Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Translation Tuesday: Benguela Railway: The Glory of “Made in China”

By Christian Straube

Authors: Zhu Jianhong, Zhang Baojun and Long Jiamin
Translator: Christian Straube
Published on: 15/05/04
Source: People’s Daily

Original text (in Chinese): http://finance.people.com.cn/n/2015/0504/c1004-26941139.html

The Benguela Railway was officially inaugurated on February 2015 after rehabilitation by the China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation. Initially a colonial project by the Portuguese at the end of the 19th century, it integrated with the Katanga Railway, and now connects the African Copperbelt with the harbor of Lobito on the Atlantic Ocean.
---- Christian Straube

The Benguela Railway, which has been built by Chinese in the African country of Angola, is the longest railway built by a Chinese company overseas in the 21st century.

It is a railway filled with glory. When it was opened on February 14, the presidents of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Zambia took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. They also interacted with the meritorious people representing the construction: Liu Feng, Chen Lei, and Ma Junfeng of the China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation (CR20).

It is a railway full of blood and sweat. Over a period of more than ten years, more than ten thousand of CR20's staff helped with the construction. They suffered from land mines, malaria, a shortage of materials, and worsening security conditions. They had to overcome language, traffic, and communication difficulties as well as the discomforting climate. Several workers sacrificed their lives.



It is a railway that established Chinese brands overseas. From project design to the actual construction, everything was completed by CR20. From the screw to the locomotive, 99 percent of all materials were purchased in China. Chinese standards have replaced European ones, which established the golden brand of “Made in China”.

The Benguela Railway is the “Golden Line” of Southern Africa. It will stimulate local development tremendously.

Since “Going Out” was initiated at the beginning of the 21st century, Chinese companies have been always confused about where to actually go.

When thinking back upon entering the Angolan railway market, the deputy general manager of CR20 Angola, Chen Shenlin, said that the opportunity arrived abruptly. Still, coincidence also brought inevitability with it. “Water always flows downhill!”

The world thinks Africa is synonymous with under-development. However, it is also a very much desired “virgin territory”. In 2002, Angola ended its 27-year civil war and began reconstruction. The 1,344 kilometer Benguela Railway is among its most important projects. Angola had once issued invitations to several countries. In the end, the United States, Russia and four other countries who were in the final bidding process dropped out because the price was too high and for other reasons. Ultimately, the choice came down to CR20.

The Benguela Railway is Angola’s main railway line. Furthermore, it is the “Golden Line” of Southern Africa. The line sets out in the West from Angola’s largest port in Lobito and ends in the East in the town of Luau bordering the DRC. It was projected to go at a speed of 90 km/h with an annual capacity of four million passengers and 20 million tons of cargo. Once the Benguela Railway has started regular service, it will integrate with the Angola-Zambia, Zambia-Tanzania and neighboring countries’ railway networks. In fact, it is the realization of a joint railway network Southern Africa and forms a major international transport route between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The love of the Angolan People for the Benguela Railway surprised and moved the workers of CR20 who had built the railway over the last decades. The traffic conditions were horrible after the Angolan civil war. In one section of the railway line, there is no road within 700 km radius. Once the railway reached new places, the people were happy and miserable at the same time. When the flatbed trailer came during construction it was crowded with people. Still, people could not just leave wherever the trailer stopped. They simply started cooking in pots right next to the train and waited for a couple of days until the trailer continued.

The President of the Benguela Railway Administrative Council José Carlos Gomes explained: “The Benguela Railway serves as a brand. It improves the connection between the interior of Angola and its neighbors. Furthermore, from the perspective of the African Union, railroads are of an incalculable value!”

In order to thank the Chinese company, the Angolan government marked the road bed of the Benguela Railway with the Portuguese abbreviation “CR20”, which stands for China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation. Wherever the railway leads to, the people of Angola will always remember this name.

Suffering from land-mines, Malaria and other hazards, but still completing an impossible job

While constructing the railway in Angola, two obstacles made it particularly difficult for the Chinese.

The first obstacle were land-mines. According to United Nations' statistics, there are more than 10 million land-mines in post-war Angola. Many of the mines that had yet to be triggered were found along the Benguela Railway line. That is why the project was viewed as impossible. Following a Sino-Angolan mutual agreement, every new meter that the railway track advanced had to be first cleared by the Angolan National Demining Institute (INAD). Despite this, a complete clearing was never possible.

On 8 August 2008, the 47-year-old worker Wang Quan drove on an anti-tank mine during construction and died. “Before he died, his eyes turned from light to darkness while looking around. They were full of expectation and regret. We thought he must have been looking for his wife and thought about home,” the general manager of the Benguela Two Project Li Shiqiang remembered.

Following Wang Quan’s death, CR20 went for a second clearing after the Angolan army had already cleared the ground of mines in order to ensure the safety on the construction side. They used indigenous methods like putting a concrete cylinder in front of a bulldozer. In case there was a mine, it would only damage a machine but not kill a person.

The second obstacle was Malaria. When we were interviewing the Party Committee Secretary and Department Manager of the Benguela Fourth Project Zhou Hai and asked him how many people caught Malaria, he laughed and replied: “You should ask how many people did not catch Malaria. During the Benguela Railway construction, catching Malaria was like catching a cold. There is one worker who got it 24 times within two years.”

