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Article

16 May 2022

Author:
Kate Bartlett, Voice of America

Africa: The public raft of abuses by Chinese employers on the continent rising as Embassy in Namibia issues guide on how to avoid transgressions

‘Are Rights Abuses Tarnishing China's Image in Africa? 6 May 2022

An irate Chinese boss is screaming at his African workers as they take a lunch break, urging them to work harder or else the company won't make any money. While intended to be funny, the new Egyptian TV commercial -- since pulled for fear of offending Beijing -- reveals widely-held African perceptions about the way Chinese companies on the continent treat their local staff. Last month, a Rwandan court made a significant statement against the mistreatment of its citizens by sentencing mine manager Sun Shujun to 20 years in jail after a video of him whipping a tied-up worker went viral. The case sparked outrage across the continent and even elicited a rare response from the Chinese Embassy in Kigali, which warned its citizens in Rwanda "to abide by local laws and regulations."

… Last year a Kenyan waiter was awarded more than $25,000 in damages after he was whipped by his Chinese restaurant boss. The abuse was captured on video and showed the boss laughing while the waiter begged for forgiveness. A Kenyan court found the man had also suffered "continuous sexual harassment, corporal punishment, verbal abuse and confinement" while working at the restaurant. There have also been reports of Chinese employers mistreating locals who worked on a Chinese-built railway in Kenya documented in 2018 by The Standard newspaper. Separately, a Chinese trader was deported in a highly publicized case after using racial slurs against Kenyans, including calling the president "a monkey" in 2018. Due to its massive mineral wealth and large number of Chinese-managed mines, the Democratic Republic of Congo is another country where rights abuses are regularly recorded. On Wednesday, a Congolese investigative journalist released a report detailing how small-scale Chinese cobalt miners are using child labour.

… In Zimbabwe too, abuses by Chinese employers of local workers have been recorded, with one of the most egregious examples in 2020 when a Chinese employer, Zhang Xuen, shot and seriously injured two Zimbabwean workers after a wage dispute at a mine in the town of Gweru. Zhang was charged with attempted murder and the case is still pending. The Chinese national was taken to court and the embassy in Harare said it was "highly concerned" about the shooting but stressed it was "an isolated incident." The embassy statement continued, "any possible illegal acts and persons who violate the law should not be shielded." Shamiso Mtisi, deputy director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), disagrees with the embassy's statement saying the incident was isolated. He said there is a pattern of abuse by Chinese employers in Zimbabwe.