Chinese businessmen murders stir tensions in Zambia

LUSAKA (AFP) – The brutal murder of three Chinese factory bosses in Zambia, allegedly killed by disgruntled employees over the weekend, has rekindled tensions over China’s strong presence in the country.

The local press reported the three victims, who were found dead in their burnt out factory, were killed by aggrieved employees of their textile business in Makeni, a suburb of the capital Lusaka.

Police spokeswoman Esther Katongo on Wednesday said investigations had so far led to the arrest of two suspects, reporting also that they had “retrieved the third body of the Chinese national murdered in Makeni.”

“As government we are saddened by the killing and it’s regrettable, it’s barbaric and I am certain that the police will be on top of things,” Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji told AFP. “This is anarchy.”

The killings come after a campaign by Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa, to close Chinese-owned businesses, including barber shops and restaurants, after locals complained about discrimination.

The mayor has also targetted his crusade on a number of other Chinese businesses, lambasting them to use English and stop employing only Chinese nationals, saying “apartheid” ended a long time ago.

His altercations with the Chinese went viral on social media, prompting some government officials to denounce his action but he won accolades from many Zambians.

Sampa on Wednesday apologised to Chinese nationals in Zambia for his actions saying “I accept my error in judgement.”

Zambian rights activist Brebner Changala warned of further repercussions as workers did not feel protected from Chinese employers who “want to behave like they are the owners of the country.”

“The unions and the ministry of labour that are supposed to protect them are not and so they have to fend and defend themselves,” Changala told AFP.

According to a United Nations 2019 world population study, an estimated 80,000 Chinese nationals live in Zambia.

China is the largest foreign investor in the landlocked country, having built airports, roads, schools, factories and police stations, fomenting anti-Chinese sentiment with Zambia now heavily indebted to Beijing.