Three Chinese nationals were murdered and burned in Zambia, in a week when racial tensions were running high

Lusaka, Zambia (CNN)The trail of blood outside the warehouse door was the only immediate sign that a murder had taken place.

But CCTV footage seized by police, and seen by CNN, revealed a brutal afternoon of carnage.
At midday on Sunday, May 24, three Zambian attackers with iron bars entered the grounds of a Chinese-owned textile warehouse in Lusaka. Police said they were pretending to be potential customers.
But the trio did not want to do business.
    Over the next 17 minutes, the CCTV footage shows, they beat two men and one woman to death in the courtyard, before dragging their bodies into the adjoining warehouse.
    That's where the footage ends. According to police, the attackers then dismembered their bodies and used flammable materials from the Blue Star clothing business to set their bodies and the building ablaze, burning them so severely that it took Zambian authorities three days to retrieve their charred remains from the rubble.
    Before fleeing, the attackers raided the property for valuables. A blood-stained machete was found by police.
    The burned out warehouse where the three Chinese victims' bodies were found.
    The gruesome murder of 52-year-old Cao Guifang, the wife of the textile warehouse owner -- who was in their home province of Jiangsu, in eastern China, when the attack happened -- and her two male employees, Bao Junbin, 58, and Fan Minjie, 33, came at the end of a week when anti-Chinese sentiment in the Zambian capital was nearing boiling point.
    In the days leading up to the murder, Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa had accused Chinese bosses in the capital of "slavery reloaded," used the derogatory term "Chinaman," and, stoking racial divides, reminded the public in a video posted on his Facebook account that "black Zambians did not originate coronavirus. It originated in China."
    There are an estimated 22,000 Chinese nationals living in Zambia, operating 280 companies, mostly spread between Lusaka and the copperbelt in the north. Beijing owns about 44% of Zambia's debt, which has led to fear among some Zambians that China has too much control over the country.
    While police have not directly linked the murder to anti-Chinese sentiment, the crime came as a reminder of the violent outbursts some Chinese have faced while living in Zambia, a key partner for China along its coveted Belt and Road project.
    "Even some of the people who stayed here for more than 20 years, they've also been shocked by such kind of criminal activities," says Eric Shen, a Chinese businessman who has been living in Zambia for more than a decade.

    Forced quarantine

    Zambia reported its first coronavirus cases on March 18. As with much of Africa, the initial infections did not come from China, but Europe, after a couple who had recently returned from a trip to France imported the virus.
    The central African nation went into partial lockdown, shutting borders, businesses and implementing social distancing rules.
    As the pandemic took its toll on Zambia's economy, reports began to emerge that some Chinese businesses were defying the lockdown measures, either by continuing to serve Chinese customers, or by quarantining Zambian workers inside their premises.
    Mayor Sampa began a campaign to expose such cases.
    On May 18, Sampa shut down a Chinese restaurant, which had reportedly denied Zambian patrons, for selling products labeled in Chinese and not English, as prescribed by the law. A few days later, he revoked the license of a Chinese barber shop for "discriminating against blacks."
    After those raids, Sampa posted video of himself bursting in on Chinese managers eating dinner at a truck assembly factory, where workers had allegedly been told to live on-site during the pandemic, and not return to their families, so they could keep working without risking getting infected in the community.
    "We found Zambian workers made to sleep in a small container (six people in one container) with mattresses put on the floor," Sampa wrote on Facebook.
    In the video, one Chinese manager responds: "We don't allow them to go home because of the corona issue."
    Sampa responds: "Chinaman ... (there) is no excuse to enslave them."
    On the same day, Sampa visited a cement factory, where he said workers had been held for two months.
    When a Chinese boss explains in the video Sampa posted to Facebook of the visit that within the plant, all the workers were not able to go out, Sampa replies: "That is illegal. You are holding them hostage. That's slavery."
    One Zambian employee at the cement factory told CNN: "We were asked by our (Chinese) bosses to stay and work from here until the coronavirus is over because they fear we might contract it from the community and bring it to our workplace.
    Mayor of Lusaka Miles Sampa asks staff at a Zambian cement factory about reports 100 Zambian workers have been prohibited from leaving the site during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    "But they provide us food, mosquito nests and mattresses where we sleep. We sleep like in a camp ... but some of our colleagues who refused have been sacked and they will reapply once the company reopens."
    Another Zambian employee of the same company claimed that his Chinese boss threatened to beat him if he refused to stay. "We were being forced by our Chinese bosses and they threatened to beat you if you refuse. That is how some of us ran away -- right now, we just want the government to help us claim our unpaid salaries," he said.