Today it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that literally thousands of South Africans gives school in Russia, the Middle East and Asia. Only in China alone there are hundreds of teachers in the one internet group of which I am the administrator, called South Africans Living In China. But it’s not without dangers and problems, as one of the members of the group recently found out. Madri Strydom was detained in Beijing for sixteen days before being deported to South Africa.
Madri was not the first South African to have been deported. Neither the first who did nothing wrong and yet the Chinese showed her the door. She will certainly not be the last.
To work in China, one has to have a so-called Z visa, or work visa. Madri had it and worked well until the police arrived and arrested her and an American colleague. Their “probe” was apparently that their employer did not have a license for the branch where they worked. She was under the impression that all was well … her visa was in Chinese, and the day the police arrived, her employers were clean. She was detained with ordinary criminals and could not communicate with her husband and six-year-old at first. The South African Embassy was asked for help but was quietly silent.
Another South African woman from the Cape Town left the first plane back to South Africa after two weeks, in which she had not been placed at a school by the agent. Another victims contract was canceled after two weeks because she had a poor left arm, a disability that would “do not fit the school’s public image”.
But what’s the position really?
When I first arrived in China to educate for the first time in 2004, my New Zealand agency initially demanded that I work with a tourist visa. When I pointed out that it was against the law, the Chinese boss said, “There is something you must learn: China has no law.” It may have been so, but today China is very strict about who may work.
The big problem is that so-called agencies – some of which are in South Africa – recruit teachers for often unlicensed schools and educational institutions. English education in China is big money, especially for smaller children. Parents are prepared to pay fortunes to expose their toddlers to English as early as possible. Teachers themselves benefit from it but then again the schools themselves make fortunes from it. Funny enough, salaries at universities are much less than at schools because parents do not want to pay for their older children’s English education.
I myself presented a holiday course at a university in Zhengzhou when the local police asked me to show my passport and visa. The problem was that I was registered in Beijing. The Chinese head of the course, however, intervene and requested them to leave me alone. However, she said that my visa did not allow me give class there. On my question, if it’s something new, she said the rule has long been on the lawbook, but never applied strictly.
Elkarien, my wife, was interrogated for three days at intervals when she went to visit our son in a different city and province without her passport. Her application for a new visa, however, was submitted and she had the documentation to substantiate it. However, my son’s school saved her and she was not locked up.
As I write here, our son is in the highest need at a school situated in the east of the country. The reason? He is the only teacher at the school who has a legal Z-visa, and if the police strike and close the school, all (other) teachers can be deported . Drakonic measures now apply for an international conference.
My advice to South Africans who wants to work there is to always carry your passport or at least one copy thereof. Just a Z-visa, together with a degree and two-year experience, gives you the right to work in China. I have even heard that someone arrives without a degree in China and is provided with a perfect false certificate from Unisa by his employers. There are also agencies that hire only matric South Africans to work with a tourist visa. When the aspirant teacher gets into trouble, the employers disappear without a trace. One of the members of South Africans Living in China, which makes her work to protect South Africans and point out the rotten apples, is even threatened with death … from South Africa.
What is very important is to first review any agency’s bona fides. This practice unfortunately means that South Africans who worked there returned as agents / recruits to South Africa. They earn thousands of rands on commission, but are not in China to help if jobseekers add problems.
In the South Africans Living in China group there are more than 1,400 members of all races today. As an administrator, I’m overwhelmed every day with requests from people who want to join. I try my best to limit the applications from South-Africans to protect them. After all, I was ten years there. If someone gets a job, it would be wise to do research on the internet and get references from people who had dealt with the same employer, but also members of the group to ask their opinion. We can also help with the complicated steps to get a visa, and so on.
Remember, there is also a culture shock. Strange people, strange food, strange habits. But remember, you’re no longer in South Africa and try to be open to new experiences.
And what about Madri Strydom? She said if she had not been banned for five years, she would want to go back tomorrow. The Chinese, she says, are warm and friendly people who are eager to help the laai laowai, known as strangers in China.
China remains a unique experience!
The original article can be found in Afrikaans on Maroela Media