[By Darious Kapembwa and Oliver Chisenga]
HUNDREDS of miners and Kitwe residents led by Patriotic Front provincial chairman Nathan Chanda, MUZ president Joseph and other union leaders yesterday marched to Mopani Central Office on Central Street to protest against the decision by the Glencore-owned mine management to place the mines under care and maintenance.
And the miners have vowed to camp at Central offices until Mopani chief executive officer Nathan Bullock rescinds the decision, further urging government to find another investor to take over from Glencore.
Meanwhile Chishimba Kambwili has urged the government to show leadership in the Mopani impasse.
Mopani management on Tuesday placed the Nkana and Mufulira operations under care and maintenance, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled businesses around the world.
The care and maintenance would be in place for the next three months.
The miners gathered at Katilungu house, the headquarters for the Mineworkers Union of Zambia early in the morning and marched along Obote Avenue, onto President Avenue in the central business district into Central Street singing songs to denounce Mopani management.
Kantanshi member of parliament Evans Chibanda and his counterparts for Wusakili Pavyuma Kalobo and Elario Musonda for Kamfinsa joined the solidarity march which gathered momentum along Central Street when residents, especially miners’ wives and children, joined in as the numbers swelled.
Police officers that kept vigil at Central Street were overpowered in no time as they tried to stop the mob from gaining access into the building’s premises.
Kalobo and Chibanda were in an uncompromising mood as officers tried to reason with them.
Kitwe district commissioner Chileshe Bweupe, who was also on the scene, joined the two lawmakers in a topsy-turvy encounter with the police.
As the three leaders were talking to officers, Chewe and his NUMAW counterpart James Chansa, with a horde of miners behind them, broke the security cordon and demanded that they address the miners at the main entrance into the main building that houses administrative officers as police watched helplessly.
“The people are peaceful, police don’t aggravate the situation, these people are angry and don’t incite them to be unruly with your actions. Just allow them to be addressed at the doorsteps and we assure you there will be no confusion. We will manage the situation peacefully,” both Chibanda and Kalobo told the officers.
“Glencore has defied government, so we are giving Bullock 24 hours to reopen the mine and withdraw those letters given to the miners otherwise we will bring our families to come and camp here until Glencore leaves,” said Chewe to a cheering crowd.
Chewe argued that the reasons given to place the mines on care and maintenance were not convincing and pleaded with government to take the plight of miners in Mopani seriously as the action threatens to shutter the economy of the Copperbelt.
“We are not going to leave until Bullock rescinds the decision and we are asking our government to please find a suitable investor. Abash Glencore!” Chewe added as the gathering responded: “Abash!”
Chansa said: “This is a battle, this should not end here, I want Glencore to know that Zambia belongs to us. The mineral wealth belongs to Zambians therefore investors should not come and destroy us, Zambia must benefit from its mineral wealth. What is the use of having investors if they can only come and humiliate us? The PF government must listen to the plight of us the miners otherwise we will stay here until Mopani announces that they have rescinded the decision.”
Chibanda warned that the battle lines had been drawn.
“This is not time for negotiations, Mopani must leave Zambia. We will camp here until CEO and his team leaves,” he said.
Kalobo, who called Glencore ‘ba pompwe’ [hard-core criminals], said even in the advent of higher copper prices, there were no reciprocal actions that benefit the local communities thereby rendering the reasons given to shut the mine null and void.
Musonda said: “[Mopani new chief executive officer Nathan] Bullock, wherever you are, start writing a letter to withdraw this decision and apologise to the government of Zambia because you are standing on very weaker grounds.”
Kalobo pledged that he had send tipper trucks to collect firewood to use for cooking as miners camp at Mopani.
When Nathan Chanda donated K10,000 cash for relish, announcing further that MUZ would provide mealie-meal from their milling company to prepare food for protesters.
“We came here to mourn with you because what has happened is a funeral for all of us. We are saying ubu ubupuba twanaka nabo [we are tired of this lunacy],” Chanda said.
He singled out an unnamed senior female official within Mopani management saying “We are watching you” as the crowd cheered.
However, there was a worrisome moment for mines minister Richard Musukwa who was booed and jeered in absentia when his name was mentioned by one of the speakers.
After the speeches, the leaders asked protesters to retreat to the lawns as they tried to get inside the offices to meet Bullock but all doors were shut with staff just peeping through the windows from upstairs.
Mopani public relations officer Lillian Musenge survived a scare when she was roughed up and her office camera confiscated and contents deleted by protesters.
All leaders were seen talking on phones and held a caucus after which they announced that they had agreed to give Mopani management through the holidays to come up with a position failure to which they would return differently on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Kambwili, the National Democratic Congress president, has advised Mopani not to place Zambia in distress.
Kambwili said the action was regrettable and the PF government must not treat the matter with kids’ gloves.
“Government must do everything in its power to ensure that this is reversed. This will bring untold misery among the miners who are already over-burdened. Please, save the jobs of the miners, people on the Copperbelt, who are already suffering,” he pleaded. “Already these miners are lowly paid and now if you put them on care and maintenance, they’ll not have any allowances except their basic pay and this is simply sending these miners into suffering. Feel for the miners. Mopani Copper Mines has not been consistent on this issue since the new management came in.”
Kambwili asked the government to be aggressive on the matter.
“Nothing has been happening at Mopani since the new management came in. Contractors have been ill-treated, they seem not to be interested in mining anymore and government must not treat this with kids’ gloves,” he said. “Government must be aggressive and serve the 11,000 direct jobs plus the contractor jobs and their employees. I urge the government to be serious on this issue and not to approach it with a lukewarm approach that I’ve seen from the Minister of Mines [Richard Musukwa].”
Kambwili said Musukwa should have been at Mopani by now to try and resolve the issue.
“We stand with the Mine Workers Union of Zambia, we stand with the employees on this issue and appeal to Mopani’s conscience that don’t send the country into economic problems,” he said.
Kambwili said with MCM’s decision, there would be shortage of forex.
“This issue is beyond the employees of Mopani because what is going to happen is that there will be a critical shortage of forex on the market and the rate of the dollar to the kwacha will even go up to K30 if Mopani Copper Mines is allowed to close,” he said. “I appeal to the owners of Mopani not to put Zambia into distress. And this is the problem of relying on foreign investors to run critical operations that can ground the economy to a halt. No wonder some countries in the world have preferred industries that contribute to the economy to be in the hands of their nationals or indeed be run by government.”
Kambwili called on the government to rethink its approach towards running of mines.
“Imagine if all the investors were to pull out or put the mines on care and maintenance, what would remain of Zambia? My heart bleeds and I am asking the PF government to show and provide leadership before the miners on the Copperbelt are sent into more suffering,” he said.
And Kambwili criticised Luanshya Copper Mines intention to demolish Roan Recreation Club (REC).
He said while Chinese who run the mines were planning to demolish REC, they had built themselves an exclusive multipurpose sports facility.
“Furthermore, I want to urge the government to be serious and respect the people of Luanshya. The Roan Recreation Centre popularly known as REC which houses all sporting activities is under threat by the operations of Luanshya Copper mines wanting to extend their open pit towards these infrastructure,” Kambwili said. “When there was ZCCM, this was a model sporting centre which in modern times can be transformed into either a University of Sport or like the OYDC in Lusaka but the mines want to demolish the sports holding facilities and government is watching.”
The former Roan member of Parliament warned of massive protests if the government does not intervene in the matter by compelling the mine to find alternative land to build a new sports facility to be accessed by Luanshya residents.
“You should not allow these investors to get away with it to an extent of demolishing facilities and not rebuild new ones,” Kambwili said. “What will our children be using in sports development? Please Minister of Mines, we call upon you to make sure that these people are given alternative land if indeed they are going to be allowed to demolish the sporting facilities. They must build new facilities within the vicinity of Luanshya township…. Why should we allow that kind of nonsense in our country…. I urge the minister and the President to quickly come and intervene in this matter otherwise there will be a protest you will not be able to quench here. You can treat Zambians like this.”