Chinese Manager Killed at Zambian Mine

One Chinese manager has been killed and two injured at a copper mine in Zambia where 11 local workers were shot in 2010. From The Wall Street Journal:

Scores of irate coal miners on Saturday attacked their supervisors after complaining that their employer had failed to pay them the recently revised minimum wage. Wu Shengzai, 50 years old, was killed after he was hit with a mining trolley truck pushed by rioting miners.

Two other injured Chinese managers at Collum, located 200 miles south of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, were airlifted Sunday for treatment in Lusaka, according to Rayford Mbulu, Zambia’s deputy labor minister. Mr. Mblulu said Zambia’s minister of labor, Fackson Shamenda, had traveled to the mine site on Sunday with a team of investigators to establish what exactly happened. Details of the investigation haven’t been released.

Last September, Zambia elected a new president, Michael Sata, who had campaigned against what he called the corrupting influence of Chinese investment. The Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog put Sunday’s killing into this political context, quoting The New Scramble for Africa author Padraig Carmody:

“Sata wants to re-position Zambia towards the west, but has had to moderate his stance because China is so important to Zambia in terms of trade and investment. He appears very conscious of the need to be diplomatic – his first visitor after the election was the Chinese ambassador.”

Accordingly, the government has played down political aspects of the violence at Collum, with labour minister Shamenda referring to those involved as merely “a bunch of criminals who took advantage of the disturbance.” He explained that the higher minimum wage does not apply directly to unionised workers like those at the mine, except as a guide to their own subsequent salary negotiations. From Voice of America:

“The law does not cover for those who are represented by the trade unions but, in the same law, it indicates that when unions are negotiating with their employers, they should bear in mind that they should not negotiate below what is the minimum wage. So, these people want to take advantage of that, and that’s how they caused this problem at the mine,” he said.

Sata softened his earlier stance towards China even before gaining office, but Chinese companies in Zambia have still found themselves under increased pressure since his election. Another Chinese copper mine responded to Sata’s victory by giving workers a sudden 85% pay rise, a gesture slightly tarnished by the appearance of two sets of payslips: one with raise and one without, apparently intended for use according to the results of the vote.

Conditions in Zambia’s Chinese-owned mines were the subject of a controversial Human Rights Watch report published last November. Deborah Brautigam hosted both a critique of the report and HRW’s response at her China in Africa: The Real Story blog. For broader discussion from Brautigam of China’s role in Africa, see a recent interview, ‘What is China Doing in Africa?’, and her argument against the motion in an Intelligence² debate, ‘Beware of the Dragon: Africa Should Not Look to China‘, via CDT.