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Zimbabwean Speaks About Alleged Racism, Strict Coronavirus Measures in China


Samantha Sibanda lives in China. (Courtesy Image)

Some black people have been reportedly brutalized by certain Chinese citizens for allegedly spreading coronavirus COVID-19 following several months under strict quarantine regulations since the outbreak of the disease in Wuhan, Hubei province, last year. Racial tensions have been stoked by some people claiming that the coronavirus originated from black people while the Chinese government and World Health Organization have already indicated that the disease originated from a food market in the Chinese central city of Wuhan. Over two mission people have contracted COVID-19 and thousands have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

UGibbs Dube loSamantha Sibanda. (Courtesy Image)
UGibbs Dube loSamantha Sibanda. (Courtesy Image)

In China, some blacks have been evicted from their rented dwellings, denied entry into restaurants, hospitals and other places. African ambassadors have protested over the racial tensions, saying the Chinese government should control some of its citizens that strongly believe that coronavirus is spread by black people. The southern industrial city of Gaungzhou, a popular place visited by thousands of African entrepreneurs per year, has become the epicenter of racial tensions. It’s unclear if there have been any Zimbabweans caught up in these issues. Ms. Samantha Sibanda, a Zimbabwean teacher now living in Beijing, says not all conflicts being displayed on social media and other platforms are racially motivated as some blacks from Africa are resisting being tested for COVID-19, fearing that they may be part of research being conducted to find a coronavirus vaccine. VOA Zimbabwe Service’s Gibbs Dube speaks with Sibanda on this and other issues.

Gibbs Dube (GD): Samantha, we’ve seen that there are these reports of racism and, you know, some kind of, you know, the violation of some black’s rights in China. What is going on as far as you are concerned?

Samantha (SS): It's a very complicated issue that you're talking about, and we have to actually look at it in the different angles for us to be able to get the answer that we want. I know social media has taken this up and just kind of blown it out of proportion, really. That's, that's my thought and that's my opinion. I think the situation has really really been blown out of proportion. And it's not supposed to be that way, I think. And I feel people are really lacking context on this issue. It's just like, know when you see something posted on Facebook, before you share it, you also put your comments and stuff and you share.

Samantha Sibanda.(Courtesy Image)
Samantha Sibanda.(Courtesy Image)

The next person takes it in their own way and stuff like that. And I think this is what's been happening. And the other thing that I want to say is if we, if we kind of look at what's been going on, I think the world has been angry with China because of the coronavirus. Remember when it started, people were also saying it was a Chinese virus, it came from China. And so people already had that anger in them and all they didn't inform us. So they did, they did do this, and when the issue of Africans came in, it was also more like you know, seeing some other stuff. If you want to look at Africans themselves, you know in the previous weeks we had these French doctors who have been saying they want to test this (vaccine) on Africans.

GD: So, are you saying that the Africans were actually scared about, you know…

SS: The Africans in their heads, it’s because of what they were seeing, that the French doctors are saying they want to test (vaccines) on Africans and so the Chinese wanted to test (vaccines on) the Africans, in their heads, they were like, hello, are we being guinea pigs now? So there was fear of, you know, that based on what they were hearing. And also on the other hand…just to cut things short, this was a misunderstanding that people blew out of proportion.

GD: But we've been seeing on social media, some people like there's this lady who was going to seek some kind of help from the hospital when … she looked pregnant, but then was turned away. So then, we’ve got other issues where we see some Africans on the streets, you know all those kind of things. Can you call that fiction or it’s happening, right?

SS: That's what I'm saying, That you have to use lenses that are wide open. I'll also want to tell people that, I mean, the issues of racial discrimination or the issues of Africans being not treated well in China, these are issues that have been going on for years. There's nothing new really, you know. This has been going on for a long time. So I'm actually wondering why people are like, oh, you know, this has been going on. And I think now what has made it like what I'm saying, what is made it really kind of maybe, gain prominence, is the fact that there is this coronavirus, the fact that people have nothing to do, the fact that, you know we've got so much to say . There’s social media and this is what’s happening. But I want to say that both sides, China and Africa, were wrong.

UGibbs Dube loSamantha Sibanda. (Courtesy Image)
UGibbs Dube loSamantha Sibanda. (Courtesy Image)

GD: So we see that in Guangzhou, or am I pronouncing it properly, there is a market or markets for Africans and they went there …there were some issues, right? Tell us the issues.

SS: Just to give people context, isn’t you know that we've been in quarantine in China. This is our 13th week, quarantined. And Guangzhou is actually China's manufacturing city. And Africans go there to buy clothes, to buy equipment, building materials and stuff. So…and Guangzhou has the largest number of Africans actually in China. Basically, most of them being their own business and some of them being victims of human trafficking and stuff. So there is a mixture of Africans who are there, real business people, victims and criminals, and this is the truth.

There is a mixture of such African people, in Guangzhou. So what happened here was...China like I say, is slowly getting back to business now and it's opening some shops and businesses. And they are African people who came from home, Africa, to China, and arrived in March, around 20 March, And they were coming for business, you know, to buy whatever their stuff. And they were told to go on quarantine for 14 days. And during those days, they were being tested like, you know, having their temperatures checked every day. But then towards the end of their quarantine period, they realized that some of them were now showing signs of having coronavirus, which then led to them being asked to go for testing. Now this is where the issue started, when they were being asked to go for testing.

Medical staff transfer a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus on an ambulance to Leishenshan Hospital, the newly-built hospital for the COVID-19 coronavirus patients, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 3, 2020.
Medical staff transfer a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus on an ambulance to Leishenshan Hospital, the newly-built hospital for the COVID-19 coronavirus patients, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 3, 2020.

Some then thought to, you know what? The French doctors said they want to wipe out the African population. So now was resistance of like, no, we are not taking the test. Yes. So this is where the whole thing started off, some. And their resistance was also based on fear of saying, is this the real test or now I'm being a guinea pig. Right. So. And then those who agreed to be tested, they got tested, but then, for those who were tested, they also found that amongst those Africans, yes, some were positive with corona. Yes. Now, I want people to get this point, because this is the most important point that this whole thing is about and that I want the world to know. Now, imagine that these people have been locked up for 13 weeks. They also have children. They also have businesses. They are parents. They are daughters and stuff. They have been home. And then compare with us. We are failing to even quarantine ourselves for a week.

Now you've got an African who's been tested positive and decides to run away and get into the crowd. Now, what would you do? Because it's not about being African. This is about the health and the well-being of everyone. You've got someone who is positive and is now out there. Why would you do? So, this has nothing to do with race. I need people to really understand because you and me, I think even you, let's say you've now gone back to business today. You are here at the studio and say these 13 weeks I've been closed up in my house. Now I'm starting to do my business. And then you hear a black person, an African person is positive and is running around. If they come knocking at your door, will you open the door? Let’s forget about race for one minute. You open the door?

FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit collects a swab from a construction worker for nucleic acid test in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in China, April 7, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit collects a swab from a construction worker for nucleic acid test in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in China, April 7, 2020.

GD: That sounds scary. But then and when you take the matter further, you see that there are some people who are being evicted, who were actually evicted from their dwellings?

SS: It’s because they were refusing testing. Guys, listen to this. You know what? I am African and I'm very proud. And the organization that I have, stands for the rights of African people. But what I want to say to my people, if we are wrong, sometimes we have to accept responsibilities We have to accept where we are wrong and not tolerate and not hide behind racial discrimination. I will tell you this, there are issues here of course, Chinese people have treated us so bad. But what would you do with people whom you know, OK, they are not even one now, so many of them are testing positive. They are positive. OK. They're scared. Yes, because in their minds, maybe they're being sent for tests - they don't want ... And on the other hand you have people who are saying, man, we've been on lockdown for a long time. We also want to go back to work. So do you want them to save you? Let's look at that. Now, yes, this is where the trick is. And then the second issue is one thing you have to know, this is the truth, and I know maybe people will shout at me and whatever that I'm not standing with African.

So many Africans my brothers, have no (immigration) papers. They have no papers. If I tell you, so many Africans have killed themselves just running away from the police. The police knock at their door, they jump out the window. They’d rather jump off seventh floor, tenth floor running away, than be deported. Yes.

GB: So, that's the other thing, that maybe they are scared that if they go, and you're sick, and they say show us your passport? That becomes an issue, right?

SS: Yes. So these are things that people are not even also thinking about. Let's also not just say… just for making stories. But the issue here is, course, there were people who were tested. And now because of the few people who are running away, positive, few people who are refusing to be tested. Now you are refusing to be tested. Please, we all know China has the largest population in the world. So imagine if they and they've done their best to try and control it. Now imagine, these cases are imported. These are cases that are coming from outside. So that means that they're going to start that thing all over again.

