The misbehaviour of Chinese companies to local employees is fueling anti-China sentiments in Zimbabwe. It became evident after two blasts shook Zimbabwe's Mazowe district late last week. The two gas explosions left eight people dead including six Chinese nationals. The police are investigating the cause of the explosion.
The incident happened at the mine about 50 km (30 miles) north of the capital, Harare, police said. While villagers mourned the death of a local but had no sympathy for the Chinese nationals. It was reported that villagers from around SAS Mine in Mazowe expressed joy following the death of six Chinese nationals who were managers at the site. The villagers described the late Chinese managers as 'stubborn' and very disrespectful who ill-treated locals.
The incident has brought focus on the prevailing conditions in the area with regard to ill-treatment meted out to the employees by the Chinese managers. After the first explosion, the area councillor had requested Chinese managers to halt all the operations but later did not pay heed. Instead, these managers had smuggled workers from outside through a broken fence. Also, these managers warned workers of dire consequences if anyone raised a voice-over for personal safety.
The local news website reported that the local councillor Taera Tapererwa, from Mazowe South Ward 2 confirmed that the Chinese managers were quite rude to the employees. A worker at the mine reportedly told that Chinese managers had ignored warnings. Nor did they show any remorse over the death of the first victim. The second explosion took the lives of six Chinese and that was when it was accepted that the situation was dangerous at the mine.
The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe maintained that it is in close communication with responsible Zimbabwean authorities and has asked the Zimbabwean side to help with emergency care and investigate the cause of the incident. The embassy has urged Chinese companies in Zimbabwe to enhance safety production awareness and immediate conduct thorough inspections of workplace practices including management of raw materials to avoid similar incidents.
Experts on Zimbabwe affairs are not hopeful about any change in the situation on the ground. Zimbabwe, like other African countries, is under the deep influence of China, politically, militarily, or economically. China has been calling the shots in Zimbabwe so much so that despite numerous cases of rampant abuse by Chinese employers of the local labour force, no steps have been taken by the government.
Available reports suggest that there is a fear among the locals that China would take away their assets if Zimbabwe fails to return the loan amount. China has done heavy investment by providing huge loans to Zimbabwe. Local newspapers have reported from time to time that Chinese companies have been ill-treating local labour and not paying respectable wages. An incident was reported where local employees were shot dead by a Chinese employer at a mine when the labourers demanded their legitimate outstanding wages.
Paid low wages
There have been several incidents where Chinese company owners have not paid any heed to Zimbabwean law, the citizens' legal rights and instead discriminated against them from the onsite Chinese miners by paying them low wages of merely 35 US dollars per month. Also, there have been cases where Chinese employers have assaulted local employees by forcing them to work in dangerous, inhuman, harsh, and life-threatening conditions which amount to slavery.
In pandemic times too, Chinese companies have reportedly ignored Covid-19 guidelines and forced employees to stay together. In one incident, 16 employees were reportedly forced to stay in just one room. On several occasions, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) has raised objections against the assault of local workers by Chinese employers. The ZCTU has been successful in building pressure on the Chinese companies to mend ways. So much so that the Chinese diplomats have tried to bring out an amicable solution with the Union leaders.
ZCTU has been taking up issues with Chinese companies following complaints of exploitation of local employees. In June, Chinese ceramic tiles manufacturing company Sunny Yi Feng had entered into a war of words with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) over claims of labour rights abuse, including unsafe working and living conditions. In absence of any legal action, ZCTU had launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about the working and living conditions of the workers in the factories. The Chinese company called ZCTU's actions "corporate bullying" motivated by a "hidden agenda".
Several other allegations have been levelled against Chinese companies operating in Zimbabwe. According to a 2016 report by the Brookings Institution, there are at least 10,000 Chinese nationals in Zimbabwe, many of whom work in the mining, telecommunications, and construction sectors. Chinese-owned companies, however, have become notorious for the ill-treatment of workers.
There were reports of workers' strikes in a mining company against low wages in 2019. These workers also demanded safety kits as they were getting exposed to hazardous fumes. Earlier, two mining workers were shot in Gweru, which the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe described as an "isolated incident."