Big step forward for mining in Zambia
Company forced to consult community and civil society
Governments across southern Africa should take heed of what is happening in Zambia's mining industry because the new government has recently taken two decisions which could have far reaching implications for the future of mining. And astonishingly, the decisions will not benefit mining company shareholders but ordinary Zambians.
The first decsion was to order the huge Mopani Copper Mine (MCM), which is a subsidiary of the multi-national Glencore, to halt operations at its leach plant due to fears about acid mist affecting the health of local communities. The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) ordered MCM to stop work at the plant until minimum measures to reduce acid mist emission were put in place - so that the people of Mufulira township could breathe clean (or at least cleaner) air for the first time in years.
The company reacted with threatening statements about job losses and economic damgage. Normally, this kind of situation would be settled by discussions between the government and mine operators. But this is where the government took its second important decision - to bring all players to the table.
The Vice-President, Guy Scott, called a meeting to discuss the issue with representatives from the government, the mining company and civil society, including the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) - and the result was unprecedented collaboration, including follow-up meetings and a recent tour of the leach plant by officials from MCM, Citizen for Better Environment, SARW, the local Butondo community, the church and other stakeholders.
The situation has still not been resolved but the simple fact that the mining company is meeting with representatives of civil society and local communities can only bode well for the future.