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Just Politics; by Aaron Ng’ambi: we need justice in the mining sector

The people of Zambia should immediately adopt the famous slogan that says, no justice no peace in real terms as far as the mining sector is concerned.

The status of our mines and the case of our miners at Mopani Copper Mines, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) and other mines across the entire country makes a sad case for how corporations put profits before our people. It shocks me to observe that with all these pressing issues in the mining sector today, our people are calm and collected while their patience has been pushed to the limit. These people have not erupted or woken up to put an end to the exploitation and neo-colonialism of our time, and for that we should applaud them because in other countries the present conditions in the mines are a recipe for chaos. Since the mining sector is the major contributor to our nation’s treasure, it is a duty of our government, which is the Patriotic Front (PF) government, to ensure that such a sector is not encroached with corruption and tax evasion. But if the opposite is true as is the case today, with rampant corruption and grave injustices in the mining industry then the logical thing for us to do is to force our government to clean up the mess and make sure that Zambians begin to get a fair share from our mineral resources. For example, If our government collected all the taxes owed to us by these multi-lateral corporations, this country would be in a position to successfully pay off some of our debts, pay our council workers and provide quality social services such as basic health care, education, housing, electricity, etc.

Today, the grave injustices in the mining sector call for immediate action and not political rhetoric. The only time Zambians enjoyed a few reasonable benefits from the mining sector was during the Mwanawasa regime when the late president then introduced windfall taxes. Also, during that time the government kept a close watch on possible schemes or attempts by the mining companies to avoid paying taxes or engage in any illegal activities at the expense of the Zambian people. In other words, the Mwanawasa administration was awake and alert when dealing with the sophisticated multi-lateral companies in the mining sector. Unfortunately, what we are experiencing of late with regards to the mining companies on the Copperbelt and North Western Provinces respectively is that they have imployed a different attitude towards our people on whom these companies make huge profits out of their sweat. Our people who are miners should demand respect and better conditions of service as employees, otherwise this attitude of corporate exploitation can no longer be tolerated. In fact, the unfolding behaviours of these mines have been amplified by the incompetence and inability of the Patriotic Front (PF) government’s failure to provide leadership or stand up for the interests of the ordinary miners and their families. The weak and compromised mine workers union make matters worse because there is no other recourse that our people can undertake to seek redress. It is not a secret at all that some of the things that these mining companies are getting away with under the PF regime could not have been tolerated during the administration or government of the late president Levy P. Mwanawasa.

In the interest of our people and the nation at large, let us make it clear that the time for us to beg others for what is rightful ours is long gone. We need to set strict terms and conditions for which those who come to our country as investors need to abide by or else there should be no deal between them and the government. Number one, we have to make it a matter of law and not just policy that in order for foreign companies or individuals to obtain a mining license, they need to partner with competent Zambians who have a proven record or knowledge of mining. Now, it is fair to say that the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) President Hakahinde Hichilema (HH) is on record of favouring this approach, and he has actually made a promise to implement this as a policy when elected in office. I only hope that the Zambian people will not forget this promise, and therefore hold HH accountable to his words. In fact, not so long ago on August 20, 2020, HH was visited at his residency in Lusaka by some of the UPND youths from the Copperbelt. It was at this occasion that one of the UPND members asked their president what he would do about the plight of small-scale miners famously known as Jerabos. HH said that he will issue mining licenses to small-scale miners (Jerabos) so that they can be empowered and be encouraged to partner with foreigners who come to this country as investors. Then he went on to say that if the small-scale miners have no capital to run or own a mine, they can therefore use the mining licenses issued to them as collateral in dealing with the so-called investors. Now, this is an incredibly good promise to make and a position I would completely support. However, my personal take on this issue is simple and specific, whether Mr Hichilema assumes the presidency in 2021 or for some reason Lungu is still president beyond next year, what we need is nothing more or less than a serious roadmap of Zambian ownership of our mines on the Copperbelt and across country by any means necessary.
It is not difficult for us to figure out a process and implement policies through which Zambians can own and successfully operate mines. All we need is to copy the model which our friends next door have adopted in Botswana. No one can dispute that right now Botswana is a shining example of how a country can execute true ownership and control of its mineral wealth. The government of Botswana heavily invested in research and development while in consultation with a Scandinavian country for advice and training on how to effectively run their diamond mines and gain maximum benefits from them. This investment turned out to be a worthwhile undertaking. Today, our friends do not only mine the diamonds, but they process them into finished and polished products then export them at a much valuable price. There is absolutely nothing difficult about initiating a process of Zambian ownership of copper, cobalt, nickel, emerald, manganese mines and not forgetting the recently discovered gold. All it takes is political will and a leader that has the best interest of the people at heart.

Sadly, the PF government seems to insist that the only thing the Zambian people deserves in terms of mineral rights and ownership is the black mountain, which is basically the dumping site of residues from the copper mines on the Copperbelt Province. To make matters worse, each time we have a general election approaching, that is when the PF government shamelessly makes the black mountain issue a campaign on the Copperbelt. The promises of giving the black mountain to the youth and the Jerabos or small-scale miners during election time is unfortunate and in fact an insult to our young people, because this seems to suggest that our people are only good at nothing but crams or leftovers from foreigners. This kind of thinking needs to come to an end. We have so many young engineers, entrepreneurs and university graduates who are capable of fully operating a mine successfully and not a black mountain. It is about time we have a government which is genuinely serious about empowering our people, rather than just giving lip service and fake promises for political expediency.

Let this government of the Patriotic Front or any government that will come hereafter host a mining indaba and invite mining experts such as the likes of Dr Sixtus Mulenga, and others to coach and mentor young Zambians as to how or what it takes to own and operate a mine successfully. If this government does not give us what is rightfully ours, then the people will be left with no option but to seek justice on our own terms in the mining sector.

Email; aaronngambi@yahoo.com

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