Two Zimbabwean workers at a gold mine on the outskirts of Gweru in central Zimbabwe were shot by their Chinese boss on Sunday, June 21. The incident has rekindled long-standing tensions about Chinese nationals living in the southern African country.
A court affidavit submitted by the Zimbabwean police alleges that Zhang Xuelin shot Kenneth Tachiona five times, reportedly in both thighs, and another employee, Wendy Chikwaira, had his chin grazed by a bullet. Workers at Reden Mine in Gweru had confronted Xuelin over his alleged failure to pay their wages in US dollars, as had been agreed previously, according to the affidavit. US dollars are highly sought-after in Zimbabwe, which has experienced repeated cash shortages and inflation spikes since its currency was effectively abandoned in 2009.
The Gweru case brings to mind a 2010 shooting in neighboring Zambia. Two Chinese mine managers were charged with the attempted murder of eleven workers at the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe after a protest over pay and conditions became heated. Despite being a decade apart, the two cases demonstrate an ongoing pattern of African workers feeling disgruntled by the systemic imbalance of their relationship with Chinese interests.
The number of Chinese nationals in Africa has increased over the past two decades. At least 10,000 Chinese nationals now live and work in Zimbabwe, according to the Brookings Institute. The population in Zambia is significantly higher. Many of these migrants are employed as contractors for Chinese companies delivering extensive infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and mining projects. This model of investment frustrates African executives, commentators, and workers, who argue that it deprives locals of employment and training opportunities. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Chinese firms employ, pay, and train Africans at similar rates as non-Chinese companies.
That sentiment reflects more deep-seated misgivings about the equity of large deals that African governments sign with Chinese companies. These include loans, construction projects, and extraction rights for natural resources. For example, in April 2019, Chinese firm Tsingshan committed to investing US$2 billion to mine chrome, iron ore, nickel, and coal in Zimbabwe, cementing China’s place as the country’s largest foreign investor. At the same time, Shanghai Construction Group is constructing a new US$140 million six-story parliament building, apparently a donation from the Chinese government. But many Zimbabweans are skeptical of such gestures. Few regard it as unadulterated altruism. And the lack of transparency fuels speculation.
China’s extensive leverage in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, does not look like the postcolonial partnership promised in the 1970s. Indeed, the legacy of racist settler colonialism provides an alarming comparison for Zimbabweans when they hear stories of managers shooting employees or, as happened in Zambia recently, Chinese vendors denying service to black customers.
This is a particularly sensitive time for Sino-African relations. In April, reports of African migrants in Guangzhou, home to China’s largest African community, being targeted for forced testing and quarantine, evicted from their accommodation, and denied hospitality went viral and sparked outrage on social media. Human Rights Watch accused Guangdong authorities of “textbook” discrimination. Many feel that it is one rule for the Chinese in Africa and quite another for Africans in China.
The COVID-19 crisis has also elevated concerns about debt, at a time when economic paralysis is hampering governments’ ability to maintain payments. About 20 percent of African government external debt is owed to China. According to reports, China has offered relief from interest-free loans, but these loans make up less than 5 percent of its total lending.
In a recent interview, former Zimbabwean minister Gordon Moyo, now director of the country’s Public Policy and Research Institute, described China’s lending as “illegitimate” and said the East Asian country was at risk of being “a new imperialist.”
Having been shot repeatedly in both legs, Kenneth Tachiona faces the prospect of being disabled for the rest of his life. But with a wife and five children, his concerns are very pragmatic. In an interview with VOA, he said: “Of course I want the law to take its course, but I’m now disabled, and for me, the most important thing is to be compensated adequately.” Money being his most pressing concern reflects the same hard realities facing his government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has emphasized the importance of impartial justice in this case. Likewise, the Chinese embassy declared its respect for Zimbabwe’s right to handle the situation “in accordance with the law.” At the same time, however, they asked to see Zimbabwe “protect the safety as well as legitimate rights and interests” of Chinese nationals in the country. President Mnangagwa echoed the sentiment and did not accept the view that the shooting was reflective of “systemic and widespread” abuse by Chinese employers, as some prominent civil society groups have claimed.