FILE PHOTO: Scientist Linqi Zhang shows a tube with a solution containing COVID-19 antibodies in his lab where he works on research into novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antibodies for possible use in a drug at Tsinghua University's Research
FILE PHOTO: Scientist Linqi Zhang shows a tube with a solution containing COVID-19 antibodies in his lab where he works on research into novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antibodies for possible use in a drug at Tsinghua University's Research

GB: It seems as if there are also some Chinese that are coming from Italy, Russia, Portugal and so forth. And now we're seeing an upsurge in cases of coronavirus. So is that the case with what is happening in Guangzhou?

SS: I don't know about the Chinese cases elsewhere. I’m not really sure, but what I would say is of course, in Guangzhou, being the manufacturing city, like I said, because when it started getting back to business, business people actually rely on buying stuff for their boutiques, for their companies. They are also now coming into China.

GD: The other question people are asking you is how many months you have been under isolation or quarantine and what has it been like. Can you tell Zimbabweans that kind of story?

SS: This is our 13th week. 13 weeks. Yeah.

GB: How has it been?

SS: It's been very tough, I’ll tell you, it's been really really tough even for me personally. The first week I couldn't understand what was going on, and the way they did it here, it was more hard than it is, you know, all over the world, because all over the world they're saying it's shut down, but they're still allowing people to go around. Here when they started the shutdown , you know it was lockdown, as in lockdown. You could not go anywhere. You were not allowed to go anywhere. Our relatives could not allowed to even come and visit.

FILE: Hundreds of people buy goods at a fruit and vegetable market, despite a lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday April 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
FILE: Hundreds of people buy goods at a fruit and vegetable market, despite a lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday April 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

GB: We’ve got a question from Kucaca Phulu. He's a lawyer and a legislator at the same time. He represents Nkulumane (suburb in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). He says what about the reports of Africans being chased out of restaurants and public spaces, etc? What's the explanation? That's his question.

SS: Yes. The explanation is very simple. Think of people like I said, who have just gone back to work after 13 weeks of quarantine. These are people who are also trying to make a living, people. They're trying to make a living. Now you've got Africans who are positive roaming around. If they come knocking to your door will you open? This is the question that I want. This is, this has nothing to do with them being racial. This is something to do with also protecting themselves. I think we will do the same as well. Whether it's someone like me, even an African e.g. an African comes to me and I'm suspecting, you know, this person is sick. Honestly, I will not open my door. Honestly I'll not open my business because. I won’t open my business, I don't know whether you're OK or not. That means both of us are gone.

GD: Now looking at the re-opening of business in China, when are they doing that where you are right now in Beijing? Have you started going to work now, like taking trains and all those kinds of things?

SS: Yeah, it's opened, and schools will be starting on the 27th of April.

GB: So how has it been? So you're taking trains without masks and other things?

SS: No, no. no. People are still wearing masks, to go. People are still being checked. There are checkpoints everywhere you go, where they check your temperature and stuff.

A temperature screening device is pictured as engineering professors program version two prototype of the IIUM Medibot medical robot, being developed for health workers to treat patients without risking infection from the COVID-19 coronavirus
A temperature screening device is pictured as engineering professors program version two prototype of the IIUM Medibot medical robot, being developed for health workers to treat patients without risking infection from the COVID-19 coronavirus

GB: So you have had your temperature checked as well, and what are they saying?

SS: You know, we check our temperature twice every day and it's mandatory. It's, it's mandatory. I have to send my temperature reading in the m orning and in the evening every day, and I've been doing that for the past 12 weeks.

GB: So where do you send it? How do you take the temperature and where do you send it?

SS: They’ve prepared apps. Yeah. It has a record of everyone, let me put it that way. So it's easier for them to trace with (laughs). It's easier to trace, you know, like someone who’s temperature is going up.

GD: So when they become jittery, what is the temperature like?

SS: For me, I've been ‘playing’ on my 36.7 (degrees celcius), most of the time, 36.9. For them, when you are 37, you know like…we always say the normal body temperatures is 37 and some but here in China, for coronavirus, when its 37 and just 37-point something, then they start tracking.

GB: Lastly, what can you tell Zimbabweans about being quarantined? Fears of contracting coronavirus and what you've been experiencing up to today?

