NANTOU, Zhongshan – The afternoon temperature outside was unfriendly.
The needle teetered roughly between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius or just above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The inside of the bus, nevertheless, remained remarkably cool thanks to the air conditioner that hummed silently as we took an hour drive from Guangzhou to Nantou in Guangdong Province of Southern China.
The climate is normally warm and humid and similar to what you may find on the coastal areas of Tanzania and Angola.
Typhoons and thunderstorms can occur anytime and actually damage property or cause death. But this is not a story about thunderstorms and typhoons.
Stepping out of the bus, the heat waves hit us hard and mists the eye glasses. A minute later, however, we are walking in an extremely efficiently chilled or cooled air conditioned lobby.
Standing at the entrance, a smartly dressed bespectacled lady named Sherry says with open arms and wide smile: “Welcome to TCL …please follow me this way.”
In one corner of the factory, huge barrels of gleaming copper coil are neatly stacked together against the wall.
In another corner, some copper rods are being unbundled and getting hooked into a complicated looking processing machine.
At the end of the line, shiny state of the art air conditioners are churned, packed, sealed, certified and readied for export to various destinations outside China including Africa by a diligent looking all Chinese staff.
Before we move to the next stage of production line of various appliances here at TCL ranging from LCD flat screens to smart blue tooth’s, I ask the man next to me where the copper used here comes from and who supplies it.
A quick whisper in Cantonese maybe Mandarin and then a translation back into English to me: “the copper is from Zambia…we get it through a Swedish or Swiss agent I think.”
My jaw drops as my suspicions are confirmed that Zambia only earns a few millions of dollars from the copper diggers that export the precious metal here.
And it is absolutely not TCL’s problem at all as it is a company of high corporate and governance repute immensely respected globally with a huge revenue base.
It just so happens to be minting billions of dollars annually and changing Chinese lives for the better using Zambia’s copper while more than 64 percent of Zambians remain poor that’s all.
It is but one of the many blue chip multi nationals that are doing good for themselves abroad because Zambia does not add value to its own copper or capture more foreign exchange from those making money in Zambia.
With the newly amended BOZ law on recommendation from President Sata’s government though, this is about to change though.
Copper has been Zambia’s DNA from the pre-colonial time to date and it is likely to remain so for a while as diversification is discussed and benefits elude us.
“If we had a Zambian to supply us with copper we would gladly deal with them because we feel a strong, warm and mutual bond with Africa but there’s none,” the official adds.
And there lies the dilemma.
Zambia’s copper has done little over the years-especially after the return to multi-party politics and economic liberalisation-to change the lives of Zambians for the better.
But it is clearly making China, India and Switzerland glow as they consume the metal needed to fire the industry.
Take TCL for instance.
Its record as a multi-national is nothing but brilliant, a perfect example of a company Zambia must partner with in order to have a win win situation-Zambia refines the copper and TCL buys the roads and coils for its appliances.
TLC is a shining example of what its chairman and CEO Li Dongsheng gives as private enterprise here that contributes to the country’s growth as China become the second largest economy in the world.
The air conditioning division alone here in Nantou has a GDP several times higher than Zambia as a country while the standards of living of people in this town are equally higher than Africa’s top copper producer Zambia.
TCL’s air conditioners fueled partly by Zambia’s copper are fetching billions in sales from insatiable markets in Australia, South America and Africa.
“Last year alone we sold more than 300 million pieces or units to Africa as the demand increases due to high quality,” Kent Yann the exuberant General Manager tells me during the tour of the ultra-modern facility.
At this point, I recall our President Michael Sata’s concerns regarding the inequalities between the copper diggers and ordinary Zambians.
“God gave copper to Zambians and these people (Mine owners) don’t respect the Zambian soil where there is copper, mining or any other business venture in Zambia. They should contribute. These mining industries export and we don’t know what they‘re doing with our money. If they’re exporting our minerals, the money must come back to Zambia, so the current investors should wake up, stand up and be counted and not wait for Government to push them. We don’t have time pushing people.”
Zhongshan, were Nantou is located-historically known as Xiangshan—is a prefecture-level city in the south of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province.
Nothing compared to the Copperbelt province of Zambia.
