With love from Mandela-land

Updated: 2016-04-12 07:36

By Chitralekha Basu(HK Edition)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

In the third edition of our series on people from other cultures who have made Hong Kong their home, we turn the spotlight on expats from South Africa. Report by Chitralekha Basu.

Maxine Barnett says there is reason enough to continue to be optimistic about Chinese investment in Africa. And that at a time when China's apparent slowdown is perceived to have affected African growth. She probably has a perspective on the evolving commercial ties between the two countries, having been an investment banker who has closely watched the trajectory of Chinese participation in African projects since the early 2000s. Barnett launched her own private equity investment firm, Acorus, in 2011, to facilitate Chinese investment in African countries. The projects her company was involved in - one of Africa's largest cell tower companies, for example, and a major cable manufacturing enterprise in Ghana - are beginning to show results.

She, in fact, is looking for opportunities in the current downturn in the emerging markets. "We see the significant depreciation of the South African Rand as a good entry point to invest in some world-class South African businesses and many of our Chinese partners share our view," she says. "Our main focus is to zoom in on fantastic companies that are robust enough to make it through tough times and continue to grow."

The predisposition to look for positivity in apparent disaster falls in line with traditional Chinese philosophy. Barnett has been here a while. Originally from Johannesburg, she arrived in Hong Kong via London in 2004, assigned to deal with the Asian markets by the European investment bank she worked for then. At that time "the focus of China investment in Africa was very much commodities- or infrastructure-driven and very much government to government," she recounts. She was looking to contribute in the area of more value-driven investment. "We felt the China-South Africa relationship could evolve into something much more fundamental, sustainable and long-term and that could involve the private sector."

Four years after she founded Acorus, Barnett has extended her ambit from South Africa to include Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana, and the search for "more suitable candidates for investment" in other African countries continues.

Hong Kong was always her first choice to set up Acorus and not least because of the easy connectivity with Johannesburg and the flexible legal framework the city offers. "I enjoy being able to run my business from a place that allows me to be efficient. And then you're able to translate and take that to other places where they still have much to improve."

Stoep to conquer

Dolla Bruce arrived in Hong Kong from Johannesburg in 1994. Between then and now she made two attempts to go back to live in South Africa and Namibia, where she is originally from. Almost three years back when she boarded the plane from Johannesburg she suddenly realized the journey back to Hong Kong felt like going home. While the vibes she got in her native terrain did not seem particularly sensitive to the needs of a single woman, "Hong Kong is completely safe and I found the total independence I was looking for."

Bruce runs Stoep, Hong Kong's only eatery serving South African delicacies. An al fresco restaurant located on Lower Cheung Sha Beach, it's a great place to stock up on calories after a swim or exhausting jog along the Lantau Island coastline. Bruce does most of the cooking herself. Be it a glass of mulled wine, boerewor (farmer's sausage coiled like a spiral) or the signature bobotie (a slab of fragrant, curried beef) served with yellow rice, each item is served with a touch of personal warmth.

Unsurprisingly, South Africans craving for a taste of home cuisine keep showing up at her door. "I get a lot of support from South Africans," says Bruce. "Last year we did a beach cleaning on Nelson Mandela Day and I roasted a whole lamb for the participants."

She is a favorite with organizers of events with a South Africa connection - like the Freedom Day celebration or Rugby 7, for example. For a person with no background in catering (she worked in organizational development before moving to Hong Kong), Bruce has drawn extraordinary adulation ever since she opened her first restaurant 20 years ago. Foodies do not mind making a two and a half hour journey to her beach-side restaurant to satisfy their craving for bobotie, which is a huge booster for Bruce. "One's efforts are rewarded by people enjoying the fruits of it," she says.

Fight to the finish

Mixed martial arts fighter and instructor Vuyisile Colossa too would like combat aspirants back home in South Africa to benefit from the hard work he has put in since he arrived in Hong Kong in 2008 from Cape Town. Already a star in his homeland, Colossa chose to make Hong Kong his base, preferring to be in an atmosphere of cutthroat competition, where failure was not an option. "At home it was like: give it your best shot, see if you come through okay. In Hong Kong, ether you fight to win or you don't do it. The burden of your failure is entirely on you," says Colossa, sweating rivers after a half-hour training session with a colleague.

He grew up watching the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and now by a strange quirk of fate finds himself in the native city of the two legendary action heroes. So what does he think he could bring to a city with a well-entrenched martial arts culture?

Hong Kong's martial artists, says Colossa, "are more attuned to their original forms, like wing chun, tai chi and karate". "I decided to bring the taste of Africa to Hong Kong. However, I would have to do it by mixing the Western style with that of Africa."

He has a few significant wins in his kitty since his relocation to Hong Kong, the most recent ones being in the One Fighting Championships in 2013. At the moment, however, Colossa's attention is focused on starting a professional combat sports union to promote South African and African fighters.

As a teenager he would be awestruck by the African fighters who participated in international tournaments. "When I too started going abroad for competitions the promise I made to myself was that I would try to show the world the talent we had in South Africa."

It's a promise he hopes to deliver on when he returns to Soweto coming June.

Contact the writer at basu@chinadailyhk.com

With love from Mandela-land

With love from Mandela-land

With love from Mandela-land 

Mixed martial arts practitioner Vuyisile Colossa likes the competitive atmosphere in Hong Kong. Roy Liu / China Daily

(HK Edition 04/12/2016 page7)