BRIAN MALAMA, Lusaka
IN 1991, he received a prestigious recognition from the Chinese government for his outstanding and exemplary performance.
Aged 40 then, Ma Fukang, a mechanical engineer, did not know that that was to be a turning point in his life.
Ma, or Uncle Mark, as he is called by those close to him, is now 67 years old. He lives in Lusaka’s Roma township where he runs Hans Mark Company, a warehousing facility. He has also been working as a water engineering consultant with Nkana Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) in Kitwe. His wife, Dai Hanying, worked at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka as an HIV/AIDS consultant and researcher. The couple’s 30-year-old son is currently living in China.
“I doubt if at all anyone will ever convince me to leave Zambia my second home,” Ma says. “It is unbelievably lovely here. I have simply blended in culturally and spiritually.”
Ma, who has traversed over 70 countries, first came to Zambia in 1997 as a chief engineer service for Tazt Machine Equipment Station. It has been enough time for him to start regarding Zambia as his second home.
He says on his first flight to Zambia, he did not envisage the strong bonds of friendship that lay ahead.
Ma says he was compelled to fall in love with Zambia because its’ culture blended well with the values, norms and spiritual traditions that unite the more than 70 ethnically diverse people.
“I have come to appreciate that most tribes were a series of migratory waves a few centuries ago,” he says. “It is almost close to my culture and this is why I find the Zambian and Chinese heritage almost at par.”
Ma hails from Henan Province, in the central part of China. Henan Province is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou, which literally means “central plain land” or “midland” although the name is also applied to the entirety of China proper.
The province is the birthplace of Chinese civilisation with over 3,000 years of recorded history, and remained China’s cultural, economic and political centre until approximately 1,000 years ago.
Henan province is a home to a large number of heritage sites which have been left behind including the ruins of Shang Dynasty, capital city Yin and the Shaolin Temple.
“Four of the eight great ancient capitals of China, Luoyang, Anyang, Kaifeng, and Zhengzhou are located in Henan,” Ma says.
It is at the Henan University of Technology that he obtained his professional degree and where his illustrious career germinated from.
Ma, who also worked in Zambia as chief mechanical engineer for China Henan, has been involved in a number of projects in the country. As a result of his work, he has been able to meet all the six Presidents of Zambia.
“I first met President Frederick Chiluba in Kitwe, after China Henan had been contracted to build Copperbelt roads and it was a great moment to meet a sitting head of State,” he says.
Later, Ma met President Levy Mwanawasa, President Rupiah Banda, President Michael Sata and President Edgar Lungu during his tour of duty around the country.
Of all his meetings, he treasures more meeting First President Dr Kaunda whom he considers a great man of international repute.
Ma says the bonds of friendship between Zambia and China are hinged on two great leaders, Mao Zedong and Dr Kaunda.
He cites the Tanzania-Zambia Railway line as the true symbol of the bond of friendship between Zambia and China.
“The huge amount of sacrifice among the Chinese people who contributed all sorts of metal alloy in forms of spoons, sauce pans and folks towards the manufacturing of very strong steel for the 2,000 kilometre stretch of railway between Dar es Salaam and Kapiri Mposhi is enviable,” Ma says.
It may now be beset with a lot of problems, but Tazara was China’s first major construction project on the African continent when it was built in the 70s with a US$500 million interest-free loan from Beijing to the two countries.
Its principal aim was to transport copper from Zambia, a landlocked country to the coast and from there by sea to its intended destinations. It was a major milestone, in fact, a significant step in enhancing the China-Africa relations.
Forget about the losses and the unreliable service that it has been grappling with in recent times, the railway made it possible to move copper from Zambia without having to transport it through the hostile regime of Ian Smith in the then Southern Rhodesia.
President Kaunda and his Tanzanian counterpart Julius Mwalimu Nyerere had approached some western countries for help, but they declined that it was not feasible. But Chairman Mao agreed to help.
“I also recall that in 1967, Zambia and Tanzania played a significant role in having China secure a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council through a motion that propelled other countries to unanimously endorse a country with at least one third of the world population,” he says.
Before that, Taiwan occupied the permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
That is international politics, but Ma is happy that he has been able to train over 200 mechanics and machine operators in Zambia and Tanzania during his stay here.
Understandably, the people he supervised especially junior workers are the ones who affectionately call him Uncle Mark or Father, because of his soft spot for other people.
But during his illustrious career around the world, Ma has been privileged to be appointed as chief engineer on six occasions on overseas projects.
“I have achieved some distinctions and merits in my life due to hard work and dedication,” he says. “I used to receive Labour Day awards in my early life as an intern.”
Ma attributes his success story to being diligent and dedicated.
“It is not easy for the Chinese government to select and recommend their citizens into the diaspora to work in such big government to government programmes,” he says. “It takes hard work and competence.”
He says Zambians are undoubtedly the warmest people he has ever come across on the African continent.
“My work experience in Senegal and Guinea was horrific due to wars. We sometimes encountered rebels who often disrupted road construction, hindering progress,” he says.
Then, there was the challenge of constructing bridges and roads in the Himalayas mountain range in Nepal.
“At one time, we were cautioned to be weary of tigers, snakes and other wild animals and the natural habitat itself was a major obstacle in view of monsoon rain and snow,” Ma says.
“Building 27 standard bridges was a mammoth task due to heights and complicated mountain range. In Russia, I supervised works around the Black Sea before coming to West Africa and finally settling for this great country.”
When Ma looks through his captioned photo album, he raises his heard and tells this writer: “My friend, I had to make some tough decisions and this is to stay in Zambia.”
He calls it his second home.