Jan 28, 2011

Diplomatic status for pigs

On Wednesday, a news article appeared in the Post Newspaper with the headline “Mulungushi Textiles turns into a piggery.” The article states that during a drop-in visit by Patriotic Front (PF) President, Michael Sata, it was discovered that the institution is being run as a piggery and chicken run by the Chinese…their words, not mine.  
Before we move on, here’s a little background on this facility. The Mulungushi Textile Factory in Kabwe, Zambia, opened in 1982 and was wholly owned by the government of Zambia. It was closed in 1996 due to under capitalisation and other external forces such as the depressed local economy after the closure of the Kabwe mine.
After the closure, China and Zambia set up in a joint collaboration to establish Zambia-China Mulungushi Textiles Joint Venture Ltd. (ZCMT). China assumed major shareholding of 66 percent, while Zambia retained the remaining 34 percent. The money invested by the Chinese government was used to rehabilitate the dilapidated industrial site, and operations resumed.
The main line of production was chitenge fabric, drills, poplins and loom state, in addition to clothing items produced for local and foreign markets. Raw cotton was also exported to other COMESA and SADC member states.
Unfortunately, the company was shuttered in 2007 due to some of the following factors, “high production costs, unfair competition (mostly from subsidised Asian textile products), obsolete equipment, erratic supply of raw materials and failure to collect debts.” There were also ongoing labour disputes over working conditions and pay that attributed to some of the lost production.
Both parties in this venture have always stated their commitment to re-open ZCMT. It’s a strategic textile company but there are obvious barriers that need to be overcome to prevent another closure.
So, now we’re back to the current day. What has happened?
If we’re to believe the Post news article, plans for re-opening a textile company have been abandoned. In response, Zambia’s defence minister, Kalombo Mwansa has spoken out and refuted these claims. In his words:

“Although there are reports of piggeries and chicken runs, this has nothing to do with the operations of the textile company and does not benefit it in any way….workers living within the company premises have adopted the Chinese practice of growing and rearing livestock by their quarters for personal benefits…the only delay is that the Chinese government is still searching for a suitable textiles company to invest in the joint venture following the decision to replace the previous partner.”  
The reason why I was first drawn by the initial article was because of the tone adopted by the writer, as well as the quotes taken from Michael Sata. Anyone familiar with Zambian politics knows very well that he can be very insulting and derogatory in his speech. Here’s a case in point:

He said President Banda and Vice-President George Kunda should have told Zambians that they were turning Mulungushi Textiles into a piggery and chicken run.

“I can’t understand why pigs and chickens could be given diplomatic status and military protection by the Zambia National Service. I can’t believe this. If Rupiah really respects those pigs and chickens let him keep them in State House… there are so many rooms there,” Sata said. “I know he wants to develop his pockets.”
Read the rest
Instead of just asking for an explanation based on what he saw, he launches into personal insults that do nothing but inflame the issue, and to what end? Does this make him a more presidential candidate or does he feel more powerful because he can throw volley insults that likely will not be met with the same? It’s incredibly juvenile, and sadly no one will call him out in open, and anyone that even dares will be branded a government agent.
I would really like to see the intelligent discourse return to Zambian politics. Let’s start talking about the real issues and meaningful solutions. We gain nothing by trying to score political points on issues that affect thousands of Zambians. If Mulungushi Textiles has been abandoned, that’s a possible 2,000 or so jobs lost for good unless there’s a different venture coming in that will employ more than a handful of folk raising pigs and chickens.
I applaud the minister who responded, he gave a meaningful response (with one obvious exception as stated above J). I would like to recommend a news crew be allowed on site to verify that it is indeed workers keeping the livestock for personal consumption, and not the two governments. Put it to rest, and let’s move on.


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