Zambia Uneasily Balances Chinese Investment and Workers’ Resentment

A month after 11 Zambian miners were shot and wounded after complaining of poor working conditions to the Chinese managers, the New York Times looks at the uneasy relationship between Chinese mine owners and workers in the country:

As in many other African nations, the Chinese are an enormous economic presence in this impoverished but mineral-rich country, and their treatment of local workers has become an explosive political issue, presenting an awkward balancing act for governments desperate for foreign investment. “We’re an economy in transition, and we can’t afford to lose the cow that gives us milk today,” said Labor Minister Austin Liato.

Chinese investment here amounted to $1.2 billion in just the past year, according to the government. Nearly two-thirds of new construction involves Chinese-run companies, said Li Qiangmin, the Chinese ambassador in Lusaka, the capital. In this nation of 12 million where a small minority of workers, perhaps one in 10, have salaried employment, the 25,000 jobs provided by Chinese-backed businesses and projects are badly needed.

But many Zambians complain that these powerful foreigners are permitted to play by their own rules, plundering the country more than developing it and abusing workers as they go. The wounding of 13 miners in a labor dispute at the Collum mine last month once again brought these raw feelings to the surface, revealing conditions at a mine where men walk more than 1,000 steps into the earth to slosh through dark and frequently unsafe tunnels. They are paid about $4 a day and say they are expected to work every day of the year.

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