A take on the influx of cheap Chinese labour in Zambia

Scores of Chinese nationals resident in Zambia shooting pictures of their friends and relatives during the Chinese new year celebration in Lusaka
Scores of Chinese nationals resident in Zambia shooting pictures of their friends and relatives during the Chinese new year celebration in Lusaka

By Laura Miti

The National Constitutional Convention is currently going on at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, in Lusaka.

Citizens all over the country are holding thumbs praying that sooner rather than later, this protracted process that has gobbled up insane amounts in taxpayers’ money will be put to bed.

The kind of money the constitution review process has used up, carelessly and uneconomically, is actually one for the history books. This has been a criminally wasteful procedure since President Levy Mwanawasa engineered it to be as unending as possible.

Every administration after that has continued to ensure that the constitutional review process is useful only to silence immediate demands by citizens.

Meanwhile, it has continually been designed to never compromise subsequent governments’ unyielding quest to continue ruling via the flawed document that places interest of politicians before that of citizens.

Of course, citizens pray not only that the unnecessarily long money wasting roadmap, whose end even now is known only by State house reaches its conclusion.

More importantly, the earnest, collective supplication directed heavenwards is that the end to this meandering, start and stop path we have been on will deliver the kind of document that will change Zambia for the better forever.

But it is not really the constitution convention I want to talk about today. Rather, it is something that came to my attention because of that gathering. The matter exercising my mind this morning is that of how many Chinese nationals are apparently holding menial jobs in the country.

You see, I happened to visit someone who is a delegate to the constitutional convention and is, with a couple hundred other delegates, accommodated at the New Golden Peacock Hotel on Kasangula Road, in Roma.

Boy was I shocked at the number of Chinese people doing very basic jobs in that hotel!

From what I could see, the hotel is employing Chinese waiters, bartenders, and even guards at the gate.

My question is why, how? Are we issuing work permits to Chinese nationals to come and cook Nshima?
I ask because the Nshima I ordered was brought to the table by a Chinese waiter.

Now let me quickly hasten to say that I am no xenophobe. I well understand that in this global village we now inhabit, labour, like capital, travels freely and lands in corners far away from “its home.” I really have no problems with skilled non-Zambians competing for and taking up high end jobs in Zambia if we do not have the personnel for them.

What story did the Golden Peacock cook up to convince an immigration officer that they needed expatriate bartenders, waiters and supervisors?

I cannot, though, accept that in this country where millions of young, able-bodied people with basic, and many times tertiary, education are unemployed, we would allow basic positions to be filled by the Chinese.

Isn’t government supposed to protect these jobs for citizens in order to reduce the massive poverty and unemployment statistics? Forget statistics, shouldn’t government be doing its damnest to ensure that every jobthat can be done by a Zambian is made available to them so that a few hundred more citizens can have their sorry lives dignified by work.

My question is how are the Chinese coming here to work as guards getting the work permits they require? What story did the Golden Peacock cook up to convince an immigration officer that they needed expatriate bartenders, waiters and supervisors?

As things stand, given our policies that allow free flow of profits generated by “investors” out of the country, it is safe to assume that apart from a large amount of the money Zambia is spending on accommodating delegates to the constitutional convention making its way to China, even the little that could remain in salaries is taken out by cooks and waiters.

My oh my! Ibetter end.

Yes, I have avoided belabouring that little matter about how President Sata and the PF executed an acrobatic about-turn deserving of an Olympic gold medal regarding their campaign promises to deal with the Chinese unskilled-labour situation.

The Golden Peacock is, of course, a great example of this. All I will say is it is time the PF reconsidered this question. It is time to institute polices that give the 20-year old Mwansa, Mabvuto andMundia, currently sitting around in Chawama somewhere, an outside chance at holding a basic job in their own motherland.


  1. Africa is being slowly recolonised this time by the east .This new master is not doing it by the gun but thru the double fisted grip of economics & immigration much like their Mexican counterparts in the U.S.A.