The Party Committee Secretary and Department Manager of the Track Laying and Bridge Erection Project Wang Ruitang said: “Two thirds of our people caught Malaria. They caught it several times. You could not find an empty seat at the doctor’s!”

Apart from Malaria, there were other threats: the Bilharzia worm and many more strange insects, e.g. the Mango Fly which enters the human body as a parasite. Furthermore, there were crocodiles, boas, lions… there was no lack of visits by wild animals on the construction side.

The loneliness away from the mother land and away from loved ones was also incredibly distressing for the Chinese builders. CR20’s chief engineer and Benguela construction commander Hu Chuntao explained: “At the time of the global financial crisis, the construction of the Benguela Railway came to a halt. A foreign project cannot be delayed. A delay of two or three years would usually mean its termination. But once we survived all that, the advantage was really on our side!”

“Surviving things” is easier said than done. When the project was suspended, Li Shiqiang made a trip to one of the rearward sites. The Angolan soldiers standing guard at the gate told him: “The two Chinese left behind went mad. They do not stop moving in and out of the house.” Li Shiqiang was very sure that they did not go mad but were struggling with the loneliness. At another rearward site, he witnessed a sole Chinese worker who took his hand and talked for three hours straight.

The predecessor of Chinese railway workers were the railway corps. When needed, they relied on the “Railway Corps Spirit” which enabled them to eat bitterness and complete an “impossible project” such as this. Within more than ten years, CR20 brought over 10,000 workers to Africa in order to work on the railway. Some of them even sacrificed their life for the railway construction. Their dead bodies will remain in Africa forever. In order to remember these heroes of the reconstruction of post-war Angola, Angola has put up a special memorial.

Constructing the Benguela Railway gave full expression to the strength of “Made in China”

When you come to Angola, traces of China are everywhere: from large objects such as buses and railways to small ones such as the shoes and plastic tableware in the markets. At the beginning of this year, Angolan newspapers published a caricature in which next to a Chinese person was written: “God only made earth and heaven, for everything else God asked the Chinese to produce it.”

Professor Lu Feng of Beijing University once put the strength of China’s manufacturing capability into the words “Made in China”, “Chinese-built” and “Created in China”. Profiting from several decades of reform and opening and the large-scale market incentives, China developed large infrastructure projects construction capacity which was hard for other countries to match. The volume of completed Chinese construction contracts abroad did not reach one billion US dollars at the beginning of the 21st century. It grew to more than 14 billion US dollars last year. Overseas construction contract labor has increased from 50,000-60,000 people in 2000 to over 300,000 in recent years.

Through the construction of the Benguela Railway, the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) gave full expression to the strength of “Made in China”. The benefit for CRCC was not small. CR20’s deputy general manager and Angola construction commander Liu Feng put forward that “Going Out” for the company resulted in a large group of managers and engineers with concrete international experience. It also raised the companies’ competitiveness. Because of the outstanding performance in Angola, the railway project in Mozambique’s Nacala was also contracted to CR20. Several countries gradually entered negotiations concerning other projects, too.

“99 percent of the materials used for the Benguela Railway were purchased in China. From vehicles, steel rails and machinery to everyday supplies. This set in motion a development for domestic production to go abroad,” Liu Feng said. In the Benguela project, Chinese technology entirely replaced European standards. Steel sleepers became wooden sleepers, the turning radius of 80 meters was changed to 150 to 300 meters. This resulted in an increase of speed for the Angolan railway from 30 to 90 kilometers per hour.

For a decade, the golden letters of CRCC were on a signboard erected at the heart of the Angolan government. During the construction of the railway, more than 50 Ministers of Transport and embassy officials of members of the African Union stood in front of it. Hu Chuntao said: “After the signboard was set up, the Angolan government often provided us with projects and we took up the initiative to screen projects.”

Building a road along the railway line, providing medical care for the people, building schools in the most poverty-stricken areas… CR20 turned into the “Great Benefactor” for the Angolan people. Among the almost 100,000 local workers who took part in the construction, CR20 trained more than 10,000 railway workers. At the Angola Two Project, there is a young fellow with the name Davi. He began working for CR20 right after junior high school. He started out shoveling crushed rock for the roadbed. Now, he knows how to drive an excavator, loader, and road roller. “The skills were all learned with CR20.” Relying on this kind of work, Davi gets a higher salary than his schoolmates and provides for six children.

Luanda, Lobito, Huambo… whenever you enter the living quarters of the CR20 workers, you will always find a patch of rural China in the courtyard: beans, eggplants, scallions, and other vegetables brought from China. The roots go deep into the African soil, the leaves grow lush. Similarly, CR20 rooted in the Angolan market through the optimism and steadiness of the railway corps, waiting for the fruits of their work to flower.

About People's Daily (http://en.people.cn/)
"The People's Daily is a daily newspaper in China. The paper is an official newspaper of the government of China, published worldwide with a circulation of 3 to 4 million. In addition to its main Chinese-language edition, it has editions in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Tibetan, Kazakh, Uyghur, Zhuang, Mongolian, Korean and other minority languages in China. Similar to Pravda's relationship with the Soviet Union, the newspaper provides direct information on the policies and viewpoints of the government." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Daily)

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