Her research points to the fact that the South African born Chinese (SABCs) form one of the smallest cultural minorities in South Africa. They are descendants of the Chinese who arrived in South Africa as free immigrants to trade and set up small businesses and service industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century. From their arrival they were discriminated against by both the Boer government of the South African Republic (ZAR) as well as the British authorities of the Cape Colony. In the ZAR they embarked on a passive resistance movement against the Black Act of 1906 which discriminated against all “Asiatics”, while in the Cape they were subjected to the strictures of the 1904 Chinese Exclusion Act. The latter made them one of the first identifiable cultural groups within South Africa to be specifically singled out and discriminated against. This discrimination was perpetuated beyond the Union of South Africa in 1910 into the apartheid era and thereafter.
Under the new post-apartheid government the South African born Chinese, who were by then already fourth and fifth generation descendants, were again discriminate against in terms of the Employment Equity Act of 1998 and the Economic Empowerment Act of 2003. The case which was eventually heard in the High Court was presented by Advocate Goerge Bizos used amongst others Prof Harris’s research along with community’s own work.
It is important to note that the percentage of South African Chinese that would benefit from this ruling was marginal. According to Prof Harris this ordeal was not about the Chinese obtaining access to economic empowerment, but rather about setting the record straight and claiming their rightful place in the chequered South African historical past. The CASA chairman endorsed this by stating that the court decision “recognized the need for human dignity for the Chinese people, who didn’t fit in under apartheid … or after 1994.” The South African Chinese were ultimately “recognised as part of the rainbow nation”.