    • I see a situation where there will soon be more Chinese that Zambians in this country. Because every Chinese guy who lands in Zambia never goes back to China. Soon, we’ll be outnumbered and one day we shall have a Chinese president in Zambia. Mark my words.

    • well before you condemn the pf, here is some truth I know about my fellow country men, did you know that someone who has tertiary education witthout a college diploma will say ” I cant work as a guard, or I cant be a waiter, or I cant be bar tending..” it has to start with us,even the little makes a difference, I however agree with you that it cant be happening but do you know the otherside of the story.? youths claim theres nothing to do hence drinking from sunday to monday which I feel is all because they didnt go out there to look for that job, if they did then probly stopped looking the very first time they got ” No we are not employing or recuiting at the moment” My fellow youths must learn to tell themselves ” Its too soon to quit.!” thats the only way this will…

  2. It’s true my son can’t find a job he is just languishing at home sometimes he goes into town to do mean jobs it’s very sad

  3. you people just like blame others for your problems. A zambian contructor was given a contruct to renovate a hospital. Very bad job was done. These are folks you want to give jobs? They cant even renovate a hospital were they will die after hiv infection?

    • exactly I think we have a problem instead of doing superb works on our own hospital project we do mediocre stuff..its such a mess we need to acquire skills in every sector, when we do something it must be of world class standards rather using cheap labour and rip GRZ apart…What I know is that a good product markets itself…do good a job you will be given a bigger tender, do crap and thats first and last.

  4. I suppose they got visas because they are all ‘Directors’ , work permit requirements are a bit relaxed for them, therefore’ as long as the ‘waiter Directors’ were able to prove they are directors or investors and had minimum $$$$ required in their banks – (used to be $50,000 years ago) then they broke no law.

  5. Good article and observations. This is policy issue which needs to be addressed. I’ve worked RSA and Tanzania, foreigners needs to justified that they pose rare skills and skills which are get a work permit. In Zimbabwe they have the indigenous policy which even prohits foreigners from trading in locally procuded goods.. So a chinese can not sell tomato or kapenta or have akantemba..

    • Hopefully you were not doing any translation work because your english is atrocious. My reaction to the article: It is sad that this is allowed to happen; it points to corrupt practices by those who are tasked with ensuring proper administration and issuance of work permits for immigrants/ foreigners. But where is the general outcry from Zambians? I do not see a collective group that speaks against this (LAZ, labour unions are mum on the matter too sadly). Until such a time that bantu ba pa Zed come together succinctly to right this wrong, it will only get worse and in the end, it is ultimately much more your (ours as Zambians) fault for inaction. What we are doing here instead shouting randomly, instead of following words with action. Sad reality of Zambian attitudes unfortunately.

  6. “they are no laws in Zambia, what works is the money” this is what the Chinese say, meaning Kent House is corrupt . A good example of the above that I know of is a Chinese Cotton company in Chipata where all the Chinese working there have permits as translators but end up doing other Jobs, immigration officers from Chipata are aware. This is not cheap chinese labour, the chaps get more than 5 times what a Zambia doing the same job gets

  7. Very good observation.It very true about chineese doing manual work in Zambia, but wait a minute, chineese do not work like Zambians.I witnessed a chineese ED of an international company helping with ofloading a truck of goods,when i saw him working i thought he was just a labourer like those other guys but that wasnt the truth. What may be shocking to you is that maybe the chineese lady who served him nshima may not be the “waiter”but a manager. In china most of the big guys sweeps their offices.

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more. what is happening in our country is very saddening indeed. Road construction projects are yet another example; I recently visited a colleague in Muchinga province working as a site engineer on one of the projects there, i was disappointed to find numerous Chinese doing odd jobs such as carrying the building materials, assisting in the surveying etc when just nearby, in Kasama there is a trade school where they offer courses at certificate levels in building and construction and there are hundreds of graduates still roaming the streets…it is extremely unfair!!

  9. A very good Article indeed… The GVT needs to adress this problem period. A chinese serving Nshima in Zambia…then what will Zambians do honestly? these basic jobs are for Zambians.

