Classifying people in terms of skin colour leads to intolerance and marginalises those who cannot be defined, a Chinese-South African journalist warned this week.
"In a country where people are black or white everyone else who is in-between falls off the radar. Belonging to a country should not be determined by skin colour or struggle credentials," Ufrieda Ho said at Wits University, Johannesburg.
Ho delivered a presentation titled "The Invisible Yellow Dragon: The Experiences of Chinese Migrants in South Africa", after the uproar caused by the Pretoria high court classifying Chinese South Africans as black.
The ruling means that the 10 000-strong South African Chinese community classified as coloureds under apartheid, qualify for redress under employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment.
Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana criticised the ruling and said it did not allow Chinese South Africans to mistreat workers or to pretend to labour inspectors that they could not speak a South African language.
Black businesses also rejected the ruling, calling it a "disappointing revision of the struggle for economic emancipation in South Africa".
Ho said this backlash and frequent associations with crime pushed this community further to the periphery of society, rendering them "voiceless and invisible".
She said the Chinese did not feature prominently in the struggle against apartheid because of their status as an immigrant population and a minority who were either "too black or too white".
She cited the discrimination that Chinese migrants faced and how skin colour was used as "a marker for torment".
Ho said the ruling would benefit only the 10000 Chinese who were South African citizens before 1994. She said the judgment would help make the Chinese community more visible and restore their dignity.