Unreported World - Zambia and Congo: China's African Takeover (2007)

Channel 4

Li Changchun (R), member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Political Bureau, shakes hands with Zambia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kabinga Pande, also vice president of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), in Beijing, China, Nov. 14, 2007. (Xinhua Photo)
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Unreported World comes from Central Africa, where our demand for Chinese-made goods such as mobile phones, MP3 players and laptops comes at a terrible human cost.



China's economic boom is resulting in the biggest scramble for Africa since the end of European colonialism. Trade between Beijing and Africa has more than quadrupled since 2000 and hundreds of new companies, many of them partly owned by the Chinese State, have set up. Thousands of Chinese workers are now in Central Africa, buying up copper and cobalt.



Reporter Aidan Hartley and producer Tom Porter begin their journey at a Chinese-owned mining complex. It's in the heart of Zambia's copper belt, into which the Chinese are pouring billions of dollars of investment. Locals tell Hartley that Chinese investment is fuelling an economic boom in Zambia, bringing jobs and also skills that they can pick up.



But many Zambians also accuse the Chinese of being so focused on making money out of Africa that they do not care about the local people. The team are shown a cemetery where 46 victims of one of Zambia's worst industrial accidents - an explosion at a Chinese-owned factory - are buried. Local residents accuse the Chinese management of failing to uphold safety standards. Other locals claim that the factory is responsible for environmental damage, and Hartley finds a stream heavily polluted by acidic effluent.



From Zambia, Hartley and Porter travel to Congo, which has been torn apart by a civil war between armed militias fighting for control of its resources. Katanga province is one of the world's richest areas for mineral reserves, from where Chinese companies are exporting thousands of tonnes of heterogenite - ore rich in base metals.



In the boom town of Lubumbashi, the team enters vast open cast mines where countless thousands of impoverished Congolese toil to earn a survival income. Hartley and Porter are confronted with an apocalyptic landscape in which many of the miners appear to be drunk or high on drugs, with fights frequently breaking out.



Worst of all, the team discovers that a key aspect of the huge copper and cobalt mining industry is the exploitation of child labour. Many of the miners have to hand-dig tunnels into the hillsides, and because the shafts are small they use children to hack out the ore and shift sacks of rocks. When it rains, the tunnels are vulnerable to collapse and dozens of miners die every month. The children are also exposed to radioactivity because this area is close to the uranium mines that supplied the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.



Around the mine, the team find dozens of Chinese brokers exploiting this chaotic environment by buying-up the ore extract. They react violently when Porter tries to film them. Local villagers tell Unreported World that although the Chinese are bringing enterprise, their business practices are making a profit at a tragic human cost. But, they say, they have no alternative but to trade with them.



Source: Channel 4

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