BY Christopher Mahove
ASSERTIONS by one Tendai Ruben Mbofana (Zim leaders eagerly defending Chinese colonialism! NewsDay May 25, 2022) that China has colonised Zimbabwe cannot go unchallenged.
The contents of the so-called Open Letter to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, are so outrageous and sophistic that the article leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
For a supposedly educated and mature person — who is a writer and activist, among other self-proclaimed roles — to make these assertions is truly shocking. However, it also reveals a number of things that this article shall attempt to unpack.
In the general context, relations between Zimbabwe and China have evolved over the past four decades, but are underlined by being mutual and co-reinforcing at bilateral and multilateral levels.
China, for its part, has a policy of non-interference, which is well-grounded and acknowledged across the world.
It has not colonised any country —it was a victim of imperialism and colonialism itself — and has no intention of doing so now or in the future, even when it is growing in strength economically and militarily.
Imperialism is a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonisation, use of military force, or other means; while colonialism is the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically — according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Objective facts on the ground show that China is not pursuing this path in any country, least of all in the 21st century.
China has had ties with Africa for more than 60 years beginning first by assisting in the liberation of these countries and establishing economic relations, that have included aid in the building of infrastructure for economic, social and defence purposes.
Over the years, China has built friendship and co-operation which features sincere friendship and equality, win-win for mutual benefit and common development, fairness, justice, and progress with its partners.
Its policies are characterised by openness and inclusiveness under various frameworks such as the current Forum on China-Africa Co-operation and Belt and Road Initiative, legitimate under international law based on multilateral co-operation.
In the practice of modern-day international relations, countries promote successful trade policies between nations, encouraging business, tourism, and immigration, while offering people the opportunity to enhance their lives.
Investments by Chinese companies in Zimbabwe are, therefore, not a rare phenomenon as China has investments in other countries of the world, often with bigger involvement.
China’s investments are well-meaning and are benefitting Zimbabwe more, helping the country with re-industrialisation following years of sanctions-imposed de-industrialisation.
These include investments in Zimbabwe’s key economic sectors. China is Zimbabwe’s chief buyer of tobacco, the country’s major agricultural export.
Chinese investments constitute 75% of foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe and Chinese companies employ about 100 000 people in formal jobs.
China has built and refurbished transport and energy infrastructure, including work at airports and power- generation works.
It has also built and upgraded health facilities and schools.
This year alone, China will hand over a large pharmaceutical warehouse and the new Parliament building, two projects built through Chinese grants, both important symbolic and practical gestures to assist Zimbabwe.
In agriculture, China is assisting with new technologies through its demonstration sites — part of a network of over 50 in Africa; while Chinese medical teams are bringing in new knowledge and practices while treating people for free.
There is an increasing stock of corporate social responsibility programmes by Chinese companies and expatriates who are becoming big philanthropists through assisting communities they live and work in.
All of the above are being done in the name of friendship.
There is no way that the relationship between these two nations can be equated to the colonisation of Zimbabwe by Britain which saw the country losing arable land and its mineral deposits to settlers and local populations forced to work on the mines and farms under slave conditions.
China’s leading position as an investor, and taking advantage of historical and political links to maximise presence in Zimbabwe is hardly a crime.
All nations of the world are free to compete — especially so when the country has declared that it is open for business and that it wants to be “a friend to all, and enemy to none”.
To call China’s investments “oppression”, which Mbofana does is not just missing the point, considering the huge economic benefits that the country as reaping from these investments, but shallow and malicious.
The media should not be used to spread such poisonous views.
While China like any other country has economic and political interests globally, it cannot be said to be pursuing either an imperialism or colonialism agenda even when it secures clear advantages and low-hanging fruits.
Those raising these accusations are either ignorant of what imperialism and colonialism are in real terms, or are just malicious and seek to smear the name of China, annoyed or fearful of its rise as a powerhouse.
Indeed, for educated people like Mbofana, the latter could be true.
There is a clear attempt by some people, including influential writers, media and scholars to raise the colonialism spectre, often in a populist and deceptive way.
Mbofana’s article carried by NewsDay is typical of this.
It is clear that the intention is not only to smear China and drive a wedge between the two countries, but to reverse the new status quo of co-operation between the two countries.
Ironically, while Mbofana appears to condemn British colonialism and settlerism, his article is but a poor veneer of longing for a return of the former years under British rule and economic domination.
In his thinking, economic domination by the British (under colonialism) was better than perceived economic investment by China in independent Zimbabwe currently.
For Mbofana to suggest that his parents were treated well by their white employers is the height of ignorance, but telling as well?
The Chinese gave black Zimbabweans guns to defeat the very same British that were favourites of Mbofana’s erstwhile house-negro parents.
It may be a fact that a lot of anti-Chinese propaganda is coming from people who lost privileges that were denied other people by the British.
For, if everyone were given comfortable lifestyles by Rhodesians as Mbofana suggests, would it have been necessary for them to wage the liberation struggle with the aid of China, Russia and other liberation-supporting forces?
For now, it is critical to address some of the material claims made by Mbofana.
He raises a deeply contentious issue where villagers in eastern Zimbabwe were displaced to pave way for diamond mining.
He paints a misleading picture that it was the Chinese who displaced all the people and exploited the area.
The fact of the matter is that there were seven companies that mined in the area and they represented different interests and nationalities from Zimbabwean, Chinese, Russian and Ghanaian.
These were: Marange Resources, Anjin Investments Ltd., Diamond Mining Company, Gyne Nyame Resources, Jinan Mining Ltd., Kusena Diamonds, and Mbada Diamonds.
Later, the Government of Zimbabwe consolidated these companies into one, named Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.
It is malicious to paint only Chinese companies (two) as having exploited the area.
In fact, Chinese companies operated legally – like the others — and went on to carry out social investments that saw villagers being moved to a new site withstandard houses and facilities far better off than the ones they were staying in.
On the main, Chinese companies are legitimate corporate citizens who uphold the laws of the country and meet basic legal and regulatory requirements including regarding the environment.
Only malicious people like Mbofana will try to paint the situation otherwise and it is unfortunate when they use public platforms like the media to spew such poisonous, hate-filled, racist garbage.
- Christopher Mahove is a seasoned journalist and researcher with a local think-tank.