Asians in South Africa

Fascinating life story of Roderick Lim Banda, one of my colleagues, who is a South African of Chinese and Filipino descent. He is such a generous, kind and incredibly knowledgeable man. He and his wife are a power couple of sorts.

In my most recent trip to Capetown, I had the pleasure of learning more about his life. He knew that I was especially intrigued with his life story because I had conducted research on Chinese and African workplace relationships, although my work focused more on recent migrations.

His parents were both missionary doctors who lived in Africa for most of their lives. His mother was Filipino and his father was Chinese. His father came from a poor Protestant background and his mother, a wealthier, Catholic one, but they were united by their mission to serve the sick and poor in rural areas in African countries.

Their first mission was in Nigeria in the 1970s. For part of the time, his father served alone. His mother and the children went to the United States to attend primary and middle school. Roderick and his siblings spend the first part of their education in the 1980s in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, his father in Nigeria had been abducted by politicians who promised their people medical care, but did not have the trained staff to provide the care, so they did it through kidnapping people and using them for forced labor. His father was kept in the Southeast side of Nigeria where the regions had been decimated due to wars.

When his mother did not hear back from his father, she went in search of him and was kidnapped as well. They were prisoners for a total of 2 years and eventually escaped to Spain. The experience was traumatizing for them, but they became even more dedicated to living and working in African countries.

They went southward and travelled all over the southern parts of Africa. Roderick and his siblings joined them. Every two years, they were assigned to work in a new remote locations. Then, the Namibian government hired them to work as doctors in rural areas. Roderick’s mother focused on women’s diseases and later, HIV/AIDS, and became very famous for her programs and his father worked on men’s diseases, TB and psychiatry (an interest that developed after the trauma of being kidnapped). Their main goal was to develop their practices and programs around African families.

The Namibian government wanted them to retire in the 1990s and granted them citizenship. They ended up carrying on for another 10 to 15 years. When they passed away over a decade ago, so many people attended their funerals. They had touched countless lives over the years.

His parents were passionate about seeing Africa transform. They spent their entire lives living, working and eventually retiring on the continent.

Meanwhile, Roderick says that the experiences he had were invaluable even though it was difficult moving every two years and starting over again. Because he was constantly moving around, having gone to 9 different schools in 12 years in different parts of the world, he learned to be strong and independent.

He also spent part of high school and university in South Africa under apartheid, where he was given Honorary White status. This was politically and economically motivated. Since the SA government wanted investment from the Taiwanese, South Koreans and Japanese, they gave them Honorary White status but Chinese South Africans from the mainland were classified as Coloureds or Asians until 1984. This was inconsistently applied.

Although Roderick was given Honorary White status, he says that it came with challenges, as he was typically the only non-white person in most environments and was often often bullied. He also remembers SA in the 1970s and 1980s as a police state, where people were treated in ways that were just brutal and dehumanizing. He said, “A thick oppressive air just hung around all the time. It was a horrible time.”

His mother taught him that if he ever felt sad, he should visit hospitals and talk to the sick children and treat the staff as if they were family. That was his mother’s motto. This has influenced Roderick’s decision to work as an IT specialist in the nonprofit and education world and spend his free time mentoring and teaching young children IT skills.

When asked about his identity, he said “In education, there’s the American side of me. Culturally, I’m African, South African; this is home. It will always be home.”

For more on his TEDxTalk in Capetown on creating Software Factories in Africa, check out his video:

For more information on the Chinese in South Africa, check out A Matter of Honour by Dr. Yoon Jung Park.


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