Investigation debunks abuse allegations of employees by Chinese mining companies in Zimbabwe

HWANGE – A story by The Standard, a Zimbabwean private weekly Sunday newspaper, alleging gross mistreatment and abuse of local employees by Chinese-owned companies in Hwange, a coal mining district in Western Zimbabwe, has been dismissed as false.

A recent in-depth investigation carried out at the companies revealed that the sensational allegations raised in the newspaper were fictitious.

“NOTHING LIKE THAT HAPPENED”

The story, titled “Rampant abuse of workers at Chinese-owned coal mines exposed”(The Standard, May 15, 2022) alleged that a local worker at Zhong Jian Investments, a coal mining and processing company, had been physically abused by his Chinese supervisor and sustained injuries which needed medical attention.

The so-called investigation was conducted with support from the Information for Development Trust, a Zimbabwean independent investigative journalism center, with funding from the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe.

Firstly, the story alleged that Kudakwashe Nengomasha, a local employee at Zhong Jian, “was struggling to live with the humiliation of being assaulted by his former work supervisor in front of friends and workmates over a minor dispute.”

Hwange, Zimbabwe, June 16 — Kudakwashe Nengomasha, a diesel plant fitter at Zhong Jian Investments, a Chinese-owned coal mining company, is seen at his work place in Hwange, Matebeleland North Province, Zimbabwe, on June 13, 2022.

Based on an account provided by an unnamed worker’s committee member, the story alleged that Nengomasha’s Chinese supervisor started splashing him with water without any provocation.

It further states that when he tried to retaliate, the supervisor got agitated and started pelting him with stones.

The supervisor then “seized the badly injured Nengomasha and pounded him with fists,” according to the story.

In contrast, Nengomasha, acknowledged that a small misunderstanding had occurred between himself and his supervisor due to some misunderstandings, but it never went physical.

“I had a conflict with my Chinese supervisor. We met at the water point and he started splashing me with water. I don’t know what his intentions. Then I went and reported the issue to the HR (Human Resources) and the issue was resolved,” Nengomasha said.

Secondly, the article stated that following the incident, Nengomasha was fired from his job, and he is now working for another company in the area.

“It was just a minor incident, a conflict, and the conflict was resolved amicably, I wasn’t fired, I was just transferred from the mining workshop to the cocking plant workshop where I am currently working,” Nengomasha refuted the baseless allegations.

Thirdly, in the story, Nengomasha was addressed as a machine operator, but he is a diesel plant fitter.

In addition, the article claimed that Nengomasha had to seek medical attention at a local hospital after the “vicious attack” which left him “badly injured.”

“I would also like to dismiss the allegations that I was injured, or pelted, nothing like that happened, because the incident never got physical, it was just verbal,” said Nengomasha.

“WORKING ENVIRONMENT IS PEACEFUL”

The article went as far as showing a picture of injured hand of an unmanned employee from an unnamed company claiming that the hand belonged to “some of the workers at the Hwange Coal Mines” owned by the Chinese.

Further dismissing false allegations in the story, Nengomasha explained that since the issue was resolved amicably, he has not encountered any challenges or threats at work.

“Currently the working environment is peaceful. There are no threats, it’s just a good environment and the supervisors and the bosses, they are not treating anyone bad or anything,” he said.

Nengomasha said he had no idea of what had triggered the misunderstanding, saying a language misunderstanding could have caused it.

Hwange, Zimbabwe, June 16 — A group of Zimbabwean and Chinese workers are seen working together at a coal mine owned by Zhong Jian Investments, a Chinese-owned company in Hwange, Matebeleland North Province, Zimbabwe, on June 13, 2022.

Cosmas Chikari, a Diesel Plant and Fitter Senior Workshop Supervisor at Zhong Jian Investments said communication challenges between Chinese supervisors and local employees can result in minor conflicts.

“Basically, the challenge we had here before used to be language barrier. At the workshop here we used to work without a translator but as of now everything is in order,” Chikari said.

In addition to allegations of a “brutal attack” on Nengomasha, the article further alleged that his experience was not an isolated incident at Chinese-owned coal mines.

The article claimed that Zhong Jian Investments was not paying its employees according to the salaries as stipulated by the National Employment Council (NEC).

With regards to the issue of the payment of salaries, Chikari said the company follows all government gazetted laws.

“Our salaries basically they are gazetted by the NEC. So they are following the NEC rules. So we cannot blame them on the issue of salaries. That is for us employees if we need more salaries we need to negotiate with the company,” he said.

Herbert Musaka, a rig operator at the company, confirmed that the company follows all government regulations.

However, he said the inflationary environment in the country is eroding workers earnings.

Zhong Jian Investments, which started operations in 2018, is one of the largest coal miners in Zimbabwe and the company has an estimated workforce of about 800 workers.

“WE WORK TOGETHER VERY WELL”

The story further alleged that cased of assault are also common at another Chinese owned company, the Zimbabwe ZhongXin Coking Company (ZZCC).

ZZCC is a joint venture project between Qualisave Mineral Resources of Zimbabwe and Yuxia ZhongXin Coking Company of China.

Through its subsidiary, the Zimbabwe ZhongXin Electric Energy, the company is one of Zimbabwe’s independent power producers.

The article claimed that in addition to the injuries-related dismissals at the Chinese-owned companies, “workers faced other abuses such as being dismissed for unclear reasons; lack of safety and poor working conditions at the workplace; lack of protective clothing, and poor salaries.”

Bigboy Mushangwe, a worker at ZZCC, said allegations about physical or verbal abuse of workers were unfounded.

“Here at our working environment as welders, the beating and abuse of workers is unheard of. Our supervisor, whom we call uncle, teaches us kindly when we make mistakes. If you make an error he laughs, he guides you telling you that you have made an error, you should do it this way. We work together very well,” he said.

Another worker, Tafirenyika Dube, who has been with the company for the past four years, said the company takes the safely of the workers seriously.

“Before we start work, they make sure that we are safely dressed. Do you have gloves, a helmet, and safety shoe? Is your working environment safe? Do you have a safely be?” he said.

SMEAR CAMPAIGN FUNDED BY THE U.S. EMBASSY

Zimbabwe has seen an increased number of Chinese investments particularly in the mining sector.

In 2019, the mineral rich southern African country set out an ambitious drive to increase revenue from mining to 12 billion U.S. dollars by 2023, with Chinese investments in the sector contributing immensely towards achieving that goal.

In this background, there has been a smear campaign mostly targeting Chinese mining companies in Zimbabwe through disinformation and sensationalism in the independent media and social platforms.

The plot was first exposed in an article published on September 21, 2021 by Zimbabwe’s largest daily newspaper The Herald, which revealed that the U.S. was funding and training local reporters from private media organizations to write anti-China stories and discredit Chinese investments. (See this article https://www.herald.co.zw/us-plan-to-discredit-chinese-investments-unmasked/)

The reporters were told to portray Chinese companies as “causing harm to communities, environment and workers,” the article noted.

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