. Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe include local operations of Impala Platinum Holdings and Anglo American Platinum.
Zimbabwe began a 21-day lockdown on March 30, which has confined most people to their homes. But in poor townships, people are venturing out in search of staples like maize meal, leading to long queues at the shops.
The lockdown has left many citizens without an income and food at a time the country is grappling with the worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, food and medicines.
In the capital Harare, city council officials, with the help of police and soldiers, were on Sunday tearing down illegal market stalls used by informal traders in townships.
The move was strongly criticised by citizens in the country where more than 80% of the working population have no formal jobs and eke a living from informal markets.
City authorities defended the move saying it was necessary to restore order in the city and that informal traders would be relocated to new and better facilities.
The 35-day lockdown period to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, will have a major impact on the 525,000 small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa, putting 6.6 million jobs at risk.
This is according to Adrian Gore, a member of the CEO Initiative, chairman of the SA SME Fund, and chief executive officer of Discovery, who said: “Given the lockdown, the vast majority are unable to pay their rent, utilities, and importantly, their employees.
“Initial surveys indicate that 60% of SMEs are either considering retrenching employees, or already have. This is a significant threat to the SA economy, with many millions of jobs at risk.”
The CEO Initiative, which was established in 2016 as a collaboration between government and business to address some of the most pressing challenges to the country’s economic growth, is supporting the call of Business for SA (BSA) for all large companies to pay their SME creditors by Monday 20 April 2020.
Sim Tshabalala, a member of the CEO Initiative, and chief executive officer of Standard Bank, said: “These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary commitment from CEOs and large corporates. The Government has asked South Africans to stay home under a 35-day lockdown. This is tough for every individual, and every business, but most especially difficult for small and
“They are under enormous strain and we are already seeing many businesses having to close their doors, which has a significant impact on their ability to sustain their employees.
“Even outside of the lockdown, many of these businesses often do not have the cash flow needed in order to maintain sustainability. We believe early payment is the right thing to do and will have a significant impact on their ability to survive and keep paying their employees.”
University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) visiting lecturer in corporate finance, Brett Hamilton, said the Covid-19 pandemic will lead to business failures, with the SA Reserve Bank estimating an additional 1,600 business insolvencies this year, while the “fattest” – those with the strongest cash reserves – will likely survive.
“We find ourselves in one of the most uncertain periods of human history. It is blurring the lines between business, government and society. Policymakers are confronted with an unprecedented, and impossible, trade-off between public health and economic growth.
“Given the speed and uncertainty under which these complex decisions are made, we have seen unprecedented actions from governments, central banks and businesses. In many cases, governments have overstepped their usual political and ideological boundaries and business has somewhat embraced stakeholders over shareholders.
“Fighting the spread of the coronavirus requires ‘big government’ and ‘business with a heart’ to work together – it may be expected and the right thing to do in a crisis, but the question is if these roles will remain after the pandemic,” he said.
Hamilton, a director at First River Capital, said cashflow is “the lifeblood of any organisation” but lockdown has severely restricted businesses’ ability to generate cash through operations, while accessing cash through debt or equity investment are limited in the current economic climate, and possibly unwise.
The latest downgrade by Moody’s of South Africa’s credit rating to sub-investment grade severely restricts the country’s access to debt and has seen a spike in the cost of debt, he said, noting that the South African 10-year government bond yield reached a maximum of 12.36% on 24 March compared with a low of 7.9% in 2018.
“So, debt may do more harm than good during these times, even with the debt relief pledges made by banks,” he said.
This leaves “Alpha companies” – large, mature and cash-flush – in prime position to weather the storm, buy out their competitors and continue to invest for growth after the pandemic, he said.
“Markets will become more concentrated and the position of incumbents more entrenched. The business world will look different after the pandemic and it will most likely fall on governments to regulate the new ‘Alphas’ to ensure better competition.
“If it should do so and how it should be achieved remains to be seen,” he said.