This file photo taken on March 2, 2018 shows people gathering on a street in the "Little Africa" district in Guangzhou, the capital of southern China's Guangdong province.
This file photo taken on March 2, 2018 shows people gathering on a street in the "Little Africa" district in Guangzhou, the capital of southern China's Guangdong province.

SS: What I tell people is it is very important to stay at home. This is how you can beat this. I know we have to work. I know we have to feed our families. But it's also nice to be patient because it's no use to go to work and say you're trying to help your family, but when you're putting yourself at risk and you then end up leaving that family anyway. So I just try and stay at home. One thing that I also want to say to our people concerning the Chinese people, I know in our country we have a lot of Chinese people who are there. But what I want to say to you Zimbabweans…I've been in China for 12 years. I've seen good Chinese people. This is something that I want to tell you. I've seen Chinese people who have gone out of their way to protect and help Africans, to empower Africans. I've also seen of course Chinese people who are not racist, but they don't know. They actually lack information because the Africans that they know is the African with kids, with flies on their faces, the Africa with poverty, the Africa with animals. They don't know the Africa that is rich … Most of them. They know the Africa that is to the lowest low. So when they see, some of them when they see us, that's the picture they have … Because that's what they see in the papers. So you can imagine if someone knows it. You always have flies, you know where you're where you come from, this, you know, bad things are happening in your country. HIV… they, some of them, that's what they know when you ask them about Africa.

GB: Yes. Who has to tell that story?

Residents watch from their balconies South African police and National Defense Forces search a local bar they thought was illegally open in downtown Johannesburg on Monday March 30, 2020.
Residents watch from their balconies South African police and National Defense Forces search a local bar they thought was illegally open in downtown Johannesburg on Monday March 30, 2020.

SS: We have to tell that story, this is something that I want to say. We as Africans are responsible to flood the media with positive stories, because right now I was actually… there was a day that I really got mad with the media people who were calling me, like asking me like, oh, can we get a comment? And I was saying, do not call me if you have never written a positive story about Africa, because some of them are coming up now interested in showing those Africans who are sleeping outside. But how about writing the story about those Africans who are business people because most of them actually came on business. They are not people who should be sleeping outside but not even one, I haven't seen any story out there right now, writing a different narrative. It's like…even us Africans. All we do. Oh our people are sleeping outside. Oh, our people…why are we spreading that? No…it’s like we love negativity…

GD: But can we ignore that? Can we ignore that?

SS: We shouldn't ignore it, but let the ones who write negativity write negativity. Let's put positivity out there. Because right now, I'll give you an example right now, if people are searching Africans in Africa - flies, poverty, HIV. Africans in China, you know, pictures of Africans sleeping outside. So where are the good Africans? Where do we want the Chinese who have never heard about us, to hear about us? Because to them, as long as they are seeing that, that's the picture of Africa! You can’t blame them when they're chasing you away, for what you don't deserve (anything good), to them.

Mbare Musika after a coronavirus cleaning exercise in Harare ...
Mbare Musika after a coronavirus cleaning exercise in Harare ...

GD: So there's a guy here Robert Ndlovu, saying you know when there is a lot of sewer, you know, sewer flowing in Mbare (high-density suburb in Harare), and all those kind of places, you know, in Harare townships, do you want us to ignore that? That's his question.

SS: Right. My point is, should the whole population report about the sewer in Mbare? Won’t you think someone else is writing about the sewer in Mbare, someone else can showcase the beauty of Zimbabwe? Let’s tell both sides of the story. Let's not stick… if we put the sewer, the sewer…someone who's never been to Mbare, someone who’s never been to Zimbabwe...I'll give you an example now. Chinese people, if you ask them about Zimbabwe. Let me make you have a quick guess. What do you think they say - the first thing when you say Zimbabwe?

GD: Diamonds?

SS: No.

GD: Mbare?

SS: No

GD: What is it?

SS: The trillion dollars! That’s what they talk about. If you say where are you from? I'm from Zimbabwe. They start laughing, oh, the country with the trillion dollars, you know (laughs). Yeah, exactly. So they don't know anything else when they heard about Zimbabwe, they saw that trillion dollars, it was the country which had the trillion dollar note. That’s it. Anything else? They don't care. They don't know!

GD: Ok, that you so much, Samantha.

Zimbabwean in China Says Media Reports of Abuse of Africans, 'Blown Out of Proportion'
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