Friday, April 20, 2007

JOHANNESBURG — The rise in organized crime with links to larger crime syndicates in Hong Kong and Shanghai has led the South African government to increase surveillance of Chinese nationals.

In the past year, raids on Chinese-owned shops by special police units, often accompanied by tax inspectors, have netted millions of dollars in counterfeit clothing, unlicensed weapons, drugs and imports on which duty and sales taxes had not been paid.

In a single haul last August, at the Dragon City complex in Johannesburg — a center dominated by Chinese merchants — police took away goods, drugs and undeclared foreign currency worth $35 million.

According to Peter Gastrow, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, who has written widely on organized crime, four triads or gangs dominate the Asian underworld in South Africa and are known as the Wo Shing Wo group, San Yee On, 14K Hau and 14K-Ngai.

“South African detectives have been aware of the involvement of Chinese criminal groups in a range of activities for many years,” Mr. Gastrow said.

“These include the illicit trading of rhino horn and ivory, the importation and distribution of drugs, money laundering, tax evasion, the traffic of Chinese immigrants into South Africa, and contraband.”

Police said at a recent narcotics summit in Cape Town that most lower-end drug manufacturing was in the hands of Chinese syndicates, 90 percent of them based in the commercial hub of Johannesburg.

This does not include the country’s $3.2 billion international trade in marijuana, some of which finds its way to Britain and the United States. A pound of marijuana — known as dagga — retails for just $30 in Johannesburg, but, depending on quality, can sell for up to $1,000 on the world market.

Pirated CDs and DVDs are another area of concern as part of an estimated $340 million trade in counterfeit goods, which police say is dominated by Chinese and Pakistani immigrants.

Economists also are concerned by Beijing’s overt deals. In recent years South Africa has lost more than 70,000 jobs in the garment sector because of cheap imports from China. The World Trade Organization estimates that, in 2006, Chinese clothing exports to South Africa jumped by 81 percent to $1.3 billion.

Union groups in Kenya, Malawi, Lesotho and Namibia have voiced concern that trade between China and Africa has risen from $11 billion in 2000 to $56 billion last year, mostly from the importing of retail goods.

In February, Chinese President Hu Jintao, accompanied by trade officials, completed a 12-day tour of Cameroon, Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles and Sudan.

Despite this and a wave other diplomatic efforts from Beijing to improve its image on the continent, Peter Chu, who works as an engineer in the port city of Durban, said there has been “a rise of anti-Chinese feeling” in Africa.

“There have been many assaults on Orientals, both here and in the rest of South Africa, and I have no doubt some of it is racial,” he said.

“We are seen as newcomers who take away jobs from the locals, but some of us have been here a long time and we are South Africans,” said Mr. Chu, whose great-grandfather came to South Africa from California in 1887.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide