IN what has been described by authorities as tragic and criminal, some irate people have killed a Chinese mine boss during a wage dispute bordering around the minimum wage between the Chinese owners of Collum Coal Mine and mine workers.
The death has been confirmed by Fred Mutondo, the deputy police commissioner for Southern Province, who identified the mine boss as 50- year-old Wu Shenzai, whose place of origin in China has not been disclosed. Two other Chinese managers have been injured.
Two people have been arrested in connection with the killing.
And Minister of Labour Fackson Shamenda, who expressed regret at the incident, said from the scene of the crime that initial findings suggest that Mr Wu was killed by ordinary thugs and not miners.
“It appears the perpetrators of the violence are just a bunch of criminals who took advantage of the disturbance and committed this offence,” Mr Shamenda said, adding that: “We will give proper and official direction on how to implement the minimum wage on Tuesday [tomorrow] in order to avoid confusion.”
A team of police officers has been dispatched to Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe to investigate the incident, according to Mr Mutondo, who said the incident happened on Saturday between 11:00 hours and 12:00 hours. Mr Mutondo has described the incident as “criminal”.
The mine offices were looted and computers and other valuable property were stolen.
“The action was criminal because they stole computers and other property, which were not part of the employment conditions,” Mr Mutondo said.
The incident comes about two years after some two Chinese managers opened fire at demonstrating workers – who sought better perks – injuring 13 of them seriously. The managers that injured the workers have since appeared in court.
Mr Mutondo, however, said calm has returned to the area although the mine has shut down following the confusion as investigations continue to establish what sparked the violence.
On arrests, Mr Mutondo said: “It will be premature for me at this stage to state whether we have effected arrests or not because investigations are ongoing.”
He warned that police will not allow lawlessness over matters that can easily be resolved.
According to Mr Mutondo, the riot started after management refused to endorse demands for salary arrears following the revised minimum wage but he could not really say the difference between miners and ordinary villagers.
Mr Mutondo said according to management, they agreed to pay the workers the revised minimum wage without errors.
He said this annoyed the miners who connived with villagers and rioted.
Mr Mutondo said they stoned the Chinese workers at the mine, who ran for cover.
He said the deceased mine boss met his death in one of the shafts by a metal trolley, which was pushed at him by the angry rioters.
“This man was already injured when he ran into one of the shafts but the miners followed him and pushed one of the metal trolleys at him and he [Chinese national] could not avoid the trolley because he was injured,” Mr Mutondo said.
In the past, Chinese ambassador to Zambia Zhou Yuxiao has beseeched the Zambian media to desist from ‘generalising’ wrongs committed by his country’s nationals, saying each individual and company had the responsibility of operating within the confines of Zambian laws.
Last month, Mr Shamenda announced the revised minimum wages for domestic workers from K250,000 to K522,400 per month.
The minimum wage for shop and general workers was also raised by 100 percent, from K419,000 to K1,132,400, and the changes were effective July 4 this year.
The Zambia Federation of Employers has, however, rejected the new wages claiming that it was not consulted by government prior to the increment.
China, which is presently the largest consumer of copper, has been expanding in Africa and tapping the continent’s resources while at the same time investing more than US$30 billion in the mineral resource sector as it continues to expand its economy.
In Zambia, Chinese mining companies have pumped about US$1billion and employed thousands of Zambians but worker-employer relations remain a source of discussion