SA comes first, say country's Chinese MPs

Published May 8, 2004


A passionate environmentalist, an award-winning businesswoman and a shy fashionista are among South Africa's first Chinese members of parliament.

Christopher Wang is one of the seven Independent Democrat representatives, Eugenia Shi-Chia Chang is an Inkatha Freedom Party MP, Sherry Su-Huei Chen, a member of the National Council of the Provinces, belongs to the Democratic Alliance and Shiaan-bin Huang is an African National Congress MP. All are originally from Taiwan.

Although happy that the Chinese community is now represented in parliament, Huang warned that the media should be careful about how they reported the news.

Refusing to pose for a group picture, Huang charged: "Is it because we are all Chinese that you want a picture of us together?

"We are all from different parties so we will take separate pictures," he said.

Wang, who at 26 is the youngest member of parliament, quipped: "Trust the ANC to be different.

"I think it shows that Chinese people are beginning to show an interest in SA politics. I intend using my position firstly to help citizens of South Africa and secondly to protect the Chinese community's interests.," said Wang.

"But I am concerned about the numbers of illegal Chinese immigrants in SA. I will put the interests of South Africans before those of illegal Chinese."

Wang said he had always been upset by the lack of protection of the country's marine resources and had been a volunteer worker at the Two Oceans Aquarium in his youth.

His mother introduced him to various charitable organisations at a young age, which he credits with opening his mind to the possibility of becoming a politician.

"I started thinking that I'd like someone to be in government to protect the marine resources. I never thought I'd do it myself," he said.

After meeting ID leader Patricia de Lille at a business function last year, he offered to set up a member database for her and ended up joining the party officially in January.

"I don't have any political experience but I definitely have the time and energy to learn," he said.

The DA released a media statement when Chen was sworn in as an MP, hailing the "accomplished business person" as "the first Chinese-South African member of parliament".

She serves as the DA's permanent representative in the NCOP and has won numerous awards including the Randburg Business Person of the Year Award (1994), Gauteng Business Person of the Year Award (1994) and the Top 19 Global Chinese Business Women Award (2001).

She said she was "very excited" to see four Chinese MPs in parliament.

"Before, the Chinese people in South Africa were very inactive politically because they tended to be quite conservative.

"But with the Chinese population growing here - it's about 300 000 - we definitely need a channel to have our say.

"Also, if we are getting something out of society, it's also good that we give something back."

Huang, an ANC member for the past four years, belonged to the IFP for nearly a decade, serving as a councillor in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal.

"I'm from Taiwan but it's good that I'm here in parliament.

It's also good that we have four Chinese MPs so we can all contribute to this country. As long as a person has the ability, it doesn't matter where they come from," he said.

Chang has been an IFP member for two years and comes from a marketing background. She is one of the more stylish MPs, never without her heels and smart suits.

"Parliament has been quite interesting so far but I'm still trying to find my feet. One of the first things I need to learn is how to deal with newspapers," laughed Chang.

She added that she hoped to help improve trade in South Africa, "encouraging people to come here and set up factories".

"I have so much respect for my leader, His Excellency Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. He is really understanding.

"I think the Chinese MPs mustn't forget they are here to serve South Africans. I consider South Africa my country and my home," she said.

ID leader Patricia de Lille said "anybody can be a MP" as long as parties complied with the constitution.

"Chris is a South African citizen and we've been working with him for some time in the environment and information technology fields.

"I don't think we should look at ethnicity, because then we would have to look at the ethnicity of all the other members," she said.

IFP spokesperson Musa Zondi agreed, saying that

"particularising" the MPs was just as bad as "discriminating against them".

"I don't think we should raise our eyebrows about it at all," was his comment.

All South African citizens who are allowed to vote are eligible to be members of parliament.

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