Zambia, the new president calls for respect, acknowledgement of locals' rights, from Chinese firms
The new president Michael Sata revises relations with China, after over 20 years of a privileged relationship. Backed by the youth, the unemployed and trade unions, he promises to crack down on corruption and "illegal" work methods in Chinese mines. Beijing is the largest investor in the country rich in copper and raw materials.
Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - President Michael Sata invites Chinese investors to respect workers, to benefit both sides. Yesterday, speaking at a conference, the newly elected head of state stressed that "once Zambia and China were close allies, but over the years there have been worrisome incidents requiring a correction of relations." According to Sata, investment from Beijing must bring wealth also to the citizens of Zambia, and not only to China.

Sata, 75, won the elections on September 23 with 43% of the votes, beating incumbent President Banda, who took 36.1% of the vote. Ruphia Banda led Zambia for over 20 years. Since 1992 he has allowed foreign companies, particularly from China, to exploit the country's large mineral resources and the entry of migrants to be employed in the most underdeveloped sectors. The continuing cases of exploitation and low wages offered by Chinese companies have caused growing resentment towards Beijing.

Michael Sata is supported by the youth, the unemployed and unions and has exploited the anti-Chinese resentment that is widespread among the poorer classes of the country, who are convinced that they have been exploited, because they receive only subsistence-level wages. The country, of barely 12 million inhabitants, is rich in copper (which is 80% of its exports) and other raw materials, but 70% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

In Zambia there is a strong presence of Chinese firms, which here have invested over 2 billion dollars and say they have created 20,000 jobs. About two-thirds of new construction works involve Chinese companies or are run by Chinese. But critics respond that Beijing is principally concerned with seizing the country's raw materials, that jobs are mostly those of workers and miners led by Chinese engineers and managers, that the Chinese model of development has brought corruption and uneven development, exacerbating the gap between rich and poor.

Sata's party has long accused China of treating Zambian miners as slaves with exhausting shifts, no security measures and starvation wages. There have been repeated violent protests by workers and miners against the "masters" and last year in a coal mine the Chinese managers fired on the miners in "self-defense", wounding 13: the executives did not end up in prison, and in compensation the wages of miners were brought to the legal minimum (AsiaNews 16.12.2010, Exploitation of African miners by the Communist China).

The new President last week said he would maintain strong diplomatic and trade relations with China and promised not to introduce new taxes on mines, but has repeatedly warned that foreign firms must "respect the law" and criticized the "illegal" work methods in Chinese mines. There is great uncertainty about his policy, especially towards China and the other big mining companies. Also yesterday, after the announcement of his election, financial markets reacted negatively and the local currency lost 2% on the South African marketplace.