Chinese going astray in Zambia

By Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka – Chinese national Li Xieng (53) saunters in the City Market, one of the major trading centres in the Zambian capital Lusaka with his three-tonne Toyota truck with a pile of cabbages for sale.

The market, harbouring thousands of Zambians has been a major trading point for traders, hawkers and other vendors who sell an assortment of products at prices that are negotiated based on where someone has secured his or her merchandise.

Xieng disembarks from his truck with two of his assistants and immediately starts offloading the piles of cabbages onto an open space and displays a price tag of K1.50 (US$0.25), way below the average K2.50 (US$0.45) charged by the locals.

Within minutes, Xieng’s stand is swarmed by discerning customers clamouring to buy the cheap merchandise to go and resell at a profit.

A few metres away, another Chinese national who declined to be identified by The Southern Times emerges from nowhere and disembarks from his worn out Fuso truck, selling chicken at US$2.20 per chicken.

This price is again lower than the price charged by the locals a situation which attracts anger from the locals for throwing them out of business.

For the two Chinese citizens, this business practice is seemingly normal. “There’s nothing wrong with me selling my merchandise here and cheaply because I am in business and I know my profit margins,” Xieng said.

A Zambian assistant, who identified his boss as Mr Xiang, said his superior is a farmer in Makeni, one of the high-density residential areas of Lusaka and grows vegetables, rears chickens, pigs, and goats, among others.

Many Chinese nationals have flooded most informal markets across the country competing with Zambian vendors mostly small-scale farmers, thereby pushing them out of business.

In Kamwala, a trading centre also in Lusaka and almost synonymous with Indian nationals, the situation is the same.

Most of the Chinese nationals have secured plots, built shops and are selling merchandise that many Zambians believe should have been reserved for locals as part of the government’s empowerment and save them from poverty and other vices.

The scenario of Chinese taking up businesses meant for locals is slowly becoming a common phenomenon in the southern African country, amid increasing concern that Chinese nationals were taking over the trading space of Zambians be it retail, construction, real estate, among others, including vending at the open market.

This year, Margaret Mwanakatwe then commerce minister,  issued a statutory instrument restricting the Chinese from indulging in businesses that can be taken by Zambians including chicken rearing, block making, laundry and selling of merchandise to empower the nationals

The aggravated animosity towards Chinese is their potential danger as they continue to be seen to indulge in matters that also border on security.

Some Chinese nationals were alleged to have connived with some officers from the Zambian Wildlife Conservation and later killed two rhinos in the Livingstone National Park for their horns that are sought-after in Asia.

The carcasses were found without horns, fuelling suspicions that the Chinese were working in collaboration wildlife officials to slaughter the animals, for their horns that fetch millions of dollars on the Chinese black market and later used for medicinal value.

Last week, the matter of the Chinese flouting the Zambian security laws came to a head in Livingstone, near the border with Zimbabwe.

This was after security agencies arrested and charged Chinese nationals and nine Zambians with various offences under the state security act, penal code and firearms act, respectively.

The commanding officer of the Zambian Police in the Southern Province, Assistant Inspector General Bonnie Kapeso said the suspects have been charged for offences ranging from failing to secure firearms, unlawful procession of firearms, harbouring unlawful drilling and unauthorised use of uniforms.

The two Chinese nationals were allegedly giving illegal military training to members of a local security firm. 

They have been identified as Zhichuann, 37, owner of Warm Harbour Hotel in Livingstone and Xu Hvibo aged 31.

The locals included Senethinia Mudenda (36), a director Of Alert Security Company in Livingstone and eight others are awaiting trial together with their Chinese accomplices.

The Chinese seemingly remain unstoppable in their uncouth myriad of actions with some implicated in either life-threatening incidences or ultimately claiming human lives. 

In Mungwi, northern Zambia, two Chinese Nationals who recently were undertaking construction works at a traditional ceremony site allegedly beat to death a Zambian security guard, according to a police chief Richard Mweene.

The deceased, Evaristo Chileshe (42) was earlier accused by Chinese nationals of stealing iron sheets. Chileshe was later hit with various missiles, including sticks, planks and fists before he lost his life. The duo was later arrested and detained for murder.

