Imagine your father has an ‘all-weather friend’, who appears to stand by him in every situation. He looks away as your father brutally batters your mother and does not appear to give a hoot when his family goes without decent nutritional food. Yet, the ‘dear friend’ never hesitates buying your father liters of alcohol, books him into lodges to enjoy with his secret lover, and dresses him with the latest exquisite attire.
In all this, he is not willing to (as he simply does not care) help when you cry out for desperately-needed school fees or money to procure urgent medical attention for your severely sick mother. As a matter of fact, the friend now appears to have some undue unexplained influence over your father – such that, he (father) readily gives him various family expensive assets, leaving his wife and children poorer.
What can we say about your father’s friend?
Can he be regarded as a true friend or actually an unwanted manipulating crook – who does not genuinely love your father, let alone his family – but merely wants to exploit him?
- Is this not exactly what we are witnessing with the relationship between Zimbabwe and China?
- Our supposed ‘all-weather friends’ seem always too ready to ‘assist’ the country.
- Just yesterday, they donated some military hardware, in the form of armored fighting vehicles, personnel carriers, ambulances, motorized water purifiers, patrol boats, minibuses, sniper rifles, machine guns, and hand pistols.
- As I am writing this list, my mind cannot help thinking of the Rudd Concession of 1888 – signed between Cecil John Rhodes and Ndebele King Lobengula – in which the latter was promised a gunboat, and Martini-Henry rifles with their ammunition in exchange for our gold!
Why wouldn’t I, since the Chinese are pretty much doing the same?
In the midst of donating a humongous parliament building in Mount Hampden and assisting in the massive expansion of the RGM International Airport – Zimbabwe has, in the process, lost its natural resources to the Chinese. The East Asians have seemingly been granted ‘complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated and contained’ in Zimbabwe, in typical Rudd Concession fashion. Whilst the Chinese are pillaging our diamonds, platinum, gold, and now lithium, local communities continue to wallow in extreme poverty. According to a recent ZELA (Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association) report, Chinese-owned companies have acquired the biggest portfolio of lithium mining projects in Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, while Zimbabwe needs these Chinese investments, it turns a blind eye to some of the governance factors that hinder Zimbabwe’s economic growth and benefits to communities. These include, but are not limited to, poor safety standards, unsafe working conditions, unfair displacement measures, environmental damage, and low wages for workers. Surely, what benefit have the people of Marange derived from the discovery and exploitation of diamonds in their area for the past 18 years? Are they actually not worse off and poorer today – having even been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands and moved to areas without any meaningful infrastructure or services?
The same apples to the people of Hwange, Binga, Mutoko, Mutorashanga, and many others – who were dispossessed of their lands, with the responsible Chinese companies even accused of the desecrating of sacred graves, shrines, and heritage sites. All in all, though, there has not been significant compensation for these removals, much less any development to write home about – not only in these communities but also across the country. If these communities are ‘lucky’, they may have some ‘token benefits’, such as one or two classroom blocks and a road and bridge constructed, as well as poorly-paid unsafe menial jobs offered to local youths.
This, in addition to, the wanton destruction of local environments through widespread land degradation. This means that, upon the completion of these mining activities, the affected communities will be left with useless land, on top of being poverty-stricken. With Zimbabwe being home to the largest lithium reserves in Africa, the seventh largest diamond producer in the world, and a leader in gold production, should we, by now, not be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) or Saudi Arabia of Africa?
Yet, we continue hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons – since we are only identified for our poverty, where nearly half the population are classified as ‘extremely poor’. In spite of these ‘investments’, which appear awesome on paper, the Chinese have focused more on taking as much as they can from the country whilst ploughing back as little as possible.
This sad story does not end here.
Zimbabwe is clearly sinking into a deep, inescapable ‘debt trap’ craftily set up by our very own ‘all-weather friends’.
When it comes to real development in the country – which has the potential of genuinely improving the livelihoods of the ordinary citizenry – the Chinese have absolutely nothing to donate. They will easily give military equipment and a grandiose parliament building – which have no significance to poor Zimbabweans. However, what matters the most will always come at a cost. Let it be stated that most, if not all, of these ‘investments’ and loans from China have been shrouded in secrecy – since the terms of their agreements are never made public.
This, of course, raises more questions than answers.
What are the Chinese truly receiving in return for their ‘investments’, or donations, or loans?
Are these companies even paying taxes?
Yet, the President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa government is more than happy taxing ordinary suffering Zimbabweans more and more each time.
Zimbabwe owes money to China Eximbank and Sinosure, which provides export credit insurance to Chinese companies. As I write this, Harare owes Beijing nearly US$3 billion, mostly for infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, Mnangagwa’s administration has not been servicing its debts fast enough, though it paid US$18 million to China Eximbank and the same amount to Sinosure.
This resulted in US$156 million being unlocked to fund the completion of two new units at the Hwange Thermal Power Station, refurbishment of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport terminal and cellular network provider NetOne’s fiber project.
The slow pace in serving Chinese loans is why progress at these projects, at times, appeared stalled and not going anywhere. India actually had to chip in with US$18 million that was used to build a water supply line to the new power units at Hwange. As can be seen, China is not happy – and when China is not happy, dire consequences await!
Who can easily forget the fate of Sri Lanka, which, in 2018, was forced to hand over the Hambantota Port to China after failing to repay the US$1.3 billion loan for its construction? Zimbabwe owes China about US$3 billion and is clearly struggling to pay back!
One can only imagine what will happen!
Or, will the Zimbabwe regime repeat its past shenanigans when they used platinum reserves worth over US$26 billion (some reports say US$52 billion) as security for a US$200 million loan from China? This US$200 million was not even for the benefit of the ordinary citizenry – but intended to give high-ranking ZANU PF officials, legislators, judges and politically-connected individuals expensive farm equipment, for which they subsequently never paid back?
The ‘all-weather friendship’ may prove to only be ‘fair-weather friendship’ after all!
In fact, that is exactly what is witnessed in the manner of ‘donations’ made to Zimbabwe by the Asian giant. If we are genuinely ‘all-weather friends’ why would they donate military equipment or a parliament building – in a country without adequate hospitals and schools? Why not donate much-needed essential medications, cancer machines, or ambulances that can actually be used by the general population?
- Who needs a new parliament building when many rural children in Zimbabwe are still learning under trees or in dilapidated unsafe structures?
- What does the Zimbabwe regime need armored fighting vehicles, personnel carriers, patrol boats, sniper rifles, machine guns, and hand pistols for?
- Who are we at war with?
Yet, we are all aware who will likely face the brunt of all this weaponry: the average suffering Zimbabweans who chooses to exercise his constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate. These Chinese know very well that the military equipment they are donating will be employed against ordinary citizens.
- Again, I ask: Is China really helping suffering Zimbabweans?
- Or, is China merely helping itself?
The people of Zimbabwe need to stand against this exploitative relationship between their government and China!