China miners' African gold rush tarnished

2013-06-13 12:05
Former miner Zeng Guangqiang, who recently returned from Ghana, gestures as he explains how Chinese miners in Ghana are regularly robbed at gunpoint. (Ed Jones, AFP)

Former miner Zeng Guangqiang, who recently returned from Ghana, gestures as he explains how Chinese miners in Ghana are regularly robbed at gunpoint. (Ed Jones, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Shanglin - Thousands of men travelled vast distances from a poor part of rural China to seek their fortunes mining gold in west Africa - but now their dreams are in tatters with a wave of arrests and allegations of deadly violence.

Zhuo Haohe's ashes were buried in a field near his home in Shanglin county this week, after his son flew home with his remains stuffed in his luggage following a deadly attack by shotgun-wielding bandits in Ghana.

"We helped the local people get rich, and when they got rich they bought guns to rob us," said Zhang Guofeng, the dead man's brother-in-law, miming the action of firing a weapon as raindrops fell on an unpaved road.

The miners of Shanglin are an illustration of the tensions created by Chinese migration to Africa. At home popular pressure increases on Beijing to protect its citizens abroad.

With its simple white-tiled farmhouses, Shanglin county, in one of China's poorest provinces, Guangxi, seems a world away from the gleaming towers of the cities thrown up in the country's economic boom.

Its men learned mining techniques while pioneering the development of gold reserves in China's cold northeast in the 1990s.

10 000 working in Ghana

A decade ago a few of them took their skills to Ghana, where a number made their fortunes from small-scale mines in areas ignored by Western conglomerates.

On their return to China some of the miners bought foreign cars and expensive villas and the trickle of émigrés turned into a flood.

"Before we started going to Ghana, we didn't have enough money to be sure we could get a decent meal every day," said Zhang.

More than 10 000 people from Shanglin have moved to Ghana - Africa's second-largest gold producer - according to local government estimates.

In recent years Beijing has also poured billions in aid and investment into Africa, transforming its relationship with the continent as it seeks resources to power its own economy.

The Shanglin miners are part of a huge diaspora of small businessmen, traders and migrants who have come in the wake of the official contracts, but their presence has sometimes brought accusations of exploitation and feelings of resentment.

Targets in wave of violence

Ghanaian authorities say they have rounded up more than 150 Chinese illegal miners as part of a crackdown on activities they say are unauthorised and they blame for harming water supplies and the environment.

The campaign, which has also netted other foreigners, would continue until "some sanity has been restored in that sector of the economy", an immigration spokesperson said.

But relatives in Shanglin say Chinese miners have been targeted in a wave of violence, and are angry that neither Ghanaian nor Chinese authorities have confirmed fatal attacks.

They say raids on Chinese mines have been carried out by men in uniforms who have been complicit in violence.

"They robbed us with double-barrelled shotguns used for hunting, but recently they have been using AK-47s," said Zeng Guangqiang, who arrived home from Ghana in May.

Returned miners deny they were operating illegally and say they had agreements with local landlords, often tribal leaders.

Online activism

Thousands of Chinese have fled into hills and forests in fear of violence or arrest and deportation, Shanglin residents said. They accused Beijing of indifference as they showed to AFP images on smartphones they said were taken by relatives in Ghana and sent via online messaging services.

Some were of groups of Chinese men apparently held in detention cells, while others showed miners camping in the countryside, allegedly after fleeing.

Zhuo Shengwen, aged 20, the dead man's nephew, posted the photographs on Chinese social media sites, where millions forwarded them - highlighting new pressures on Beijing's foreign policy from online activism.

"We wanted to use the internet to bring attention to our villagers," he said.

China's embassy in Accra said on its website on Sunday that more than 190 Chinese citizens arrested by local authorities would be released and returned home.

But Chinese reporters have been warned not to publish their own estimates of the numbers detained, sources with knowledge of press censorship instructions who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

Facing losses

"News editors received an order to report in accordance with Xinhua," one reporter said, referring to China's state-run news agency, adding: "There are a lot of details we are not allowed to report."

Ghana has a nascent oil industry and China has expressed interest in investing. In 2011, Ghana announced plans to borrow $800m from China to build natural gas infrastructure.

On the flip-side many of the Shanglin miners now face huge losses, unable to pay heavy interest rates on private loans taken out to fund their African investments.

"People will say this will put our economy back 10 or 20 years," said Huang Liping, whose husband is among those in hiding in Ghana. "We will end up poorer than when we started.

"Everyday we hear reports that someone has been killed... it's too cruel," she said, shaking with tears and cradling her four-year-old daughter. "I feel the government is far away from us."

Read more on:    china  |  ghana  |  mining  |  west africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…

What is at first an exciting tummy-turning adventure stunt, quickly turns into a scarily bad idea caught on camera. Take a look:


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Should you date your co-worker?
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.