By Michelo Malungisa

Mining had been going on in Zambia long before the white settlers came on the scene. During that, time mining was done in a traditional and subsistence nature and confined to surface outcrop deposits.

The natives of Zambia would melt and mound the copper into ingots which they used as a medium of exchange and other metal products, such as hand tools and weapons.

On the other hand, the genesis of Zambian copper mining industry had its genesis in the 1920s.

The country prides in the availability of a large known resource base of copper, emeralds, and other deposits.

Zambia has potential for further mineral exploration and mining activities making it a preferred investment destination for mining activities.

The sector is also a significant source of government revenue accounting for over 80 percent of the country’s total export earnings with a total Foreign Direct Investment-FDI standing at over 86 percent as at 2012 and contributing to formal employment, both directly and indirectly.

Copperbelt Province is one of the country’s high production regions with over 12 mining companies in nearly all the eight districts.

However, even with this rich endowment of natural resources, the country has not benefited much from abundant natural resources due to a number of reasons that mining companies give for their failure to meet their obligations to government, workers and other partners like the mine contractors and suppliers.

In the last two years major mining companies such as Konkola Copper Mines-KCM, a subsidiary of Vedanta mineral resources of India, which is also listed on the London Metal Exchange and Glencore Mopani Copper mine, have been threatening of job cuts and closure of certain shafts citing high operational costs.

This move has not gone well with miners and workers’ unions who feel the reasoning is not genuine as the mine investors have made a lot of profit from the country’s mineral resources due to increased copper prices on the international market.

The two mining Conglomerates have continued to record reports of workers protesting, the recent one being in Chililabombwe district were spouses of miners protested half naked following reports of plans by Mopani Copper Mines to cut over 2,100 jobs at its Mindolo North and Central shafts in Kitwe.

Early this year, 4,000 miners on the Copperbelt had petitioned government to repossess Konkola Copper Mines because the investor, Vedanta Resources, have allegedly failed to run the mine.

The miners, who presented a petition to the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) and United Mineworkers Union of Zambia (UMUZ), accused Vedanta Resources of failing to focus on mining as stipulated in their license.

MUZ president Joseph Chewe, who received the petition, expressed worry on how the mining firm had been running its operations, adding that KCM under Vedanta had now resorted to selling scrap metal, further expressing fear that should that continue, Chingola and Chililabombwe will soon turn into ghost towns.

“We share the concerns of our members and we are in full support that Vedanta Resources should leave. Yes, it should leave because it has lamentably failed to carry out mining operations instead it is selling scrap metals,” said Mr Chewe.

It is such continued complaints that compelled President Edgar Lungu to take a trip to the Copperblet Province to address the cry of the people in the region who wish to divorce parties with the two mining giants, Konkola and Mopani Copper Mines.

“I came for one reason, the people of Copperbelt want a divorce between themselves and the Copper Mining companies, KCM and Mopani and I have heard their cries, I decided to come here myself and listen to the people, the unions, the workers. I saw people crying over what is happening through KCM, mothers crying so I said if it is the will of the Zambian people that we divorce with these mines then we will do so”, the President said.

President Lungu disclosed that he would engage the expert representatives who include the Chamber of Mines, various unions and the workers.

He noted that he would also consult with the legal brains in the country and the specialized field in order to ensure that all the laid down legal processes are followed as it secures another investor to take over the operations at KCM.

He added that the decision made should not be viewed as a hostile move but that it is a decision aimed at protecting and freeing Zambians from unfair treatment that they have been subjected to by mine companies.

"I think enough is enough now, I came here not to listen to any explanations or to answer questions but to just announce that we have made a decision to divorce with KCM since we have failed to agree, investors should not take Zambians for a ride,” he stressed.

And the Chamber of Mines president Goodwell Mateyo commended government for the decision taken to find another investor to run KCM, noting that the move will go a long way in improving the performance of the mining industry in the country.

“Your Excellency, the move that you have taken is a step in the right direction, the mining industry in Zambia has massive investment potential which has failed to be fully utilized resulting in under performance,” added Mr Mateyo.

The Association of Mine Supplies and Contractors also revealed that they experienced a lot of challenges in doing business with the two mine companies saying KCM currently owes them over 216 million United States dollars despite copper prices rising on the international market.

“Mr. President the move to disengage KCM is a relief on our part as contractors and suppliers, we have really suffered but now we are hopeful that this will lessen our problems that we faced at the hands of these two mining companies.

Nonetheless, Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) assured government of sound investment policies and improved management practices in its operations in the country.

Mine Chief Executive Officer Chris Vermeulen held a private meeting with President Lungu after which the Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda disclosed that the management and board of Mopani assured the President that they were very committed to sound investment policies, management practice, corporate social responsibility and all forms of engagement.

Minister of Mines Richard Musukwa called on the workers at Konkola Copper Mine to be vigilant and be on the lookout to protect the assets at the mine further advising them to remain calm as government was following all the laid down legal process to separate with the mine.

Mr. Musukwa explained the decision to call on workers to be vigilant was aimed at protecting their interests and ensure that the assets at the mine are not stripped off before the whole legal process is concluded.

He added that there are reports that mine owners have started selling scrap and equipment, a move he said should not be tolerated.

He also directed Mopani Copper Mine to surrender the North and Central shafts to local contractors and suppliers and to allow them to operate stating that government will not entertain any plans by the mine to put the two shafts on care and maintenance.

This is because the contractors and supplies have capacity to run them, as they are already offering 80 -90 percent of the operation services.

The traditional leadership on the Copperbelt is not happy that investors in the mining industry have failed to add value to the wellbeing of the local community and have continued to exploit them further by mistreating those that work in their mines.

Chief Chiwala of the Lamba people of Masaiti district told President Lungu when he called on the Lamba chiefs on the Copperbelt that there is need for government to quickly intervene in the way Zambians are being treated by foreigners who come in the name of investors.

“Here we have Grizzly and Kagem mines, mining emeralds and other precious stones, but if you see how people are being treated by these investors you can’t like it. This is why as chiefs we are appealing to you, your Excellency to start taking action against these investors who think they can mistreat Zambians in their own land “he said.