Two Chinese mine managers in Zambia are to go on trial Tuesday on charges of shooting and wounding 13 miners at a coal mine in the southern part of the country. Many Zambians are expressing disapproval of President Rupiah Banda's administration for failing to take punitive action against the managers.
The shooting of Zambian miners by Chinese managers two weeks ago at the Collum Mine has created tension among Zambian citizens, trade unions and civil society.
Thirteen miners were seriously wounded as they and co-workers staged a protest demanding better wages and working conditions at the Chinese-operated coal mine.
Lack of prompt action by the state following the shooting incident brewed anger among Zambians.
Lusaka resident Hector Mwiinga said the stance taken by President Rupiah Banda's administration would cost his party votes in next year's polls.
"Let us not entertain the mediocre type of leadership Zambians have suffered for so long under the poor leadership of President Rupiah Banda," said Mwiinga. "We want leaders that will create conducive environment for both the investors and the Zambian people."
Following the incident, youths from the opposition Patriotic Front and United Party for National Development were barred by police and embassy authorities from presenting a petition to the Chinese ambassador to Zambia. The petition asked the Chinese government to publicly apologize for the shooting.
United Party for National Development youth chairperson Brain Hapunda says the petition also appealed to the Chinese Embassy in Lusaka, to summon all Chinese nationals and investors to a meeting where they would be told how to operate within the confines of Zambian labor laws.
Some Zambians accused the government of siding with foreign investors and Chinese in particular.
Mazabuka resident Stumbeko Sitwala said labor laws are implemented in favor of Chinese investors.
"Zambia's law has been implemented selectively," said Mazabuka.
Another Lusaka resident, Justice Maumbi, called for fellow Zambians to ensure that they stand up for their rights.
"We need to stand up and tell these people whether local or foreign that we are human beings. We deserve to be treated like human beings," said Maumbi.
Another resident of Monze in southern Zambia, Chola Nkamba agreed.
"No one should be treated superior than us Zambians because of our skin. Workers in this country of Zambia are being exploited harshly by these investors," Nkamba.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Greenwell Chamunyonga, also of Lusaka.
"It is a shame that our people who are being exploited, when they want to air out their grievances using voice, the Chinese nationals produces a gun and start shooting at our people," Chamunyonga said. "I think the president should come in very quickly to see to it that these Chinese nationals [are] visited by the law and be subjected to harsh treatment."
But government spokesperson Ronnie Shikapwasha dismissed the assertions, stating Zambia does not side with any investor.
China has invested more than $400 million in Zambia's mining industry, but workers, trade unions and opposition political parties have criticized its methods.
In 2005, five Zambians were shot and wounded by managers during pay riots at the Chinese-owned Chambishi mine in Zambia's mining region of Copper belt.