China aims to build a cemetery in Zambia to recognize as "martyrs," Chinese workers killed on construction projects there who the Asian nation says represented its efforts to strengthen the developing African country's economy.
But a local municipal council has demanded an immediate halt to the construction, claiming the Chinese developer failed to gain necessary approval. Observers say the resistance may be due to rising political anger against Chinese projects and investments in Zambia.
Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Malanji supports the project, telling a local media portal that the site was given to the Chinese government legitimately in 2015.
Government officials have confirmed reports about the new cemetery but have not disclosed details about the number of workers killed nor the construction projects where deaths occurred. Local media reported dozens of Chinese workers have been killed on infrastructure projects in Zambia.
Li Guiguang, a deputy director of the newly established Ministry of Veterans Affairs, told People’s Liberation Army Daily in Beijing recently that the new cemetery, to be built in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, would symbolize long-term friendship between China and Africa. He noted similar cemeteries in Tanzania, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Algeria for Chinese expats who die on foreign aid projects.
Chinese leaders and diplomats visit these cemeteries each year during a Chinese festival called Tomb Sweeping Day. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited one in Tanzania with 69 graves in 2013.
Some of the cemeteries were built long before China emerged as a leading construction power. The ‘Rulindo Chinese Martyrs’ Cemetery&rsquo in Rwanda has graves of construction workers killed on projects from 1982 to 1997.
hinese companies have financed and built a wide range of infrastructure projects including airports, roads and bridges across Zambia despite issues related to the country’s ability to repay debt.
Opposition politicians blame these projects for pushing Zambia in to a debt trap and near bankruptcy. Major public demonstrations have taken place against Chinese investments in parts of Zambia, including Copperbelt province.
“Some Chinese companies are not familiar with or fail to give full respect to local laws, and sometimes put relations with central government ahead of those with local governments and communities,” said Qi Kai, an associate professor at Beijing Academy of Social Sciences.
Chinese involvement in Zambian infrastructure projects began in the 1960s when the country, formerly known as North Rhodesia, declared independence from Britain.
One major project, the estimated $406-million TAZARA railway link to Tanzania, was completed in the 1970s, with nearly 56,000 Chinese workers involved.
The Zambian government has agreed to allow three existing Chinese cemeteries to be merged into one on a two-hectare site, Li said. Groundbreaking is expected before the end of the year.