With mounting debt, a health crisis, and uncertain support from the West, there is little prospect of Zimbabwe—or any of its neighbors—untangling itself from Chinese interests.
Jesse Samasuwo is a London-based analyst writing and researching international affairs, primarily focused on energy, trade, and politics.
Over the past two weeks, the incidence of COVID-19 cases in South Africa has almost doubled, and now there’s a testing backlog because of a global shortage of test kits. While the race to develop a vaccine continues apace, local healers are striving to produce indigenous remedies based on herbal wisdom and plant-derived active compounds known to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as flu, malaria, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
South African media described the first two months of the pandemic as “the quiet before the storm.” When lockdown was imposed in late March, shutting down the country’s economy, hospital staff buckled up for a rocky ride and citizens impatiently waited for the first opportunity to resume business as usual.
Now, the southern tip of the continent prepares for a relaxing of the lockdown restrictions. Level 3 will allow most of the workforce to resume activities, schools to partly reopen, religious gatherings to take place, and shops to recommence selling alcoholic beverages from June 1.
However, a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases and an increase in daily deaths have created a dilemma for South Africans, who will return to their offices, schools, and places of worship amid fear and uncertainty.
Making a Case for Artemisia and Other Herbs
Since the beginning of May, African governments have scrambled to produce or buy herbal mixtures based on the artemisia plant.
Madagascan president Andry Rajoelina grabbed international headlines when he endorsed a local herbal tea named COVID-Organics, made of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). He went on to question the impartiality of the World Health Organization with regard to testing, and criticized the alleged Western polarization of the pharmaceutical industry.
In South Africa, the artemisia plant more commonly used in traditional medicine is Artemisia afra, known as wild wormwood, wilde-als (Afrikaans), mhlonyane (Zulu) or lengana (Tswana).
While scientists prepare to carry out clinical trials to test the potential of artemisia in the treatment of COVID-19, some people have already turned to traditional remedies.
“I drank wild dagga and sutherlandia three times every day and got better very quickly”
“I went to the clinic with high fever and COVID-19 symptoms,” says Irvin Mothibe from Soweto, south of Johannesburg. “They told me to quarantine myself, so I spent two weeks in a hut at Credo Mutwa Village. The great healer [Credo Mutwa, who passed away in March] had planted many medicinal herbs in the village. I drank wild dagga [Leonotis leonurus] and sutherlandia [Lessertia frutescens] three times every day and got better very quickly.”
Indigenous healers recommend a variety of natural solutions to their clients.
“When the pandemic arrived, we consulted among healers and we prayed to our ancestors,” says Sheila, a sangoma, or traditional healer, based in Alexandra, Johannesburg. “My recipe against the virus? A mix of sihawuhawu [nettle], isiphephetho[wild ginger], umavumbuka[Sarcophyte sanguinea], mayisaka [Thesium multiramulosum], and intolwane [Elephantorrhiza elephantina].”
“We are working on a product combining different local herbs and Artemisia annua, which is more potent than the indigenous Artemisia afra,” says Willem Bronkhorst, a director at the African National Healers Association. “I don’t know yet how effective this will be against COVID-19, but I can say for sure that it will help.”
Many healers from Johannesburg suggest they use artemisia in combination with valerian, mint, garlic, moringa, African potato, and cayenne pepper, ingredients that can easily be found on the shelves of a supermarket or pharmacy. “You can boil them and drink them hot or cold,” says Mmapelle Khunou. “Some sangomas prefer to mix them with porridge, to make it easier for patients to take the medicine.”
“It’s important to use the right quantities, depending on the person and how bad the disease is,” she clarifies. “If you are advised by the wrong healer or take herbs without prescription, you could harm yourself.”
What Standards for Herbal Remedies?
It is risky to believe in the existence of a miracle cure against an unknown disease. The World Health Organization does recognize the importance of traditional medicine and its achievements, but there are rigid requirements in place to ensure the quality, safety, and efficacy of a product.
