Zambian police have arrested several suspects following the death of a Chinese national during a wage riot at a Chinese-owned coal mine. Officials condemned the riot, but urged foreign employers to respect local workers.
Zambian police said they had detained 12 people following the killing of a Chinese national, but had not yet charged them.
The miners were rioting over the weekend at the embattled Chinese-owned Collum coal mine in Sinazongwe, southern Zambia, in protest at management delays in implementing a newly revised minimum wage initiated by the government.
The dead Chinese national was identified by Sinazongwe district commissioner Dodo Sindaza as 50-year-old Wu Shengzai.
He died after being hit by a trolley which was pushed towards him as he fled underground.
The AFP news agency reported that the suspects who pushed the trolley were not part of the group arrested. It quoted southern province police commissioner Fred Mutondo as saying those they believed were responsible were “still on the run.”
Zambia’s Labor Minister Fackson Shamenda rushed to scene on Saturday, but found Chinese officials in a state of shock and unable to comment.
Some of the protesting miners had gone on strike and had started assaulting fellow miners who wanted to carry on working. AFP says most of the rioters were villagers and a second Chinese national was wounded.
Nkole Chishimba, president of the Mine Workers Union of Zambia noted that the mine was located close to the local village and he expected the community there to condemn the miners’ action. “It is unprecedented here in Zambia for such a thing to happen,” he said, insisting that Zambia “should continue to be a safe destination for investment.”
Zambia’s deputy Labor Minister Rayford Mbulu said the government regretted what the miners had done, but added that there was a lesson for other employers, namely that they respect workers.
“The issue at the Collum Coal Mine has been brewing for a long time and it is as if the volcano had erupted,” he said.
The deputy minister was believed to be referring to events at the mine in 2010 when Chinese managers shot and wounded Zambian workers who were protesting over poor wages. The case was withdrawn from court after compensation was paid.
China has promised to abide by new labor laws
Referring to this latest incident, Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu said the miners who killed the Chinese national would be prosecuted. He said there were “no sacred cows” when enforcing the law and appealed for maximum restraint from workers and employees as the government revisited issues surrounding the revised minimum wage.
Tension over working conditions between Chinese employers and Zambian workers is not new. In 2005, 51 Zambian workers were killed in an explosion at a Chinese owned factory in northern Zambia. The Chinese ambassador to Zambia, Juan Xiao, recently urged all Chinese investors in Zambia to abide by the new labor laws.