In addition, the police recently detained two Chinese nationals for allegedly shooting a 16-year-old boy from Chambishi Township in the Copperbelt, according to areas Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga.

The duo, with the help of some Zambians, injured the teenage boy that had gone to fetch firewood.  One of the Chinese nationals shot the juvenile for allegedly trespassing on their Bolo Mine.

During their arrest, the Chinese had locked themselves into the premises and unleashed dogs on police officers.

Cases of Chinese nationals getting implicated in various acts of misconduct are increasingly becoming the order of the day. Some are allegedly siring children with locals and in some cases, have short time sexual encounters in exchange for money or food, media reports say.

Amid mounting resentments against Chinese nationals, local authorities in Kitwe, a mining town in the northern region have resolved have jointly agreed to create boundaries to deter the rift, now and in future.

All foreign nationals, chiefly Chinese trading in Zambia will now be restricted to wholesale trading only to give chance to the Zambians to trade in retail.   

Statutory Instrument No. 1 of 2017 has been signed and ensures all players have trading space.  Zambians feel neglected by the government in doing business, giving preference to foreigners especially.

Business by locals is at risk business that the government does not protect them because of unclear laws that govern trade in the country.  

The stakeholders have since resolved and agreed among other guidelines, including that Chinese companies should avail their investments licences indicating the nature of the business, alongside work permits. 

That all Chinese retail shops operating in residential areas must relocate to the town centre or shopping malls and industrial area and there be an approved list of items to be sold by the Chinese under retail and wholesale sections.

It is further agreed that Chinese companies be requested to consider paying more than the K990 (US$83) as minimum wage per month to at least give employees a living wage.

All Chinese operated companies in Kitwe must apply for membership to the Chamber Of Commerce and Industry. 

All Chinese companies in Kitwe should also begin undertaking corporate social responsibility programmes and assist develop host communities,

They are expected to build amenities, provide jobs as well as undertake general development to reduce high poverty levels in areas of operation, according to City Mayor, Christopher Kang’ombe.

Prior to 2011 elections, then President Michael Sata rose to power on the bedrock of the anti-Chinese campaign and whose passionate hatred was hinged on their alleged maligning the Zambians to advance their cause and stifling their human rights to undertake business competitively.

Ironically, upon Sata ascending to power in August 2011, taking over the reins from Rupiah Banda, he softened his stance against China, becoming one of Beijing’s more enthusiastic partners in Africa.

Although Sata’s views towards China evolved, Zambia’s reputation as a focal point of anti-Chinese attitudes, or Sinophobia in Africa remained, particularly among a significant number of international journalists, NGOs and academic scholars.

Interestingly some local newspapers are resorting to writing their editorials in Chinese, amid desires to attract advertising or business association with Chinese companies, The Southern Times has learnt.

The current  ‘Sinophobia in Zambia’ has various dimensions,  ranging from false rumours that China was exporting cans of human flesh to be sold as food in Zambia, Chinese were smuggling Mukula logs.

Other accusations include that China had planned to take over the country’s national assets including the US$360 million- Kenneth Kaunda International Airport under construction, power utility Zesco and the national television broadcaster, all which have been dispelled by the government as hogwash.

Minister of Interior, Stephen Kampyongo said the law is clear and that all nationals, irrespective of their origin should abide by the dictates of the country regardless of the purpose of their visit.

“There are no sacred cows when it comes to the law and so everybody should follow it regardless of their race, colour or nationality. He stated that when people commit crimes they will be deported or arrested and put in correctional facilities regardless of their race or nationality,” he adds.

Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Li Jie has acknowledged to misbehaviour of his countrymen in Zambia but has cautioned against painting all the Chinese black. 

“Yes… there are such isolated incidences… but, those are one-off cases of indiscipline,” said the diplomat.

Information minister Dora Siliya and finance minister, Margaret Mwanakatwe have defended China’s involvement in Zambia’s economy, dispelling reports of some strategic assets being traded off as part of the US$9.37 billion debt swap.

Siliya thanked China for continued support towards the development of the country’s television industry. China has continued to play a significant role in the implementation of many projects in Zambia, including digital migration, she said when StarTimes Group President Pang Xin Xin paid a courtesy call on her.

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