“There are many therapeutic options that are being suggested as possible treatments for COVID-19,” says Stavros Nicolaou, a senior executive at Aspen Pharmacare Group and a key contributor to South Africa’s medical response to the pandemic. “At his point in time, there are no registered treatments that cure COVID-19. Whilst there might be many candidates or established medicines under investigation, none of these have been proven under clinical trial conditions.
“The pharmaceutical industry will continue investigating these candidate medicines under appropriate clinical trial conditions, and would only be in a position to make them available when they have been proven effective and safe in clinical trials, and when the necessary medicines regulatory agencies have approved them for specific indications.
“This approach is for all medications, including indigenous and herbal medicines,” Nicolaou says.
“The medical profession is trying to engage with indigenous healers, because they do a tremendous job in communities and provide health to the people”
“Artimisinin [a compound derived from Artemisia annua] is a powerful active ingredient,” says another pharmaceutical expert. “However, one needs to apply rigorous controls in the production chain to guarantee its standard quality. The medical profession is trying to engage with indigenous healers, because they do a tremendous job in communities and provide health to the people. But the healers also have to adhere to the conditions required of the medical profession.”
These requirements, however, raise suspiciousness among many healers: “We also took an oath,” Mmapelle Khunou says. “The problem between us and Western doctors is that we put the people first, instead of profit.”
Doctors, Psychologists, and Community Leaders
Indigenous healers do not just provide medical advice. Their input ranges from psychological to religious factors, while tightening the social fabric. Two months of lockdown tore families, villages, and townships apart, forcing a transformation in everyone’s life.
“Men are no longer able to provide for the family,” says Khunou. “If my man can’t do his job, I will question him and ask him to make a plan. But he is also human and has his weaknesses. His manhood is questioned: some men snap and become violent, and households grow apart.”
The recognition of traditional healers as essential workers would facilitate the diffusion of health practices and create awareness about the rising costs of the epidemic.
“I don’t believe in this virus,” says Violet, a resident of Alexandra. “Have you met anyone who has it?”
In the streets of the township, people walk and commute casually. Even where social distancing and the use of masks are possible, habits prevail. Small crowds gather in front of spazas (small shops). To buy a kota(a meal of a quarter loaf of bread, processed meat, and chips), you have to close your eyes to basic hygiene requirements.
“What about masks?” asks another local. “They tell us to wear them, but we don’t know why. Cloth masks become dirty and can also carry diseases.
“When the government makes announcements,” he adds, “they speak a language many people don’t understand. We heard no vernacular in the news; old people don’t even know what’s going on.”
A Rainbow Jigsaw Puzzle
When the first COVID-19 case was reported in South Africa, the nation was already on the verge of a financial crisis, while afflicted by profound inequality. President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly called on his fellow citizens to embrace cohesion and brotherhood in facing the pandemic. However, despite the spirit of ubuntu (humanity towards others) that unites South Africans, there are visible discrepancies when it comes to the same residents taking practical action.
It is difficult, for a government, to answer to the business world while supporting millions who live in extreme poverty. Similarly, it is challenging for people with completely different upbringing and heritage to live shoulder to shoulder and understand each other.
It is also difficult to bridge the gap between private and public health, international standards and tradition. Equality in South Africa is long due. It is too late now to try to bridge tremendous gaps while the pandemic is raging on. COVID-19 is killing thousands in far better prepared countries, with state-of-the-art healthcare and cohesive populations.
What South Africa can do—and has done in many past instances—is to accept its uniqueness and take advantage of its complexity. If businesses and informal traders can sit at the same table, if medical experts and traditional healers could abandon prejudice and stigma to enter the same lab or the same ndumba (sacred hut or shrine), they could find a shared solution that speaks many languages: a medical, psychological, and cultural approach to be followed in all South African cities, townships, and villages for the benefit of all.
