Zambians riot after miners shot

October 18, 2010

Zambian locals rioted and blocked a road leading to Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine Ltd. on Saturday to protest the shooting of at least 11 miners, allegedly by Chinese supervisors during a protest over low wages, police officials said Sunday.

On Friday, miners at Collum Coal Mine, in the Sinazongwe District of southern Zambia, demonstrated against low pay and poor working conditions. Gunshots followed, allegedly fired by two Chinese supervisors, wounding 11 miners, two of them critically, according to Zambian police and government officials. They were taken to a hospital.

Zambian police arrested the two Chinese supervisors allegedly involved. No charges have been filed. They are expected to appear in court the coming week.

Oliver Pelete, the district commissioner, said he met with officials from the Chinese embassy on Sunday to discuss the incident and conditions at the mine. He said the officials had apologized for the incident.

An embassy representative couldn’t be reached on Sunday to confirm the apology or offer any details of the shooting.

“We will sit down to look at the conditions for the miners [together]…to ensure that all conditions are according to the laws of the country so we won’t have any more conflicts,” Mr. Pelete said.

Reached by phone Sunday, Danny Law, a marketing manager at the mine, called the incident “an accident,” and said only that two Chinese supervisors were attacked.

“The miners attacked the employees,” he said. “They had no other choice but to shoot in the air. Several people were wounded, but it’s not serious.” He said the company would pay for their hospital bills.

Mr. Law said he didn’t know why the miners had attacked their supervisors, but said that some of the miners were “misguided,” though he didn’t elaborate. “The truth will come out very soon,” he said.

Local police said they recorded statements from the two Chinese supervisors allegedly involved.

The incident once again has heightened tensions between Chinese managers and local miners in this copper-rich southern African nation. China, hungry for resources to feed its booming economy, has invested across the continent in oil and mineral extraction. In Zambia, China’ primary interest is copper.

Like other impoverished governments in sub-Saharan Africa, Zambian officials have welcomed Chinese companies and their foreign currency. But local miners have for years protested what they say are insufficient wages and unsafe working conditions at Chinese-run mines. That has led to clashes between miners and their supervisors. Zambia’s lead opposition party has charged the government with allowing Chinese investors to operate above the law.

Rayford Mbulu, the president of the Miners Union of Zambia, said that the managers flouted Zambian law by carrying firearms to the mine. “We don’t care what investments the Chinese are bringing into the country,” he said. “We cannot allow them to shoot miners like that.”

According to union officials, workers at Collum Coal Mine are among the lowest-paid miners in Zambia, with some getting as little as $70 a month. Since last year, the workers have been pressing management for a pay raise and for improved working conditions.

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