South Africa apparently has the largest population of Chinese in Africa, most of who reside in Johannesburg. So it’s not surprising that Chinese New Year is celebrated with great gusto and fanfare. K and I, along with some friends decided to partake in the festivities this weekend and were a part of a huge multi-cultural crowd that had gathered in Newtown on Saturday night.
This is the year of the ‘goat’ as per the Chinese zodiac. The new year began on 19th February and will continue until 5th March.
As far as history goes, Chinese immigrants, mostly from Canton, started arriving in South Africa from the 1800’s, looking to make their fortune in mining. However, given the racial discrimination and anti-Chinese sentiment at that time, the Chinese were unable to secure mining permits. As a result, they set up small businesses such as laundries, tea shops, and restaurants, and the area towards the end of Commissioner Street in downtown Joburg came to be known as the First Chinatown. It’s a popular belief that most Chinese in South Africa are descendants of contracted miners that were brought from China between 1904 and 1910. However, this is a myth. These miners were repatriated after 1910 because of the opposition from the Whites.
Crime and urban decay in downtown Joburg led to most Chinese moving their businesses to other parts of Joburg and the country. This led to the creation of a ‘new’ Chinatown that is located in Cyrildene, in the eastern suburbs. My post on Cyrildene can be read here.
Despite the mass relocation, first Chinatown has retained some of its stalwarts such as the oldest super market and grocery store, Sui Hing Hong and the Swallows Inn, the oldest surviving restaurant in the area.
Every year, the First Chinatown comes alive during the Chinese New Year and this year was no different. The street was festooned with Chinese lanterns, restaurants packed with revellers and there were tons of street stalls selling sticky rice with sweet and sour pork, noodles, dumplings, chicken satay and other Asian delights.
No traditional Chinese celebration is complete without the Lion dance and so even in Joburg, we were not disappointed. There were two lion dancers – in yellow and in red, mimicking the lions movements in giant costumes. Amid all these festivities, how could the Dragon be far behind! A large number of people performed this dance, holding the dragon on poles.
The evening also included martial arts, traditional dances and tai-chi performances. But the highlight was the splendid display of fireworks that marked the closing of the celebrations.
(Please click the slideshow for more images)