Exclusive: China on Africa: Ally or a New Colonialist?
By: Feston Konzani
An investigation by The Malawi Star has established the unregulated, self governed, physical abuses and unsafe working conditions in Malawi’s Chinese owned factories and shops in the country.
It is established according to the findings by this publication that Chinese owned factories and shops are more or less like labour camps to Malawians.
According to the employees in the factories, there are no personnel or human resource managers or departments and no formal agreements between the workers and the employees.
Malawi is believed to be an Agro-based economy, yet these Chinese owned factories manufacture goods ranging from plastic products and other items within Malawi but labeled ‘Made in China,’ which they sell in the same country using cheap labour under what has been described as very unsafe, unregulated, self-governed, exploitative and physical abuse conditions.
“I get paid MK4,500 a week and I have a daughter who has just been selected to a public boarding secondary school. I have to pay for her travel as well as everything needed to keep her there. How on MK4,500 can I afford to do this?” laments a worker, who pleaded for anonymity.
Proclaims another worker who also asked to remain anonymous, “I have worked for these people for the past ten years and the treatment has always remained the same. We work as slaves but we thought that these Chinese were here to help Malawi to progress. We feel as if we have entered a new colonial era where we are exploited by these Chinese. But what can we do? As far as I am concerned, the Chinese are the worst employers than Indians.”
This is Malawi and it is a country we call home. Supposedly, we have a government which is supposed to protect us but what have we got in return? A new economic colonialism.
“Our government allowed these people to come here and set up these companies, but if I was to ask the Minister of Labour, I would ask him on the conditions stipulated in the allowing of these people to come here and set up these businesses?,” Said Christopher Mwale a worker at one of the Chinese owned factories.
“We work 12 hour shifts without a break and once you are found half asleep during the night, you are severely beaten by the boss. A single absence from work regardless of the reasons results in a dismissal and you get nothing,” Said the worker from another Chinese owned factory who like many others would only speak on the condition of anonymity.
According to workers in not one, but a number of Chinese owned shops and factories, the owners who barely speak English use outdated tactics of intimidation and corrupt methods and if questioned whether what they are doing to them is indeed what the Government agreed or stipulated in the agreements between them and this country, they are told to report to whoever they want to report to.
“We are slaves in our own country with no rights or any representatives either in government or the so called unions. Look at me, what can I do against these people? They can’t speak English or though my English is broken but these people cannot even understand my broken English. There is no personnel or human resource departments here and you tell me what or who can we go to complain to, seriously?” Said one of the workers.
A frail 65-year old security guard at one of those companies told this publication that it was better that he was at home cultivating his maize field, but he could not afford the fertilizer since there is so much corruption in the Fisp programme so much that he has never considered to be a beneficiary.
Maliko Mphwanye, a Mulanje Lhomwe speaking security guard working at one of the Chinese owned factories, confided to this publication that he voted for President Mutharika thinking and hoping that he was going to change Malawi. Now he feels betrayed by the politicians whom he now considers to be the same and said has no reason to even vote for anyone in the upcoming elections.
“Ambwiye (Uncle in Lhomwe) I am not prejudicial in my judgements. I did not vote for Mutharika because he is from the south but that as his late brother, he was going to make Malawi better. But look at me right now, these Chinese are exploiting us in our own country. Are we truly independent or are we just under a new colonial rule?” Said Maliko.
Efforts to speak to anyone from the Ministry of Labour proved futile because his phone went unanswered. The factory owners that we did try to speak with were indeed unable to speak English, proving an interview impossible.