062_G18_InFocus_Zambia

Global_18

In Focus Zambia Chinese fortunes China is Zambia’s biggest investor, but when locals accused Chinese employers of underpaying them, and even using violence towards them, new President Michael Sata had to act Anver Versi As the results of the 2011 general and presidential elections were being announced, Hedges Mwaba, an operator at the Chinese-owned Chambishi copper mine was delighted to receive two pay cheques, one for around US$600 and the other for $1,000. He explained his good fortune by saying that the company had run out two separate cheques – the lower one in case the incumbent, Rupiah Banda, won the election and the higher one if the challenger, Michael Sata, leader of the Patriotic Front, emerged victorious. Obviously a mistake had been made and both cheques had been sent out. But this incident underlined the trepidation that Sata, known as King Cobra in a country where almost anyone in authority acquires a nickname, had aroused among the Chinese and his opponents. The veteran politician, now in his 70s, gained this fearsome reputation from his refusal to back down in an argument, his scalding wit and his long memory of every slight aimed in his direction. The watchwords had been ‘don’t provoke King Cobra’ or be prepared to face dire consequences. The Chinese, the largest investors in the country – particularly in mining – had provoked him by their astonishingly cavalier attitude to local staff. Workers were underpaid, bullied and sometimes beaten. The almost total lack of safety standards made the work dangerous and the frequent protests were met with lock-downs and threats. In 2005, Chinese managers shot and wounded five protesting miners at Chambishi and in 2010 two managers shot and wounded 12 miners protesting against salary delays at the Chinese-run Collum coal mine. But charges of attempted murder in both cases were dropped by the Multi Party Democracy (MMD) administration. Sata accused the MMD, which had been in power for 20 years, of being in cahoots with the Chinese and completely oblivious to the needs of the people. The administration was riddled with corruption and Rupiah Banda, who had succeeded Levy Mwanawasa as President following a narrow election victory over Sata, seemed to spend more time attending conferences abroad than tending to his duties. The country was more than ready for change and its citizens chose Sata as their champion in the 2011 elections. In the run up to the elections, Sata’s ferocious attack on the Chinese so unsettled Beijing that the Chinese threatened to pull out all their investments if he became president. Sata dug in his heels and said they were welcome to do so if they so chose. But as soon as Sata was declared the winner, the Chinese made an abrupt volta face and the new Chinese ambassador to Zambia, Zhou Yuxiao, was among the first to congratulate Sata, extending an invitation from the former Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Beijing. Zhou pledged to crack the whip and bring the Chinese companies to order. “The Chinese policy is that all Chinese nationals working in other countries respect local labour laws,” he said. “They must observe Zambians celebrate at Michael Sata’s inauguration. The head of the Patriotic Front party was elected President in 2011 after ten years in opposition 62 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global


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