New dawn of the Chinese 'takeover' in Zambia

The Confucius Institute at the University of Zambia's main campus in Lusaka. MICHAEL CHAWE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

There was no longer a doubt that the Zambia and China relationship, popularly known as Sino-Zam, was drilling deeper.

The relations were, as well, taking a personal and sentimental turn.

The 1,860km Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) line built by the Chinese in the 1970s, consummated a tripartite relationship between Zambia, Tanzania and China.

Since then, so much has happened that the “friendship” could only get better.

Local media have reported “mixed blessing” marriages between the Chinese and the locals. The most prominent one was that of the late Zambian president and fiercest critic of Chinese investment in the southern African state Michael Sata’s niece, getting married to a Chinese man.

The Chinese man went through full African nuptial rituals which require a go-between, sampling of the local cuisines, depending on the region one hails from and the unveiling of the bride-to-be in front of her elderly female relatives.

The wrong way

Social media was at the time awash with the wedding pictures, eliciting a wide range of reactions.

The Zambians and the Chinese have from time to time brushed each other the wrong way, mainly due to communication barrier. Sadly, one incident led to the death of a Chinese mine manager after a dispute over workers' pay rise demands.

The government stepped in to manage the tension which came about as rhetoric against slave wages in Chinese companies grew stronger despite Sata, who promised to “make them pay well or chase them,” assuming office.

Chinese eateries are dotted around the capital Lusaka. It is also commonplace to see Chinese women clad in suits sewn from chitenge materials [wrappers] or wearing the wrapper itself.

Once in while, one was likely to meet a Chinese lady headed to the shopping mall or the market with a child of mixed race in tow.

A Zambian politician and reggae singer Maiko Zulu posted on his Facebook wall a picture of a Chinese lady selling fresh vegetables at one of the local markets.

What he attracted was a stream of comments, mostly supporting the lady. The responses were a sign that Zambians were gradually shifting from hostility to acceptability positions.

"She is better than some of you who want the government to spoon-feed you," posted Christopher Zulu.


“What is wrong with that? She is selling things from her farm,” posted Justin Aongola.

But others still had some questions, like Kaumba Mulanda <>: "Question is, can you go to China and start selling vegetables?"

A few years ago, that was not the case. Many asked how a Chinese could fly all the way from Asia to come and trade in vegetables, chickens or run a restaurant in Zambia.

Chinese cultural influence was taking root too. The Asians have opened a Chinese International School in Lusaka. The school teaches Chinese language and culture.

Zambians have responded by taking their children there to learn mandarin.

“I think the Chinese language is becoming influential by the day, that is the reason I want my child to learn it,” said one parent, Mr Jerome Chanda.

“As you know, the Chinese are now all over Africa, their language is becoming a working language globally,” he added.

Prestigious institution

Apart from the school, the country’s oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning, the University of Zambia (UNZA) has opened up for the construction of the Confucius Institute.

One of the most conspicuous buildings on the university's main campus is the Confucius block. Also to be erected is a statute of Confucius.

UNZA is located off one of the busiest highways-the Great East Road campus. The road is often used by President Edgar Lungu on his way to or from the airport.

The growth of Chinese influence and culture in Zambia, through institutions and symbols, will undoubtedly have a bearing on how locals view the Chinese in future.

Commentators have observed that the institutions were a form of the Chinese soft power to mark their territory, unlike the Americans who build military barracks in selected African countries.

A drive around Lusaka reveals most construction jobs were being done by Chinese companies with their workers side by side with the locals who do mostly menial jobs.

Hotels and lodges

The Chinese now own hotels and lodges in upmarket areas of Lusaka and the neighbouring regions.

The Chinese have built two multi-million dollar football stadiums in Zambia.

In Lusaka, the Chinese are credited with building the National Heroes Stadium and in Ndola they constructed the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, the first state-of-the-art venue in the country where football has a huge following.

The privately-owned daily The Post was currently publishing a Chinese translation pullout for the Chinese community in Zambia.

While at it, the country’s Road Transport and Safety Agency [RATSA] announced that the review of the law would contain a Chinese translation.

“We’re pleased to announce that the process of revising the Highway Code is underway, including its translation into main seven local languages,” RATSA chief Zindaba Soko told journalists during a press briefing.

Their efforts

“This is in an effort to help road safety messages reach as many diverse social groups as possible. The revision of the Highway Code will ensure that it is further simplified for every citizen to understand, further the Highway Code will also be translated into the Chinese language.”

Zambia has an estimated population of 19,845 Chinese, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In the long term, Chinese “gifts” like stadiums and schools would, no doubt, soften the local populace’s attitude toward the Asians, so far, seem relatively successful in their efforts towards a perfect “fusion”.

Chinese is among the languages now being used to make announcements even at international airports both in Africa and outside.

Could the Chinese language be on its way to being another “foreign” official language on the African soil to join English, French and Portuguese?



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