Laura Miti’s response to ‘Chinaman’

Dear Chinaman

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my article. I hope this is the beginning of a discussion round this question of Chinese workers in Zambia which I hope others, on either side of the debate, can join.

Let me start by saying there is little that you say about Zambians’ work ethic or lack thereof that I would disagree with. While maybe not the worst on the continent, Zambians can mess around at the work place and be terribly unproductive. Most annoying for me is the attitude towards time. Workers will saunter in an hour late and want to take time off for every excuse possible. Between genuine time off matters such as the death of a close family neighbour, and the ridiculousness of wanting to attend a prayer meeting conducted by a powerful Prophet from Nigeria during work hours, there is a whole range of often mind boggling reasons that Zambians imagine they should be given paid time off for.

Even when employees show up at work regularly, employers have to deal with the problem of poor standards that are taken as normal. Shoddy service, eating at inappropriate times and places, talking on the cell phone while a client is waiting, poor workmanship – all are common. We are only  human not machines so do not expect excellence all the time, seems to be the attitude.

And of course there is the issue of an education system that is releasing increasingly less skilled workers into the workforce.

So yes, Mr Chinaman, you have a point.

That conceded, I still would argue that you and I are discussing this question from divergent viewpoints. I would still contend that a poor work ethic among the general citizenry cannot be an excuse for a hotel to bring in waiters from China or, for goodness sake, guards. I would also say that the unemployment figures in Zambia are so high that if an employer really put their mind to it, they would find people out there willing to work long, hard hours in order to put a regular meal of nshima and beans on the table for their families. There are many adult Zambians willing to do jobs that in other countries are reserved for young people on their way to better paying positions. These adults take the entry level jobs and stay at them for years.

So yes, we have a poor work culture but heck there are millions of young and older people out there who, if given a chance, will work hard. And if all else fails, I am sure there are college and university students happy to take part time jobs in order to pay fees or have a little bit of pocket money that makes life easier. Why not employ them instead of a Chinese waiter?

So Mr Chinaman the argument that Zambians are lazy is no excuse for the situation at the Golden Peacock Hotel.

But to be honest it is not even your problem, this allowing “expatriates” to hold menial jobs in a sea of citizen unemployment. It is ours. Our government needs to ensure that only jobs that cannot be filled by locals ever go to expatriates but even more importantly that our education system teaches young Zambians the value of good old fashioned hard work.

Again thank you for writing and I hope you are one of the skilled Chinese here to pass on skills and implement projects that, we for now, cannot.

By the way, because this is a quick response, I have chosen to not to address the China makes cheap goods available to the poor and is overall Africa’s best friend question. There are two sides to that story too but let’s leave it for another day.

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