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Intergroup Perceptions between New Chinese Immigrants and Zimbabweans

Social integration is a two-way process. The integration of new Chinese immigrants, as foreigners in Zimbabwe, is affected not only by the social functions of the Chinese community but also by intergroup perceptions. My fieldwork showed that in the eyes of new Chinese immigrants, there are more negative than positive perceptions of Zimbabweans, and it’s the same vice versa. This negative mutual perception is another obstacle to new Chinese immigrants’ integration.

New Chinese Immigrants’ Perceptions of Zimbabweans

In the eyes of new Chinese immigrants, most Zimbabweans are sweet- tempered and cheerful. They think this is the main reason Zimbabwe has remained stable in the economic downturn since 2012 and the political problems that erupted in late 2015. This was why many new Chinese immigrants decided to stay in Zimbabwe and increase their investment. They also have other positive perceptions of Zimbabweans: they are loyal and well educated, and they have strong technical skills, so they make good business partners and employees. But the interviews show that the Chinese perception of Zimbabweans is more negative than positive. Stealing, corruption and indolence are the three main charges.


New Chinese immigrants often say “Chinese love gambling, Zimbabweans love stealing.” Many are robbed by their servants or employees. They joke that “if you have not been robbed several times, you are not an ‘older migrant’.”

On February 3, 2015, I was invited by a new Chinese immigrant to visit his vegetable farm near Harare. The first thing I saw was a tractor mechanic being arrested by the police. The Chinese manager told me that the man had stolen vegetable seeds and repair tools, and sold them for beer. The same night, a Chinese businessman told me that he had been robbed by his employee.

When I checked the stock, I found I had lost several truckloads of goods. After an investigation, I ascertained that the goods had been stolen by drivers in transit. They drove the goods away from my factory, but they didn’t drive them to my shops. Instead, they sold them secretly.18

Another Chinese businessman said:

someone told me that goods being sold on the market were almost the same as ours, but they were much cheaper. I came to my storage to check the stock immediately. I had been robbed of more than USD40,000 worth of goods. The police suspected a stockman and driver had stolen the goods. So they were arrested. But up to now, they refuse to confess to their crime.19


If you ask new Chinese immigrants what their impressions are of Zimbabwe’s officials and police, almost all of them will say “corrupt.” They told me in the interviews that the local officials or police take any opportunity to ask for bribes, whenever they enter or leave customs, drive vehicles, open new shops or set up new factories. They have to offer bribes for many things. One respondent said: “I have a good relationship with an official from the Ministry of Health. When he needs something, he will call me and ask me to buy it for him. I bought him an LCD television recently.”20 A woman said: “I have good relationships with several high officials, and I can enter their offices without appointments. But I know those relationships are absolutely based on the money or expensive gifts I give them. Otherwise, they would not want to know me or help me.”21 Many new Chinese immigrants think that the main targets of corrupt officials and police are Chinese. One respondent said:

If you are at the airport customs in Harare, it’s easy for the Whites or Blacks to get through. But when it comes to Chinese, especially those coming to Zimbabwe for the first time, the Customs officers usually look at their passports very carefully, ask them a lot of questions, and even make them wait while other passengers pass by. It is very clear that they want money, maybe USD10 or USD20 will be ok ... It is the same with traffic police. They like to inspect Chinese drivers because they think they can get money from them. Of course they can, especially those who cannot speak English.22


Most new Chinese immigrants can earn enough money for a decent life in Zimbabwe because they are diligent and frugal. One respondent said: “If you work hard and have a mind, you will be a success, definitely.”23 They think the main reason many Zimbabweans are so poor is that they are lazy. A manager from a Chinese agribusiness told me:

very few farm workers come to our farm every day in a month. They usually work on the farm for one or two weeks, then get their wages and take a rest for some days. After spending all the money, they come back again ... Some do even worse than that, they take the wages directly to the bars or clubs instead of to their homes. They also borrow money from us, but they never pay us back. We don’t lend money to them now, because they don’t use the money for their families, they just enjoy it.24

There is much land lying fallow in the suburbs of Harare. This is all public land. If the municipal government of Harare has no plan to build public facilities on it, people can use it to plant food. However, as Mr. Zhao Ke said, “the locals are so lazy that they prefer to stay at home rather than reclaim a piece of land to get extra food for the families.”

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