Zambian miners acting with impunity

Manganese companies leaving devastation in their wake

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

December 10th, 2012

While foreign mining companies are routinely criticised for abusive behaviour and damaging practices in Zambia, researchers have found that Zambian-owned manganese companies in Luapula province are just as exploitative – plundering the area’s mineral reserves without any consideration for the people or the environment.

Researchers from the visited Luapula to investigate the impact of manganese mining, which is one of the province’s key industries. Their findings paint a shocking picture of mining companies operating unchecked – leaving a legacy of devastation and desperation in their wake.

“Manganese miners act with impunity – uprooting communities, destroying farmers’ livelihoods, wrecking the environment, providing no local benefits and paying far too little in taxes and levies,” said Edward Lange, SARW’s Zambia Coordinator. “What people do not realise is that most of these are Zambian companies, owned by MPs or government ministers, and they act just as badly as foreign companies – if not worse.”

Zambian manganese is said to be the best in the world and could be a key driver of economic growth and development in Luapula. But instead it is enriching a tiny elite while leaving local communities struggling to survive – and creating a potentially explosive situation as regulations relating to the environment, compensation and resettlement are violated with impunity.

“Manganese occurs in small pockets so companies move rapidly from one place to another without giving a second thought to the damage they leave behind,” said Lange. “The companies do not seem to care about the impact of their work on increasingly angry communities – ruined crops, huge empty pits and health problems – since they are not going to suffer any consequences from their appalling corporate behaviour.”

There are about 150 prospecting and mining rights holders in Luapula province, including the four most prominent – Genesis, Matelo, Chazipa and Kansambu. Most of these companies are owned by Zambians and operated by foreigners, which provides them with a convenient shield. SARW researchers – who met with mining managers, the provincial ministry of mines, chiefs and communities and who will produce an in depth report on the subject early in 2013 – found that most companies operate without any prior consultation with local communities or chiefs.

“Contrary to all established mining practice, the manganese companies obtain their licenses from the Ministry of Mines in Lusaka and then unilaterally begin work with no discussions with the affected communities,” said Lange.

SARW met with close to seventy community members, who were all unhappy about the way they had been treated – and the total lack of any benefit from mining. None of them had ever been involved in face-to-face discussions with mining companies. SARW researchers also found that manganese companies create very little employment and engage in no corporate responsibility work. Indeed, nothing appears to be ploughed back into the communities whatsoever. One manager claimed that his company did help – by buying petrol for the police and funding provincial government meetings!

“While these mining companies make a big profit from our God-given resources, we continue to live in poverty with no schools, no hospitals and other important services,” said Chief Chimese of Mansa district.

In addition, the country as a whole is not benefiting from the manganese boom caused by increasing prices on the world market and the influx of companies over the past few years. The authorities keep all deals and agreements secret, ensuring that the companies can continue to act in an uncoordinated – and possibly illegal – fashion and do not have to pay a fair amount of revenue into the government’s coffers. Indeed, there is no attempt by the government to properly monitor the manganese industry in Luapula since the provincial ministry of mines office, which has just been established in Mansa, only has one officer. There is no way that one person can monitor the industry – and the officer has no power to make decisions on relevant issues in any case.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” said Lange. “How can Zambia be a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative when the government allows manganese miners to act in such an indefensible way?”

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