In an extraordinary advert placed in The Star last week, 300,000 "South Africa Chinese" issued a most undiplomatic warning to Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga whose jolly to Taiwan in December caused a ripple of Christmas outrage.
When, I wondered, did we become a province of The People's Republic of China? I know that's how China views The Republic of China (Taiwan). And I know the governing African National Congress and the most powerful communist party in the world are the biggest chinas*, but had I missed the annexation?
The mystery advert is unsigned except by "All South Africa Chinese" and its source is unclear. It is purported to be written by the "300,000 overseas Chinese population in South Africa" who, each of them, "expresses its firm opposition to such a wrongdoing of Mayor Msimanga".
The advert sets out the detail of South Africa's one China policy and the architecture of the great wall of trade and political deals built between Pretoria and Beijing since that decision. The cementing and sealing of this relationship has been the biggest geopolitical shift undertaken by the ANC and it is, arguably, a good thing. It reoriented South Africa in a fast-changing world and allows access to the superpower for a range of businesses and has opened up excellent tourism links between the two countries.
It looks like Msimanga took the first mayoral freebie trip offered to him and it was probably ill-advised, as was Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane's visit to Israel. Both Taiwan and Israel regularly use the soft power of sponsored travel and hospitality as geopolitical public relations. Our two politicians, it seems, fell for this hook, line and sinker. Many journalists do too.
But what the advert tells us, with much smouldering indignation, is that China views South Africa as a colony. It looks like it is placed by an official Chinese source. It says it is "completely unacceptable" for Msimanga to have visited Taiwan? Who says so? There are no South African sanctions on Taiwan and there have been trade visits.
It gets worse. The 300,000 Chinese in South Africa (very precise number that) then get really hot under the cheongsam. Msimanga and other officials of Tshwane must "recognise the gravity of the recent visit to Taiwan... do not proceed any further down the wrong path, and do not engage in any more activities that would harm China-South Africa relations".
That is a threat and an instruction issued by "All South Africa Chinese" to a South African mayor and baldly carried in a leading South African newspaper, The Star. Imagine if "All South Africans in China" (of whom I am sure there are far less than 300,000) wrote such a threatening letter to the mayor of Beijing, Tshwane's counterpart in the People's Republic? I bet they would have been on the first SAA jet out of there in a diplomatic incident of notable proportion.
But, back home, it's fine to treat a mayor and a country that way? When, I wonder again, did we become a colony and not a partner of China?
*chinas – South African slang for friends