Hamilton noted that during the pandemic we have seen many companies shift to a more socialist stance, offering free products, expertise and financial aid to their employees and to other virus-related efforts.
Is this perhaps the dawn of a new social contract?
Hamilton pointed to a 2017 report funded by the South Africa Department of Trade and Industry and published by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development which held that South African companies were accumulating reserves as opposed to investing it in the economy and, thus, stimulating economic growth.
The report noted that between 2005 and 2016, the cash reserves of the top 50 companies on the JSE increased from R242 billion to R1.4 trillion and called for policy intervention from government to stimulate domestic investment by these companies and put an end to the “investment strike”.
He said that while there were counter-arguments to this – that “cash hoarding” was a myth and merely a reflection of the business environment at the time – if government policy had been used then to force South African companies to spend their cash holdings, fewer would now be in a position to weather the current storm.
“This could support the view for lower government involvement in business and the protection of the free market. That being said, government intervention during the pandemic has not only been welcomed by many, but in most cases has been expected.
“Similar to the financial crisis of 2008/9, governments have moved to act to protect the free market, but in many countries the interventions for the coronavirus have been more radical.
“Putting a freeze on the free market by way of lockdown is counter to the political and economic ideologies of many countries, but they have acted nonetheless,” he said.
Hamilton said that government intervention should also focus on the ability of the economy to recover after lockdown has lifted – “to ensure that enough businesses remain standing and that people are employed through the crisis to quicken the pace of recovery after the pandemic”.
“What is required is the ability for companies to maintain payroll, gain access to debt financing and for central banks to provide the latitude for banks to reschedule loans (possibly with forbearance through credit guarantees).
For this, governments must pull out all stops in terms of fiscal action,” Hamilton said.
With South Africa’s “limited fiscal latitude”, external finance would be required and should be accessed from as many sources as possible, including bonds, accessing the capital market, as well as a reliance on development banks such as the IMF.
South African Airways plans to lay off its entire workforce after failing to persuade the government to provide more financial aid, a move that threatens to ground the 86-year-old carrier for good.
The state-owned airline has offered severance deals to all 4,700 staff from the end of this month after administrators concluded that a successful turnaround is now unlikely, according to a proposal to eight labor groups seen by Bloomberg News. The basic value of compensation will be one-month pay for each year of service and will depend on the successful disposal of assets such as real estate, according to the document.
No agreements have been concluded, the Department of Public Enterprises said in a statement. “There are discussions with the unions to the current South African Airways business model, success of the business rescue process, and the best possible outcome for the airlines employees,” said the statement.
SAA has relied on bailouts and state-guaranteed debt agreements for years, having last made a profit in 2011, and was put into a form of bankruptcy protection in December. Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said earlier this week that the cost of staving off the Covid-19 pandemic meant no more cash could be extended, while Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the carrier’s closure could help shore up state finances.
The coronavirus may prove the final nail in the coffin for SAA, which was reducing routes and considering job cuts even before the outbreak forced airlines around the world to ground airplanes. The industry could lose $314 billion in ticket sales this year, according to the International Air Transport Association, as lockdowns and travel bans take an increasingly heavy toll on the global economy.
SAA has been flying cargo planes and chartered flights to countries such as Germany and Brazil in recent weeks, but no commercial passenger services. The plan to offer severance packages to all staff was first reported by the News24 website.
The team of administrators led by Les Matuson and Sizwe Dongwana will now look to sell assets and raise cash to repay creditors. Two prized night time operating slots at London’s Heathrow Airport could be up for grabs, people familiar with the situation said in February.
SAA is among several state-owned companies to have become technically insolvent without financial assistance from the South African government, following years of mismanagement and corruption scandals -- particularly under the presidency of Jacob Zuma, which ended in 2018.
The airline has had at least nine chief executive officers in the past decade, hampering attempts at a turnaround, while responsibility for the carrier was passed from the Department of Public Enterprises to the National Treasury and back again.
Source: Bloomberg News