Alessandro Parodi is a Johannesburg-based reporter with a passion for cultural studies and urban ethnography. He is a regular contributor to the Italian-South African weekly publication La Voce del Sudafrica and the travel magazine Nomad Africa. (Twitter: @apnews360)
Manash Das is a freelance photojournalist based in South Africa and India. His work mainly focuses on humanitarian issues, conflicts, and daily life. (Twitter: @manashdasorg)
“Terrorists are almost everywhere anytime,” said Peter Aboki, the smiling leader of the Gbagyi ethnic group. He was speaking of the eight Gbagyi villages on the Kaduna River flowing west from the packed metropolis of Kaduna in Kaduna State, Nigeria.
The area known as Birnin Gwari Local Government Area is home to the terrorist group Ansaru and large bandit gangs, some of whom claim links with Boko Haram. This dangerous cocktail of men with guns has led what was once a sleepy backwater to become the de facto “kidnap capital” of Nigeria.
These bandits may in fact be impersonating sectarian terrorists, but either way, their raids are devastating Gbagyi Christian settlements a stone’s throw from the state capital, Kaduna.
“On the evening of May 6, residents of Kabrasha village [44 kilometers southwest of the city of Kaduna] heard bombs exploding in the forest nearby. Several hours later they saw more than a hundred armed men walk or ride motorcycles through the village, and some chanted slogans in Arabic.”
“In a nearby neighborhood, my people saw these men carrying a strange flag, which led some to believe they were insurgents,” Aboki said. “All the villagers ran out of the village at 2 p.m. when a bomb exploded in the church. They thought they were under attack.”
Yet, the truth was different.
An army spokesman explained later that an army helicopter chasing bandits had mistakenly fired a missile into the church. Were the invaders of the village a criminal gang, or soldiers in one of Nigeria’s deadly insurgencies? No one seems to know. But, as we have learned, the terrorist group Ansaru (or those claiming to represent them) appears to be using the dense Kamuku Forest in Kaduna State.
The “More Humane” Alternative
Ansaru, or Jama’atu Ansaru al-Muslimina fi Bilad al-Sudan, which roughly translates as “Companions of the Muslims in the Land of Sudan”, emerged in 2012 as a splinter group of Boko Haram. It calls itself a “more humane” alternative to Boko Haram. Ansaru propaganda leaflets posted early in 2012 promised it would be a “humane” alternative to Boko Haram, and that it would not target innocent Muslim or Christian civilians, except in self-defense, and only focus its attacks against government forces and foreigners. In fact, the splinter group was created to repudiate the abhorrent practices of Boko Haram, which killed indiscriminately. In practice, Ansaru seems to have drifted more into criminal activity, steered by profit, than by any ideological rudder.
From 2015 to 2019, the group appeared to be dormant. Then, on May 10, Nigerian media reported that the Intelligence Response Team, the country’s top anti-kidnapping unit, led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari, had arrested nine Ansaru bandits.
“Unlike Boko Haram, they only kidnap Christians and foreign workers.”
“The Ansaru terrorists established themselves as specialists in kidnapping,” according to David Otto, a counter-terrorism expert and director of Global Risk International in London. “Unlike Boko Haram, they only kidnap Christians and foreign workers,” he said.
Ansaru’s bandits ride out on motorbikes from the densely forested Birnin Gwari government area on the extreme western border of Kaduna State. “Alongside the Ansaru gangs are criminal kidnappers who simply claim to be Ansaru, according to Otto. “The foremost leader of Ansaru, the late Mamman Nur, had given permission to organized criminal cells to kidnap for ransom in the name of Ansaru.”
A Mysterious Brutal Kidnapping in January
The leader of a group of several hundred bandits in Chikun Local Government Area in January called himself a Boko Haram commander, according to some of the fifty-seven kidnapping victims who survived twenty-one days in the forest, without shelter, as his prisoners. The bandit leader said his name was “Kachalla”.
“It is possible that the bandit leader called himself Boko Haram simply to terrorize his victims,” Otto said.
The villages of Rumana and Badna, just 45 kilometers west of Kaduna and home to Gbagyi Christian communities, have yet to recover from the trauma of the murders and mass kidnapping, says Jonathan Asake, leader of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, a humanitarian group that brought relief supplies to the victims on May 6.
