South Africa is home to the two largest populations of foreign nationals on the continent–migrants from China and Zimbabwe–and many of them are involved in the Chinese restaurant sector. Based on original ethnographic research, this paper examines the employment relationship between Chinese restaurant owners and Zimbabwean migrant workers. Several issues arising from cross-cultural misunderstandings are explored in this paper: miscommunication, attitudes and expectations, conflict resolution styles, lack of understanding racial diversity and a sense of cultural sensitivity. The Chinese concept of guanxi is discussed to examine the aspect of ‘proper’ workplace etiquette, since this cultural norm often indicates how one should act and negotiate according to one’s position in a given relationship. As my ethnographic data revealed, before coming to South Africa, most Chinese restaurant owners had no experience of operating a business, and none of their Zimbabwean employees had ever worked for Chinese people. This case study provides a concrete example of intercultural communications between two groups of migrants who are linguistically and culturally different, and how their everyday interaction is also complicated by the nature of their employer-employee relationship.

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Africa Journal of Management
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Liu 劉盈瑩, Y.-Y.T. (Ying-Ying Tiffany). (2018). (Mis)communicating through Conflicts: Chinese Restaurant Owners and Zimbabwean Employees in Johannesburg. Africa Journal of Management. doi:10.1080/23322373.2018.1522171