It seems that China is serious about spreading cultural values abroad.
From South China Morning Post:
In the evening gloom the vast complex emerges into view. Beyond a high security wall, insects dance in the beam of a giant floodlight. Men are still hard at work in the skeletons of concrete tower blocks, and standing at the centre of it all is the arch of a Chinese pagoda.
Zimbabwe’s national defence college is under construction within a sprawling, heavily guarded compound whose brooding presence sends a clear message to any would-be revolutionary. Some have dubbed it the “Robert Mugabe national school of intelligence”.
The project site north of Harare has also become the lightning rod for another source of simmering resentment – Chinese labour practices.
Surrounded by a wall that runs for a kilometre through what was once farmland, the shadowy military academy is being built by a Chinese contractor whose managers are accused of meting out physical punishments, miserable conditions and meagre pay.
“The beatings happen very often,” a young carpenter said as he made the long walk home after a 14-hour shift. “They ill-treat you, and if you make a mistake they beat you up.
“I saw some men beaten up yesterday. A guy complained: `You’re not treating us like human beings’, and the Chinese replied: `You should appreciate we’ve come to assist you’. They beat him up and he was fired.”
He estimated there were 600 Zimbabwean and 300 Chinese workers on the site. About 50 of the Chinese were managers. Some of the Chinese have “nice homes inside”, while others live in wooden shacks just outside the complex. The Zimbabweans and Chinese rarely mix, he added. “They don’t speak English so we use sign language. The Chinese eat off plates, then give us the leftovers.”
The carpenter said he got up at 4am and worked from 7am to 9pm every day. For this he was paid US$4 a day, but at least it meant he could feed his wife and three children. “We don’t have a choice because we need to survive,’ he said. “But if I could chase all the Chinese away, I would.”
Reports of abuse by managers at the Chinese contractor, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company, are widespread, as are complaints that the government is turning a blind eye because it cannot afford to lose such a valuable partner.
A 26-year-old builder, on his way to a nightshift, said: “We tried to go on strike but the leader of it was beaten up and sacked. The government doesn’t say anything, even though it knows people are beaten up. I saw them undress some workers and beat them with helmets. Some of them were crying with the pain.
“We feel angry but we need money, so there is no choice. If you don’t work 10 hours, there is no money.”
Attempts to contact the company were unsuccessful.
Zimbabwe received a Chinese loan of US$98 million to build the college. It will be repaid over 20 years through earnings from the Marange diamond fields, which are being mined by another Chinese firm amid widespread claims of human rights violations under military control.
China’s commercial empire has expanded enormously in Africa over the past decade and Zimbabwe is trying to catch up.
Bilateral trade between the two countries last year was US$550 million last year, according to the Chinese embassy. The government in Harare has said China plans up to US$10 billion in investments over the next five years, more than in any other country.
Diamonds and other mineral resources are the main attraction, but Chinese entrepreneurs have also seized opportunities in construction, manufacturing and retail. Chinese restaurants are booming, attracting top politicians and businessmen. Shops are flooded with cheap Chinese imports. Zimbabwean vendors claim they are being undercut and put out of work.
Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, said: “We’ve got alarming, shocking human rights abuses in firms operated by the Chinese. We’ve got empirical evidence that is going to shock the people of Zimbabwe. They are physically abusing the workers. They are psychologically terrorising the workers.
“But they are not being prosecuted. There is a culture of impunity.”
Others believe the problem is a cultural misunderstanding.
A Chinese immigrant, Li Chen, 29, said: “If Chinese people work from 8am till 8pm they have no problem. Sometimes they ask their employees to do the same and it makes them unhappy. It will not happen.
“It’s a different culture. If people sit down and talk and understand each other, it should change.”