“They were forced to spend three weeks together shackled in the open air, with almost no food rations. The bandit leader told the group he was a soldier of Boko Haram and that he was originally from Borno State,” Asake says. Since the attack, all the residents of Rumana have abandoned their houses.
The Police Track Criminals, Not Terrorists
Recent arrests of Ansaru agents and Nigerian TV reports in February about police operations against Ansaru raise questions about the resurgence of Ansaru as a terrorist threat. Are the increasingly brutal ethnic-cleansing campaigns by so-called bandits in western Kaduna actually campaigns by Ansaru?
“The police in Nigeria track local criminal networks, groups, and gangs, not terrorist groups by name,” says Tanwa Ashiru, CEO of Bulwark Intelligence, a security consulting company in Lagos.
“Terrorists with Ansaru are still in Nigeria, and some of my colleagues say they are regrouping in the states of Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kaduna. Some are seen as affiliated with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,” Ashiru says. “They are not a major threat now, but they could be in the future if they are not tracked. The nine Ansaru suspects arrested recently were picked up by a kidnapping unit of the federal police because it combats kidnapping, not Ansaru.”
The arrest of Ansaru-affiliated kidnappers took place against a backdrop of vicious, escalating attacks against Nigerian Christian villages southwest and southeast of Kaduna city.
Major General John Enenche, defense information spokesman for the Nigerian army, told us in a text message that the group that attacked the village Badna in Chikun Local Government Area was not linked to Ansaru.
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official in Kirkuk, Iraq and writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.
Reuben Buhari is a writer and analyst focused on terrorism based in Kaduna City, Nigeria.
São Tomé and Príncipe, a tiny archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Central Africa with tropical rainforests and white beaches, has come to rely on tourism as a primary source of revenue. Before the cruise ships and charter flights stopped coming due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s image as a pristine vacation destination was tarnished by a study published in the scientific journal Acta Médica Portuguesa exposing a persistent and widespread problem of alcoholism.
Much of the alcohol is contaminated with heavy metals.
Based on a study with 2,064 participants by Isabel de Santiago, a Portuguese researcher born in São Tomé in 1971, 52 percent of men and 48 percent of women aged between twelve and thirty regularly consume alcohol. Furthermore, much of the alcohol is contaminated with heavy metals, posing health risks to not only those who drink but also infants, as consumption of alcohol while pregnant is common, according to de Santiago.
The publication of the study caused a furor in São Tomé and Príncipe, with even the government accusing de Santiago of deliberately working to damage the country’s reputation and demanding that she apologize.
The Root of the Problem
Alcohol abuse on the islands can be attributed to a variety of factors, but all of them trace back to a common theme: poverty. Making and selling sugarcane spirits or palm wines is a reliable and steady source of income, where around half of the nation’s 200,000 citizens live on less than $2.17 per day.
As one of the last African countries to confirm the presence of COVID-19, the government of São Tomé and Príncipe has instituted various restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus, including the suspension of all travel for residents between the islands. With all businesses forced to operate under the same hours, the economic squeeze imposed on residents is likely to compel even more people to make wine or distill spirits as a way to supplement their income, making the fight to eliminate alcoholism even more difficult.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok escaped unharmed when his armored motorcade was hit with an explosive and automatic gunfire in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on Monday, March 9. Hamdok was reportedly transported to hospital afterwards, but his chief of staff, Ali Bakhi, wrote on his Facebook page that neither the prime minister nor anyone else in the convoy suffered injuries.
Why It Matters
Sudan’s political stability remains precarious after mass civil protests forced the dictator Omar al-Bashir to relinquish power after thirty years, and a Transitional Military Council (TMC) was subsequently established to run the country as it prepares to transfer power to a civilian government in 2021. The attack on the prime minister could serve as a pretext to postpone elections or, worse, justify a reversion to a military dictatorship in the name of security. One of the chief members of the TMC is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who presides over Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, a branch of the Sudanese military responsible for killing hundreds of protesters shortly after Bashir’s fall. Were Sudan to revert to military rule, General Dagalo would likely seize power, jeopardizing efforts to redress human rights violations such as the atrocities during the Darfur Genocide largely committed by the Janjaweed militias under his command.