It is as I came to learn one of the few cities in China with an eponymous name, meaning it was named after a person: Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) who was also known as Sun Zhongshan.
Before high tech coolers, flat screens and other gadgets etc. from TCL came here, it was only known as sea salt producer with lots of poor people.
Now it is home to TCL named a “Top 50 Global Electronic Consumer Brands “company ranked 26 in the world competing neck and neck with big names such as South Korea’s Samsung.
•TCL was honored “Top 20 Global Television Manufacture” and was selected as “Top 10 China Electronic Consumer Brand” for four consecutive years.
•TCL was awarded “Best Branding Image Prize in 60 years of China” and won “Top Ten Classic Corporate Cases 60 years of China” in China Brand Forum in 2009.
•Li Dong Sheng, Chairman and CEO of TCL Corporation, was honored as one of “Meritorious Figure of Chinese brand” in 2009
•TCL Corporation kept its first place rank as the number one TV brand in China in 2010. As one of China’s most valuable brands, TCL’s total brand value in 2010 was RMB 45.808 billion or.
•TCL was founded in 1981 and incorporated in 1985 as TCL Telecommunication Equipment Co Ltd. It began manufacturing consumer electronics for the Chinese market during the 1980s, and began to sell overseas in the 2000s. Though a state-owned enterprise, TCL was established as a joint venture with several Hong Kong-based investors.
•In April 2008 Samsung Electronics announced that it would be outsourcing the production of some LCD TV modules to TCL.
In May 2011 TCL launched the China Smart Multimedia Terminal Technology Association in partnership with Hisense Electric Co. and Sichuan Changhong Electric Co., with the aim of helping to establish industry standards for smart televisions.
•In January 2013, it brought the naming rights for the Grauman’s Chinese Theater for $5 million and the theater was renamed “TCL Chinese Theater”.
The above are some of the dazzling numbers of TCL which runs on some copper from Zambia but makes a positive change world-wide.
In 2010 industry experts named TCL the world’s 25th-largest consumer electronics producer and sixth-largest television producer (after Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic and Sharp)., and at the end of 2012, raised to 4th, just after Samsung, LG, Sony and it is not slowing down.
Despite depending so much on Zambia’s copper-as air conditioners cannot run without it-the company has no direct connection with Zambia or Zambians.
Like in the case of Ruschlikon, Switzerland, a wealthy community of 5,300 people that probably pay the lowest taxes in the world, the Nantou glow is not sticking onto Zambia.
Of course we all know Ruschlikon owes its wealth to Ivan Glasenbery the chief executive officer of the commodity giant Glencore which owns Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) here in Zambia. (Sunday Mail March 11, 2013).
But the question on the minds of many is ‘are we going to keep waiting till the shine wears off?’
What additional measures are we going to put into place as a country to capture more money from our pay dirt to build schools sink bore holes and achieve the elusive ‘win-win’ situation?
Is the new BOZ Act alone enough?
A March 20 article of Cobalt Investing News for instance paints a shining picture on cobalt which we produce too but is less discussed than copper though it fetches more money.
Excerpt: Cobalt production is poised to more than double in Zambia according to The Wall Street Journal on the back of Glencore.
The article notes that the company will spend $27 million to increase production capacity at its Nkana cobalt plant, with output expected to rise 7,000 metric tons (MT) per year from the current 2,800 MT.
The move would restore Zambia’s place as one of the world’s top cobalt suppliers but the article does not say whether poor Zambians shall be lifted from poverty from this ‘good news’ or maybe it will be further good news for the people of Switzerland again.
In 2011, Zambia was the world’s fifth-largest producer of cobalt, at 5,400 MT, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and yet poverty levels remained high. Last year, copper production according to available figures peaked at just about 976,733 metric tons up from 789,382 the previous year.
So production in the industry keeps rising but what about the lives of Zambians? Shall the proceeds from the mineral continue developing the lives of people abroad?
When are we going to have our own TCL and create jobs using our copper? What can we learn from China.
Anthony Mukwita is the Deputy Managing Director of the Zambia Daily Mail who was part of an entourage of African media executives on a tour of Chinese industry as the second largest economy in the world seeks to expand trade and political relations with Africa.
NANTOU, Zhongshan – The afternoon temperature outside was unfriendly.