When I arrived in China in February last year, the Asian country – which is home to 1,4 billion competitive souls – is the last place I expected to see multitudes of Zimbabweans, let alone successful ones, making a mark in various sectors of the burgeoning $12 trillion economy.
For a society that was closed 40 years ago, the language barrier is not unexpected for visitors. Unlike in most cosmopolitan cities and countries around the world, Africans in China only make up a drop in the sea of humanity. But Zimbabweans, as is always the case, have perfected their hussle in this part of the world.
Great Journey East
Since 1978, when China began its reform and opening up process, many people from around the world, Zimbabweans included, have been making the pilgrimage to the Asian country in search of opportunities.
Further, the recent upgrade in Sino-Zimbabwe relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation is expected to present even more opportunities for Zimbabweans.
The Zimbabwean Embassy in China estimates that there are already 5 000 Zimbabweans living in China. Some have white-collar jobs, while others have successfully ventured into businesses, music, art and craft.
There is a fair share of translators who have mastered mandarin. Gift Gumbu is one Zimbabwean who made the 9 957-kilometre journey to Beijing 10 years ago.
Initially, he made his name selling stone and wooden sculpture. But he now runs a consultancy company.
According to Gumbu, although foreigners have been given opportunities to invest, most of the local investments, however, are by the Chinese.
“There are various business opportunities that Zimbabweans in China do, ranging from online selling to international trade with Zimbabwean companies and individuals. They have opened up many avenues that Africans can enter, but the fact that Chinese are still the leading investors in China, priority is given to them – one thing that is different from Zimbabwe,” said Gumbu, who is also now married to a Chinese woman.
“I have discovered that the Chinese are hardworking, innovative and visionary people who have their country at heart. They work towards a common national goal and each individual contributes to national economic development.
“The Chinese developed their own country, they pushed policies that benefit the country, not individuals. The policies, from agriculture to industries, are governed and monitored by the Government for the benefit of all,” he said.
While official data shows that most Zimbabweans are employed as English teachers – a rewarding profession considering that many Chinese are taking up the language – most of the opportunities are not readily available to them because Zimbabwe is not recognised as a native English-speaking country. Also visitors on student visas are not allowed to seek employment.
China has enabled Zimbabweans to discover their hidden talents.
For example, Tinashe Kutama, who graduated with a Masters of Economics in International Trade, has made his name as DJ Fyn – an accomplished wheel-spinner in Hangzhou – who is using local music to tame the Chinese ear.
“There are vast opportunities here, especially business-wise, like importing and exporting different merchandise. Teaching and entertainment are other careers that you can pursue. One can also venture into agriculture, solar energy, electronics, and construction, among others,” he said.
Kutama has since set up Fyn Entertainment Promotions.
Expectedly, there is stiff competition in the Chinese job market, and one cannot afford to be uneducated. So much is the competition that the basic standard of education has become a Master’s degree.
Yolanda Madekutsva, a final-year student studying Tourism and Leisure Management with Austria and Hainan Tropical Ocean University (HTOU) in Hainan Province, said she plans to use her experience to establish a business venture back home.
“I am hoping to open my own upmarket bar back home (Zimbabwe), where you have good music and good food. This system has encouraged me to start my own ventures,” said the 21-year-old budding entrepreneur.
But it is the sheer ability of Zimbabweans to adapt and defy language and culture barriers that is most astounding.
Dr Sammy Sibanda, who founded the Appreciate Africa Network, was selected among the 100 Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) living in Asia (2018) within the humanitarian category for her philanthropic work.
The recognition included invitation to the UN headquarters in New York.
Her network is designed to shine the light on Africans excelling in different fields in China. Through the network, Dr Sibanda has introduced the Pride of Africa and Asia Awards for those excelling in business, arts and culture, sport, media and philanthropy.
“The awards were a way to showcase what Africans are doing here. We have Africans who are doing a whole lot of things and nobody has put them out there for the world to see,” she said.
China’s growing interest in sport, particularly football and basketball, has also opened avenues for African talent.
In order to tap into this growing passion, Mrs Bridget Hwasheni and her husband, Riccardo, established Scarlet Study Heights Agency.
The couple also has a similarly modelled academy in Zvimba South.
Mrs Hwasheni said: “China is buying players and nurturing talent. So we hope to share this opportunity with others back home because we have a lot of talented sportspeople.”