MAC: Mines and Communities

Zambia drops shooting charges against Chinese mine bosses

Published by MAC on 2011-04-12
Source: New York Times (2011-04-04)

In January 2011, two Chinese mine bosses were accused of ordering security personnel to fire upon striking workers at the Collum coal mine in Zambia, injuring thirteen of them

Although earlier reports suggested the two men had fled the country, they were in fact arrested and charged.

See: Bosses charged in Zambia mine shooting skip court

But last week Zambian prosecutors were reported to have dropped the case.

At the same time - coincidentally or not -  China's huge Minmetals conglomerate announced a bid for the Australian company, Equinox, owner of Zambia's biggest producing copper mine.

Zambia Drops Case of Shooting by Chinese Mine Bosses

By Barry Bearak

New York Times

4 April 2011

JOHANNESBURG - In what could be a politically explosive decision, prosecutors in Zambia have decided not to pursue a case against two Chinese supervisors who shot 13 coal miners last year during a wage protest, the managers' lawyer said Monday.

The episode, which occurred at the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine on Oct. 15, was viewed as an outrage by many Zambians who resent the enormous economic influence China has over their country.

At the time, the government said the shootings, none of which were fatal, would be vigorously investigated. Prosecutors arrested the two Chinese supervisors - Xiao Lishan and Wu Jiuhua - and charged them with attempted murder, but many civic leaders predicted a whitewash.

Chinese investment in Zambia amounts to more than $1 billion a year, according to the government of the impoverished but mineral-rich country in southern Africa. Most new construction involves Chinese-run companies.

National elections are supposed to occur later this year, though no date has been set. President Rupiah Banda has been a cheerleader for the Chinese, while Michael Sata, the leader of the political opposition, has previously used anti-Chinese sentiment to whip up voter support.

The Zambian office of Transparency International, the corruption watchdog, issued a statement condemning the prosecution's decision.

"Imagine a Zambian shooting a Chinese manager," said Reuben L. Lifuka, the chapter president of Transparency International. "We are sure such a person would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Unless something is done and done quickly, the ordinary people will lose confidence in the judicial system."

George Chisanga, the managers' lawyer, said he received notification on Friday of the prosecution's decision. By law, no reason needed to be given. A prosecutor contacted in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, refused to answer any questions about the case.

"The charges had already been reduced to an attempt to cause grievous bodily harm with an intent to maim," said Mr. Chisanga, who contended that even that offense would have been difficult to prove, since the government itself had brokered agreements with the wounded miners not to pursue the matter.

"My clients are very happy," Mr. Chisanga said. "The whole case is really about a clash of cultures, people from conflicting backgrounds who don't understand how to deal with each other."

Collum Coal Mine is owned by a Chinese businessman, Xu Jianxue. His four younger brothers operate the mine's four shafts, employing Chinese supervisors from Leping, their hometown in Jiangxi Province.

The supervisors speak very little English or Tonga, the two languages likely to be understood by their 800 Zambian employees, who at the time of the shooting were paid about $4 a day to walk more than 1,000 steps into the ground and work under conditions the government said were unsafe.

During a protest organized by the Gemstone and Allied Workers Union of Zambia, hundreds of angry miners marched toward the locked gate of Shaft 3. The miners later said they had no intention of hurting anyone, but as the crowd butted up against the fence, the two managers fired their shotguns, in what the company called self-defense.

A Zambian journalist contributed reporting from Lusaka, Zambia.

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