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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
puts its stamp on Zimbabwean economy
November 03, 2013
Under the iron grip of
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's economy lies in ruins and human rights
abuses are rampant.
Yet, the country once
known as Africa's "bread basket" is attracting Chinese
firms in ever-growing numbers.
Western companies left
Zimbabwe long ago, unable to tolerate the policies of the now 89-year-old
Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.
China is keen to exploit
Zimbabwe's vast mineral resources and restore its ability to be
a leading producer of crops.
Mugabe is no darling
of the West. But his landlocked country in southern Africa welcomes
the growing Chinese interest, even though ordinary citizens are
The farming village of
Chinhoyi is located roughly 100 kilometers northwest of Harare,
Zimbabwe's capital. Fields operated by local farmers flank the main
road. The harvest is finished, the dry season has begun and the
grass is withered and flattened.
Suddenly, a vast tract
of verdant farmland comes into view. Countless automatic sprinklers
shower the fields with water. The sight is reminiscent of the days
when Zimbabwe was a model of agricultural ingenuity for the rest
But it is the red flag
of China that flies over this land these days. Smartly attired Chinese
in suits come and go.
The land was a white-owned
farm that was seized by the Mugabe administration. A Chinese company
has operated it for around three years under a contract with the
According to a manager
there, the 5,000-hectare farm grows wheat, soybeans, tobacco and
other crops that are harvested twice a year. There are plans to
expand the farm to 8,000 hectares in the near future. The manager
said 20 Chinese and 500 Zimbabweans work the farm.
In addition to direct
management, Chinese companies are sprouting across the country,
drawing up contracts with individual Zimbabwean farmers.
One top Zimbabwean official
has a contract with a Chinese company to sell agricultural produce
from 200 hectares of formerly white-owned farmland now in his possession.
His workers use fertilizer and pesticide provided at no cost by
the company. He sells the harvested tobacco wholesale to the company.
pay good money," the Zimbabwean official said. "Of course
I welcome Japanese companies, too, but I wonder whether they'll
do anything for me that the Chinese don't do already."
On the other hand, Commercial
Farmers Union President Charles Taffs says he has lost all his farmland.
"I made that farmland,"
he said. "It doesn't make sense (for Chinese companies to run
Chinese companies are
also significantly expanding operations in businesses related to
Zimbabwe's vast mineral wealth, such as gold, diamonds and chromium.
About 60 kilometers north
of Harare, a dirt road in Mashonaland Central Province, northern
Zimbabwe, leads to a gold mine. There, Chinese-made trucks and heavy
machinery work at full capacity. A Zimbabwean guard wears an armband
marked "People's Republic of China- Security" in Chinese.
An election poster for Mugabe hangs near the entrance.
Not far from the mine
is a simple building housing Chinese engineers. There is also a
field growing Chinese vegetables like green onion and garland chrysanthemum.
Engineers can be found playing mah-jongg in a small room.
The site, which is home
to 12 Chinese, employs 150 Zimbabweans. None of the Chinese is fluent
in English, the country's official language. The only thing one
Chinese man, apparently the boss, said in English was, "Business,
good. Gold, many."
According to Joe, a 55-year-old
miner, conditions deteriorated after the mine's management switched
from a British company to the Chinese one.
"Pay and safety
have both declined. Even when we're working 200 meters below ground,
the Chinese won't take measures to prevent cave-ins," Joe said.
He said the Chinese firm
is expanding the scale of extraction at nearby gold mines.
An economist with the
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce weighed in with this observation:
"We are becoming economically colonized by China. Laborers
at Chinese companies are working under tragically bad conditions.
They're practically treated like slaves."
Zimbabwe, formerly called
Rhodesia, was once a British colony. The white minority continued
to rule the land even after other African countries began gaining
independence in the 1950s.
Mugabe, who fought a
war of independence in the name of "ethnic liberation,"
has run the country as the "hero of the people" since
winning its freedom in 1980.
China had supported Mugabe's
independence movement in the past, and in 2002 it quickly strengthened
both economic and military ties with Zimbabwe.
This was after a deterioration
in relations with the West when the Mugabe administration began
seizing large white-owned farms in 2000.
Zimbabwe, suffering under
Western economic sanctions, formulated its "Look East"
diplomatic policy, placing a greater emphasis on Asia, and strengthening
economic ties with China became a way for it to escape its difficulties.
China, meanwhile, has
its eyes on Zimbabwe's abundant mineral resources and high agricultural
The Chinese Ministry
of Foreign Affairs has called Zimbabwe "an old friend,"
and China has used this relationship to accelerate its companies'
forays into the Zimbabwean economy.
In the presidential
election held in July, Western countries backed Prime Minister
Morgan Tsvangirai, who is sympathetic to their interests.
There was hope that a
change in government would lead to a revival of economic relations,
but the results gave Mugabe a landslide victory.
According to press reports,
Mugabe met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the United Nations
General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24. Mugabe said, "China
is our most trustworthy partner."
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