A Chinese contractor building a military college in Zimbabwe has been accused of ill-treating and underpaying local workers, throwing the spotlight on the increasing influence of the Asian giant in the southern African country.
Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company (AFECC) started construction of the $98 million college in Harare and says it will complete the project “in a record time of one and half years.”
The project agreement had a construction time of three years. But a British newspaper last week reported that the workers at the site complained of being overworked.
James Zhang, a senior official from AFECC on Wednesday told state media that the report was meant to tarnish relations between Zimbabwe and China.
“This very bad for China-Zimbabwe relations, especially for the national defence college,” he was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper.
He claimed the least paid employee was getting $250 per month, a figure which he said compared favourably to wages paid by other Zimbabwean construction companies.
Mr Zhang said the workers were also paid for overtime, provided with protective clothing and given free lunch and supper among other benefits.
“The article says there is physical punishment and psychological scare to the local workers but this is not true,” he said. “It has not happened before.
“We give all our workers safety shoes and clothes and we have a Chinese safety inspector on site.”
A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Peters also described the allegations as a “false creation from a futile mind.”
“There is no figment of truth (in the article) and I do not want to dignify it any further because it is a false creation,” he told the Herald.
He also denied reports the project was a personal undertaking by President Robert Mugabe saying it was an international college.
“This college is going to accept foreign students from friendly SADC countries and outside SADC including countries such as Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria,” he said.
AFECC reportedly employs 700 workers made up of Zimbabweans and 190 Chinese.
Lt Col Peters told the paper that the company had a huge construction capacity capable of laying 1,500 bricks a day.
“No British company is able to do that in a year. I am yet to find a company that can put up that huge project in a year,” he said.
The college, which the military says is 80 per cent complete, will comprise at least three big lecture blocks, a four-storey headquarters, sports stadium, gymnasium and a parade square among other structures.
Late last year, workers at a Chinese diamond mine in Zimbabwe went on strike claiming that they were being underpaid and ill-treated.
Labour unions have also accused Chinese employers of abusing their workers especially in the construction industry.
China has become the most visible investor in Zimbabwe in the last decade after Western countries imposed sanctions on President Mugabe for alleged electoral fraud and human rights violations.
Companies from the Asian country are involved in the construction of roads, dams and in the mining industry.