A letter from the diaspora, Outside Looking In
By Pauline Henson
Is China the new colonial power in Africa? A map of Africa reveals China’s presence in most if not all African countries and, of late, particularly in Southern Africa.
China is under new leadership, Xi Jinping is now head of the Communist party and it remains to be seen exactly where he stands on the question of China’s relationship with Africa. Is it a partnership of equals or is China exploiting Africa for its own benefit?
China vigorously defends its role in Africa, claiming that it has built schools and roads and greatly benefited the African continent’s infrastructure and uplifted the standard of living of Africa’s people.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s ‘Look East’ policy was the signal for an increase in China’s involvement in Zimbabwe. What was in it for China? For a country desperately short of natural resources, the answer was plain: Zimbabwe is rich in minerals.
Take the diamond industry; speaking in a recent interview, Farai Maguwu, the head of a leading advocacy group, revealed that in practice the diamond industry is 50% owned by the Chinese Anjin company and 40% by the Zimbabwe Defence Industry.
The fact that a foreign company is a major shareholder in one of Zimbabwe’s most lucrative natural resources is surely at odds with Saviour Kasukuwere’s much-touted Indigenisation policy? The Chinese claim there is mutual respect between the indigenous Zimbabweans and the Chinese but that is not immediately evident.
As for the Chinese bringing employment to Zimbabwe, that is a moot point since they often bring their own workers who are unable to speak the local language, thus limiting communication with the local people and increasing the possibility of resentment against these ‘foreigners’ who have come into their area.
If that is not direct colonialism it certainly bears a close resemblance to the bad old days of British occupation of Africa when communication was limited to the vernacular language of master and servant.
One of the major side-effects of mining is the effect on the local population.
With the discovery of Marange’s diamonds in 2006, a vast area was under threat. Originally calculated at 70.000 hectacres the area of the Marange diamond mine is now reckoned to be more than 120.000 hectares with more mineral exploration going on.
Moving people who have known no other home for their entire lives is an explosive issue but not one that local or foreign journalists are allowed to report. A veil of secrecy hangs over the Marange project but some things cannot be hidden. The environmental damage is plain for all to see as local rivers are polluted and the once clear Save river is now no more than a muddy and polluted stream.
In addition, the peace of the African bush is broken by the noise of heavy traffic day and night. The area’s rich wild life has disappeared and the only beneficiaries of all this activity are the military and the Chinese-owned diamond company.
Meanwhile, a new diamond technology centre is being built at Mount Hampden in Harare which promises an incredible 40.000 new jobs. For the 90% of the population who are unemployed that is good news, if the figures are accurate!
For the majority of Zimbabwe’s people, the diamonds have brought them nothing but for Robert Mugabe, all this diamond wealth is good news; he has the diamond-rich generals on side, access to limitless cash to win the next election and the wherewithal to buy patronage.
Mugabe said at his party conference that he wants nothing less than “sole control” of the country. The helicopters hovering over the Conference centre for the duration of the party conference were a reminder to everyone that he means it.
Mugabe is determined to win at all costs and diamond wealth will help ensure he does just that. No doubt his friends, the Chinese, will be very happy with an electoral result that keeps him in power.
Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.