LAST week Fin24 published an article from Reuters headlined Chinese to build $3.5bn Zim power plant
Those who commented on the story thought Zimbabwe was having it all and benefiting a great deal from the Chinese.
For a country that may be the only one in the world with a “Look East” policy, especially towards China, this seemed like a major coup.
And for a country whose president has hailed China as an “all-weather friend”, the investment seemed well deserved and in line with the president’s thinking that “China has always stood by Zimbabwe”.
But judging by what has happened in the past, the $3.5bn project will only take off when pigs can fly.
In 2010 Tapiwa Mashakada, a government minister and member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told Reuters: "We have met with officials from China Development Bank… they have said they are willing to invest up to $10bn in Zimbabwe."
Up to now what the China Development Bank said has remained a mere statement of intent.
In 2009, The Herald revealed that China Sonangol was considering investing $8bn into Zimbabwe's mining, energy and housing industries.
The report said that a significant proportion of the $8bn was already being held by domestic financial institutions involved in the deals. But up to now the investment has remained just that, a consideration.
As much as Zimbabwe has had the “Look East" policy since the US-European Union sanctions, nothing of note has come out of China.
And as much as President Robert Mugabe has tried to forge a strategic relationship with the country, the only notable thing done by China for Zimbabwe was to instruct its ambassador to the United Nations Wang Guangya to veto the US-sponsored resolution for UN Security Council sanctions on Zimbabwe, after its disputed 2008 elections.
Economically, not much has come out of China for Zimbabwe despite all the promises.
Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper The Herald highlights how pathetically China has helped Zimbabwe economically in a report published on September 24.
According to the article, China has contributed only $500m in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Zimbabwe in the past four years. For a country with a “Look East” policy in which China is the main player, half a billion in four years is a joke.The cracks are showing
It’s high time for Zimbabwe to smell the coffee and see that China is nowhere near an ally, let alone a friend for all seasons.
Zimbabwe is not even in the top five destinations of Chinese money, in order of estimated Chinese investment.
According to China Briefing, a business magazine and news agency, bilateral trade between China and Angola exceeded $120bn in 2010, while that between Zimbabwe and China in the past two years reached only $800m.
Maybe if Zimbabwe wants to get something meaningful from the Chinese, it needs to do it the Angolan way. The Angolan president once publicly told his Chinese counterpart: “You are not our only friend.”
Some might be quick to argue that Zimbabwe does not receive FDI from China because of its indigenisation policy, but that would be far from the truth.
Just last week Minister of Indigenisation Saviour Kasukuwere told a public meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Economic Society that all Chinese companies involved in agriculture in the country are immune to the indigenisation law.
And we know this is true for especially the retail sector, because despite the indigenisation law stating that jobs in the sector are reserved for “indigenous” Zimbabweans, it is dominated by Chinese.
To make matters worse, the Chinese have never brought anything of quality into Zimbabwe except “zhing-zhong” or fong kong.
Even the National Sports Stadium, Zimbabwe’s biggest football stadium which was built by the Chinese, has had to be repaired several times after developing cracks.
Commentators across the country have also criticised Zimbabwe’s dealings with China.
A new book Win-Win Partnership? China, by the Southern Africa Resource Watch, says most Chinese companies in Zimbabwe violate local regulations and abuse workers with impunity because they are protected by the country's leaders.
Economist Itai Zimunya had this to say about China. "At the heart of Chinese investment in the country is not Zimbabwe's but Chinese development, with benefits of infrastructure and employment being peripheral benefits.
"Do we want to celebrate secondary benefits?" he asked.
William Bango, a veteran former journalist, said: "China is just taking advantage of a basket case.
"If you're a donor's burden, you have all kinds of thieves and crooks and people bringing you all kinds of trinkets.
"Once we restore this society to normalcy, with all standards maintained, China will fall away."
Even South Africa has had its fair share of Chinese abuse. In Newcastle, Chinese-run textile factories pay salaries of about $200 per month, much more than they would pay in China but less than the local minimum wage.
Unions have tried to shut the factories down. The Chinese owners ignore the unions, or pretend to speak no English.
*Malcom Sharara is Fin24's correspondent in Zimbabwe.
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