Mail&Guardian: HH was a hit at Mining indaba


CAPE TOWN: BEFORE flinging himself into the noisy world of politics, Hakainde Hichilema was a C-suite executive at some of the   best-known companies, like Coopers Lybrand and Barclays, writes the  South Africa.

The 53-year-old now heads up the United Party for National   Development (UPND)—Zambia’s largest opposition party that hopes to win this   year’s elections in August this year.

At the Mining Indaba, Hichilema was a hit among a tough crowd of   mining bosses and investors seeking reassurance that things will get better   in the struggling copper-rich country.

“It was encouraging to listen to a business savvy politician talk   about solutions to fix economic fundamentals in a country with a lot of   mining potential,” says Miyelani Mkhabela, an investment analyst at Antswiswa   Management Group.

Speaking on a high-powered panel—which featured CEO of Invest   Africa, Robert Hersov, and Credit Suisse Securities Johannesburg chairman,   Rick Menell—the businessman-turned-politician bemoaned inflexible policies   and the government’s lethargy.

“We should be producing 1.5 million metric tons of copper today,   compared to the 750,000 metric tons we currently produce. We should have   prepared for this slump, we’re over-dependent on copper and we do not   beneficiate enough,” said Hichilema.

While the country boasts a rich copper belt, only 1% of copper in   is beneficiated in the country, according to Simukali Mulongwe, an engineer   in the ministry of mining.

“Only one major company in Zambia beneficiates our copper into   electric cables, the rest of our copper is sold off as exports,” he said.

See saw laws

Hichilema also took a swipe at the current government, arguing   that in less than 4 years, mining laws have changed at least 3 times in the   country—offering no certainty to investors.

More directly, he reminded politicians that they should not get caught   in “the trap of politicising the sector”.

By October last year, the Kwacha—Zambia’s currency—had taken an   80% beating against the dollar, after global copper prices hit rock bottom.   This was not the end of the

“We were jilted. Right when the Kwacha was plunging and copper   prices were plummeting we ended up with a power crisis. It was an unfortunate   mix,” says Zambia’s minister of mining, Chris Yaluma.

Speaking to the M&G Africa, Yaluma said that Zambia’s power   crisis prompted the government to cut power supply to mining companies by   30%, making it difficult for them to operate optimally.

Yaluma added that his ministry was working hard on a set of   initiatives aimed at keeping mining investors at bay.

“We cannot do much about the low copper prices since it’s a global   phenomenon. But we are developing a set of measures, like the deferment of   taxes, to keep mining companies in Zambia. The best we can do is encourage   investors to do exploration while we build infrastructure and wait for   commodity prices to stabilise.”

Who will win   in August?

A weakened currency—billed  the worst performing in the world in 2015—a   power crisis and job losses—these are some of the issues Zambia’s opposition   leader Hakainde Hichilema hopes will catapult him into the country’s top   office this year.

In last year’s emergency presidential election—following the death   of former president Michael Sata—Hichilema garnered 46.67% of Zambia’s votes,   losing by a very thin margin to president Edgar Lungu.

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