Zambia’s unacceptable levels of Chinese unskilled labour

Zambia’s unacceptable levels of Chinese unskilled labour

By Laura Miti

The National Constitutional Convention is currently going on at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, in Lusaka. Citizens all over the country are holding thumbs praying that sooner rather than later, this protracted process that has gobbled up insane amounts in taxpayers’ money will be put to bed. The kind of money the constitution review process has used up, carelessly and uneconomically, is actually one for the history books. This has been a criminally wasteful procedure since President Levy Mwanawasa engineered it to be as unending as possible.  Every administration after that has continued to ensure that the constitutional review process is useful only to silence immediate demands by citizens. Meanwhile, it has continually been designed to never compromise subsequent governments’ unyielding quest to continue ruling via the flawed document that places interest of politicians before that of citizens.

Of course, citizens pray not only that the unnecessarily long money wasting roadmap, whose end even now is known only by State house, reaches its conclusion.  More importantly, the earnest, collective supplication directed heavenwards is that the end to this meandering, start and stop path we have been on will deliver the kind of document that will change Zambia for the better for ever.

But it is not really the constitution convention I want to talk about today. Rather, it is something that came to my attention because of that gathering. The matter exercising my mind this morning is that of how many Chinese nationals are apparently holding menial jobs in the country.

You see, I happened to visit someone who is a delegate to the constitutional convention and is, with a couple hundred other delegates, accommodated at the New Golden Peacock Hotel on Kasangula Road, in Roma. Boy, was I shocked at the number of Chinese people doing very basic jobs in that hotel!

From what I could see, the hotel is employing Chinese waiters, bartenders, even guards at the gate. My question is why, how? Are we issuing work permits to Chinese nationals to come and cook Nshima?

I ask because the nshima I ordered was brought to the table by a Chinese waiter.

Now let me quickly hasten to say that I am no xenophobe. I well understand that in this global village we now inhabit, labour, like capital, travels freely and lands in corners far away from “its home.” I really have no problems with skilled non-Zambians competing for and taking up high end jobs in Zambia if we do not have the personnel for them.

I cannot, though, accept that in this country where millions of young, able-bodied people with basic, and many times tertiary, education are unemployed, we would allow basic positions to be filled by the Chinese. Isn’t government supposed to protect these jobs for citizens in order to reduce the massive poverty and unemployment statistics? Forget statistics, shouldn’t government be doing its damnest to ensure that every job that can be done by a Zambian is made available to them so that a few hundred more citizens can have their sorry lives dignified by work.

My question is how are the Chinese coming here to work as guards getting the work permits they require? What story did the Golden Peacock cook up to convince an immigration officer that they needed expatriate bartenders, waiters and supervisors? As things stand, given our policies that allow free flow of profits generated by “investors” out of the country, it is safe to assume that apart from a large amount of the money Zambia is spending on accommodating delegates to the constitutional convention making its way to China, even the little that could remain in salaries is taken out by cooks and waiters.

My oh my! I better end.

Yes, I have avoided belabouring that little matter about how President Sata and the PF executed an acrobatic about-turn deserving of an Olympic gold medal regarding their campaign promises to deal with the Chinese unskilled-labour situation.  The Golden Peacock is, of course, a great example of this. All I will say is it is time the PF reconsidered this question. It is time to institute polices that give the 20-year old Mwansa, Mabvuto and Mundia, currently sitting around in Chawama somewhere, an outside chance at holding a basic job in their own motherland.

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