South Africans in China love its efficient COVID-19 response, but racism remains

Beijing-based South African English teachers say an efficient public service and an obedient citizenry have allowed China to control the spread of COVID-19 better than most countries.

People line up to be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus outside a hospital in Beijing on 28 January 2021. Picture: Greg Baker/AFP

DURBAN - While many countries are still battling the scourge of COVID-19, some South Africans living in China have told Eyewitness News that life for most people in that country was returning to normal.

The coronavirus was initially detected in Wuhan in China in late 2019 and soon began to spread around the world.

While China was earlier criticised by several countries, including the United States, for the outbreak, it became renowned for implementing effective measures that have enabled it to prevent major domestic outbreaks.

South Africans living in China recounted how that country managed COVID-19.

Beijing-based South African English teachers Lungi Shiba, Inganele Mathenjwa and Msizi Didi - who live in Tianjian - said that an efficient public service and an obedient citizenry allowed China to control the spread of COVID-19 better than most countries.

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Didi has commended China’s law enforcement system.

"It is very difficult to break the law in China because if you break the law, you will be found. It doesn't take the police longer than three hours to find you."

Shiba said that most people in the country were now returning to their pre-COVID-19 lives.

"Just last weekend, I was out. Clubs are popping, there's people everywhere."

Mathenjwa said that China implemented a technology-based trace and tracking system, which allowed officials to detect risks in real-time.

"For you to get into a taxi, an Uber or a restaurant or a club, you have to scan a code and then it says that you're fine and then you can get in. If it says that you're not fine, then you're going to the hospital somewhere."

Despite adulation for China’s COVID-19 control measures, the group expressed scepticism about being inoculated with the country’s Sinovac and Sinopharm's vaccines, which are yet to complete final trials.

RACISM EXACERBATED

The teachers also told Eyewitness News that racism and stereotypes against Africans still persisted in China and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the virus originated in Wuhan, China, incidents of Africans being blamed for the domestic spread of the virus have been reported. This has led to calls from non-profit organisations, including Human Rights Watch, for the Chinese government to intervene.

READ: South Africans say China is discriminating against Africans over COVID-19

Shiba said that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed anti-foreigner sentiments in China.

"As they gradually opened places, we were allowed to move freely, you could see that there was this weird shift that was happening amongst the locals themselves, where all of a sudden it's the Africans that are bringing the disease to the country. There are clubs here in Beijing that don't allow black people to enter. It's still a thing."

Shiba’s colleague, Mathenjwa, shared other experiences.

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"I had people pulling up their masks around me and maybe someone doesn't want to get in the same elevator as me. But for that part, I think it's just stupidity and honestly, if you're going to wait for the next elevator, that's on you, I'm going up. I don't care."

While the pair have expressed disappointment over racist elements in China, they have expressed great admiration for how the country has managed the COVID-19 pandemic.

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