No Legislation In Sight As Chinese Labour Abuses Go Unbated In Zimbabwe
Chinese employers operating in Zimbabwe stand accused of a coterie of crimes, among them labor abuses with government reluctant to enact laws that protect local workers, this reporter can exclusively reveal.
By Problem Masau
Investigations by this reporter showed abuse across sectors that the Chinese have invested in such as construction, mining and manufacturing.
It took months of developing mutual trust between local workers and this reporter for them to open up as the fear of losing their only source of income in a country where 95% are unemployed according to Forbes Africa recent statistics.
Workers narrated chilling details of abuse at the hands of their Chinese employers.
Nearly 40 workers employed at a Chinese-controlled mine near Doneni, Muzvezve area in Kadoma who have gone for months without salaries, say they are being treated like slaves by the owners.
The mine, which is a joint venture between Chinese nationals and a Zimbabwean woman only identified as Linda, is, according to National Mine Workers’ Union president Tinashe Mugwira, a disaster waiting to happen.
Workers alleged that they are forced to work in the mine shaft without any protective clothing, exposing them to injuries and other health hazards.
“We work without gloves, shoes or even full body cover. That no serious injury has occurred at this mine is just by God’s grace,” said a worker who refused to be named.
They accused the Chinese investors of verbally and physically abusing them during work and when they ask for their outstanding salaries.
Alfios Nhengamagwe said he was suspended at a brick making firm in Mazowe, about 40 kilometers from Harare after refusing to stand in the rain as a form of punishment for being late.
“They fired me without a single cent because I refused to be abused. They wanted me to stand in the rain while carrying 3 bricks as a form of punishment. I told them I can not do that because it was inhumane and degrading but they said if I refuse, then it means I am fired,” he said.
Investigations also showed that some mining firms were in the habit of setting out dogs on their workers.
Ironically, the issue of the legislation to protect the local workforce was discussed during the coalition government but when Zanu PF which has close ties with China won the 2013 election, the issue was swept under the carpet.
Zimbabwe Diamond Miners Workers’ Union (ZDMWU) has dragged the Chinese-owned Detroop Mine near Chinhoyi to the National Employment Council (NEC) over its alleged abuse of employees.
“ZDMWU has registered the Detroop workers’ case with Mines National Employers’ Council for a fair hearing among our concerns on behalf of the workers.
“We have raised issues of unfair labour practices, non-payment of overtime, no grading system, assault of employees, underpayment of wages and no safety clothing among other issues,” labour documents seen by this reporter.
One of the mining companies, Anjin was sued by former guards who filed an $837 506,22 claim against their ex-employer whom they accused of breaching contractual obligations.
Chinese are accused of poor workmanship with the buildings and the roads they constructed labelled as sub-standard.
Diplomatic stand off
The relations reached unprecedented low levels when the infuriated Mugabe said Chinese companies looted US$15 Billion from Marange Diamonds Fields.
“We have not received much from the diamond industry at all. I don’t think we have exceeded $2 billion, yet we think more than $15 billion has been earned. The state will now own all the diamonds to cut and polish,” the irate Mugabe said on the occasion of his 92nd birthday.
Subsequently, all the Chinese companies operating in Marange Diamonds Fields were chucked out. Mugabe was diplomatic saying the eviction of the Chinese companies will not strain relationship with Beijing.
“I don’t think it has affected our relations at all,” Mugabe said.
However, if recent events are anything to go by, Zimbabwe is preparing for a life after China. Mugabe went to Japan to strengthen bilateral relations, a move economic analysts say was a slap in the face on China.
Japan occupied China during the Second World War and stand accused of wreaking havoc, slaughtering Chinese civilians, raping their women and plundering with impunity. Japan has refused to apologise for its act of aggression, causing tension between the two countries.
Mugabe also said he was aware of ‘evil’ machinations in his party with a group of individuals seeking the help of Chinese government to replace him.
“That is the main cause of our differences, as some are pushing further to the extent of approaching the Chinese telling them they now want a new leader. We are going to deal with them,” Mugabe told a handful of his supporters at a Bindura rally, about 100 kilometers North East of the capital Harare.
This is the first time the veteran ruler has spoken ill of Beijing since his adoption of the “Look East” policy.
Investigations by this reporter showed that Chinese business people in connivance with some government officials were siphoning out Marange diamonds and the money was not finding its way into the national fiscus.
The Chinese companies have also been accused of polluting rivers.
Sample tests done by Biological and Chemical Science Institution on behalf of Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela) on two major rivers in Manicaland, Save and Odzi showed that the rivers are polluted and the communities are at risk of contracting diseases.
The results, according to Zela coordinator Shamiso Mtisi indicated that diamond mining operations have resulted in massive siltation, chemical and heavy metal pollution of Save and Odzi Rivers, with turbidity and total solids exceeding the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
“Even the color of the water in the river has turned into red ochre. This shows the water has been contaminated and there are chemical reaction taking place in the rivers,” Mtisi said, adding that if corrective measures were not taken, the communities were at risk of contracting diseases.
“When in contact with the skin, the water and mud cause an itching sensation. The report indicates that levels of heavy metals showed high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water.
“These elements are the major constituents of ferro-silicon (FESI) a chemical compound used in diamond extraction processes. Chromium and nickel are potentially carcinogenic agents (cancer causing agents) and therefore they pose an immediate health risk to people and livestock.”
The report also noted that community was at risk of poisoning.
“The high levels of iron in water suggest that the local populations could be at risk of iron poisoning, as they exceeded stipulated WHO standards. Similarly, pH was in the high alkaline range as well as Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).”
Under Statutory Instrument 6 of 2007 — effluent and waste disposal — companies and individuals could face a fine or jail term or both for polluting the environment.
Farai Maguwu, the director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance, a non-governmental organisation which has been calling for transparency in the mining and selling of Marange diamonds, says he has been receiving a lot of complaints from villagers about pollution in the areas.
Maguwu said the government and organisations such as the Environment Management Agency (EMA) must prioritise the situation in these communities to save lives.
The pollution has deprived communities of clean and unpolluted water for drinking, gardening, fishing, livestock watering, bathing and other primary uses.
Last year, Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate directed firms to cease operations along rivers.
“We have directed permanent secretaries in my ministry and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to immediately stop mining operations that are taking place along river banks,” Chidhakwa said.
However, most companies are still operating along Mazowe River in Mashonaland Central and Angwa River in Mashonaland West.
Still no legislation in sight
Legal practitioners said government was not sincere in dealing with the Chinese employers in Zimbabwe.
Former Minister of Labor and Social Services, Paurina Mpariwa said the task-force to investigate Chinese employers she set up during the days of inclusive government never reported back to her.
“After I had received a lot of reports of Chinese employers who are abusing their workers and as a ministry we set up an investigating team consisting of NSSA (National Social Security Authority) and other construction companies to investigate, but the findings was never made public to us,” she said.
Investigations showed that after the 2013 elections, in which the ruling Zanu PF formed government, the issue was swept under the carpet.
This article was produced as part of the China-Africa Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand.