Thursday, January 13, 2011

Murder of Chinese Manager at Zambian Mine

Henry Hall, at China Africa News, posted this thoughtful comment on his blog after reading about the sentencing of a Zambian worker from the Chinese-owned Collum coal mine, which has been in the news recently. Apparently, a year ago, a Chinese manager at the Collum mine was murdered by one of the workers, This worker has now received the death penalty. Henry Hall caught the story and begins his comment with a reference to the Collum coal mine:
... where Chinese managers injured a number of workers late in 2010. What I did not see reported at the time however, was that a Chinese manager had been killed by a Zambian worker as recently as February of last year. Although this in no way excuses the actions of the Chinese managers, it certainly seems relevant to the discussion. It again highlights Beijing's failure to properly manage the media impact of their African misadventures.
I also thought this report was sad and revealing. Sad because clearly the Collum coal mine is a place with deeply troubled labor relations, problems that apparently drove one man to murder. And revealing because I could not find anything else online about the killing of a Chinese manager by a Zambian worker. Did it really happen? Wasn't it considered news?

For a collection of stories on the shooting of Zambians by two Chinese managers in October 2010, including a link to a Chinese investigative reporter's story, see China Digital Times.


Sigrid said...

For how much importance Chinese put into image, it is strange that they still are unable to promote a more positive image of themselves abroad.

Anonymous said...

I myself was also very surprised this week when I read the news of this sentencing.
But neither do I understand Henry Hall's comment:
"It again highlights Beijings failure to properly manage the media impact of their African misadventures"?

Deborah Brautigam said...

I think what Henry Hall meant was that it is in the Chinese interest to ensure that the full story gets told in cases like the Collum coal mine. Why let such an important element be overlooked? But let's ask Henry himself what he meant.

Anonymous said...

Still, I fail to see how Beijing could have better managed the news of the killing of Zong Tangku by Pythias Chinene and what they could add to the full Collum story?

Henry Hall said...

It’s the responsibility of the Chinese State in such a politicised environment to ensure that they are aware of the full circumstances of such an incident. The killing of this Chinese manager at the Collum mine is relevant to the later events and therefore should have been communicated by the press. Where it is in the interests of the Chinese State to have that story heard, I would expect that the embassy should contact the relevant journalists and brief them on the parts of the story they missed.
These situations are enormously damaging to China’s reputation on the continent. How they are communicated in Zambia is particularly important as a powerful anti-China lobby has every interest in presenting the story in as negative a light as possible. The fact that this important information did not surface shows naivety in Chinese press relations. The presentation of the two stories together, although even more tragic, could potentially change the perception of the Chinese actors from callous to scared. To me that is an important distinction.

Deborah Brautigam said...

Thanks Henry, well said.

Anonymous said...

For as far as I can see, in the Tangku / Chinene case there is no obvious relationship with the working conditions in the mine at that time or with the subsequent incidents.
I get this understanding only from the fact that none of the comments to the verdict mentionned any relation to the labor dispute, although the majority of them where strongly anti-Chinese and racist.

Whatever the reason for the murder, Mr. Chinene is severely sentenced and there is little hope of better results if he would appeal. In the mean time judge Wanki has become a member of the Supreme Court and anyway, since 1997 there have been no executions at all in Zambia.

Furthermore you don’t need this case to be sure that during the shooting incident, the managers will have been scared.

During a strike, less than one year earlier, more than 300 miners opened the doors and entered the Chinese premises to fight the Chinese.
The manager said about 10 people were injured and alleged that the aim of the workers was to kill the Chinese managers.
Mr. Xu said without the police, lives would have been lost as a result of the protest and he said the situation at the mine was still dangerous.

You can reasonably assume that the Chinese embassy is aware off all that (and in the light of the quasi take over of the events by the Chinese embassy you can be sure of that), but that they choose not to give additionaly publicity to the apalling working conditions at the Collum mine.

As such, this is certainly not a reason for anti-Chinese racism, taking in account that both Zambians and Chinese are the victims of this situation (last year both a Chinese and a Zambian miner died in an underground mine blast, with a time difference of less than one week. And this all at a time that the mine was again “closed” for failing to comply with the safety regulations ...
Its working conditions approach the explotation that Charles Dickens once described ...
and as such, it is an open invitation to make comparisons between “white” and “Chinese” management wherby the “negative light” is provided by the latter management itself who created “problems that apparently drove one man to murder”. I would add; not only this one man but apparently 300 of exploited workers to do the same….
That seem to me to be the root of the problem.
Beginning this week I was thus surprised to read this news but not surprised that a murder had occurred ...

Deborah Brautigam said...

I agree with the comments above that the root of the problem is the exploitative labor practices of the Collum Coal Mine -- safety issues, disrespect, working conditions, and so on. Does anyone know anything more about the Chinene/Tangku murder? I'm still surprised that we know so little about it.

Unknown said...

I am a Zambian living in the UK who has followed this story from the very beginning with great interest. I must say this is the first time I have heard about the murder of the Chinese manager. I'll have to go and investigate it. Non of my friends in Zambia have commented on it either which is very surprising.

Whilst this new information puts the most recent incident into some context the difference in treatment of the Zambian and Chinese protagonists is telling.

The Chinese have, to the best of my knowledge, paid measly amounts of compensation and failed to appear in court. It is claimed they are still in the country. We are yet to see whether they will be successfully tried.

In the meantime it emerged that they did not have so much as a human resource manager and that they were paying workers the minimum legal requirement (thought i'm sure this says more about our government) of $59 a month and had to be made to increase it to $93 a month.

The impact of the Chinese in Zambia is probably yet to be fully appreciated, however, it is clear to me that our government feel unable (as a result of the amount of the sheer amount of 'investment') to protect its people against exploitative practises and that is what most Zambians are unhappy about.

I'd like to add that Zambia is, contrary to how it may seem from these events, a very peaceful country. It is not perfect but killings such as these are an anomaly. Poverty and disrespect coupled with poor employment rights mean that people are desperate for change. That, to my mind is what has lead top this situation.

Deborah Brautigam said...

Hi Mwanabibi -- thanks for your post. I'd like to second you on your comment about Zambia being a peaceful country. The last I saw, the Chinese were not getting special treatment from Zambia's courts. Indeed, after failing to appear in court, they were re-arrested on January 11th:
This article also said that "Chinese ambassador Li Qiangmin warned that the embassy was considering “blacklisting” Chinese investors abrogating Zambian labour laws." A great idea, although I'm not sure what "blacklisting" would mean for private companies like Colum with, apparently, "Australian" owners who are ethnically Chinese!