  10. Zambia is on a time bomb, who ever supports this is lost. The poor hearts seated at home and along roadsides watching Cars know for sure they need to put something on their tables in whatever circumstances. hatred will definetly build for Foreigners and attacks will soon be the order of the day. South African Situations didnt just come up they saw Zimbabweans and malawians taking up all lower Jobs whilst the watched and couldnt allow that anymore. Lets address this urgently as a nation, comparing a Zambian too a Chinese doesnt hold water, if need be we need to go on a capacity building to ensure our pipo are capable. dont expect a Zambian to work like a Chinese, these guys dont even know any labour laws in their countries:- Workers sleep in factories.

  11. LAURA MITI – spot on, as usual. The answer is simple and it is encapsulated in what late FJT Chiluba once said about Zambians: “Zambians are docile…”. Sata and PF knew that when they were making the promises during the campaigns. Infact Sata and PF were not wrong. Just look around and see the hordes of people who support the government no matter how c.r.a.p.p.y the announced policy decision is. It seems to me that at the moment the Zambian society is still in the throes of Darwinism, where a hostile socio-economic environment is being perpertarted by the very poor people who are most vulnerable to its unforgivingly fatal consequences. I’m very sorry, but I have to say this: only when these poor people finish dying will we see a civilised govt in power.

  12. Even those investors Sata is singing about; where do you think they come from? Most are unemployed in China…they are just handed a loan by their Chinese Development Bank and they become fully fledged investors. You should be asking them what they were doing in China before they became your site managers in Zambia.
    Our immigration dept is not helping and should have be restructured a long time ago ban face to face applications and let a different dept deal with these applications for work permits by post.

  13. Tiyeni uko bonse na chi article chenu ichi!! That’s why Zambia has failed to develop even today because all we know talking, talking and talking, meanwhile not taking an initiative to find a way out of such a situation.
    Ohh Foolish Zambians who has bewitched you, that you cannot learn from the past mistakes? In those years before independence we were bussy chasing the whites from our country, instead of utlizing their expertise to acuire skills, we were busy talking and talking until the Britons left. But when they left, we failed terribly to manage the country and thats why we are in this situation today.
    This time the chinese are here, full of knowledge, its better to learn from them before chasing them. Wake up ba shetani mukula ifinwa, everytime yapping for no reason. Think or…

  14. What is happening in Zed is typical of a collapsing system. You will never have peace as a rich person via bribes and shortcuts if you forget to look at the growing poor. Those are the ones who will lead the charge through your well manicured lawns when the time comes. The template is the same anywhere – ask those who have experienced it! Don’t say I did not warn you! Good luck.

  15. How does Laura know that these people have work permits? Has it occured to her that maybe they are working there illegally? It is the duty of relevant Labour Ministry officials to go round these places to check if their (apparently) foreign employees have work permits. Someone is not doing their job here.

  16. This argument is currently going on in the UK .the British shun menial jobs and the east Europeans have taken their jobs while the British cry. When you check the education qualification of these people they are more educated than the British who are refusing to do the same job. When you clean windows in Zambia they even call you names ati niba window cleaner!

  17. One of the interesting things I have noticed in Zambia is how self-aware people are for all the wrong reasons. By and large a lot of locals think they must have a “nice sounding job” even at the expense of making a living. So you find people actually shunning jobs on the grounds of how it might make them appear to others… that, dear friends, is the gap the Chinese are coming to fill. The Chinese (and many of the hardworking Asian and Eastern Europeans) know that a million starts with one cent at a time – coupled with discipline and innovation.

  18. Ifyo, ama Lazy bones you even despise the cleaning of your toilets. Graduates without wisdom. Learn to start from labourers jobs than the office and stop the excessive alcohol consumption

  19. This is a racist article in my opinion. When are we Zambians going to rid ourselves of the victim mentallity? The fact that we are ill prepared to do business with the chinese is not their fault but ours. We have let education, health, social systems collapse. To make it worse we have elected an incompetent govt to deal with these people. The question we need to ask ourselves is: what do we need to do for a mutually beneficial relationship with the Chinese. Hatred and xenophobia are not the answer

Comments are closed.