By Charles Tembo
Copper mining has played a vital role in the Zambian economy ever since the opening of the Luanshya mine back in 1928. Heck, we think copper is so important we even put it on our national flag. Every child in Zambia is taught, from a young age, about the merits of copper and copper mining. Any Grade 7 Geography student worth his salt can even name all the most important copper mines in the country. Our national team name? Chipolopolo: “The Copper Bullets”. Tiye!
Soon after independence, armed with the best of intentions, we nationalised the mines. This proved to be a spectacularly horrible decision. It turned out that our government wasn’t very good at running an internationally competitive mining concern while trying to establish a welfare state at the same time. So in the early 1990s, we privatised the mines. We welcomed foreign mining companies onto our beautiful land and told them they could mine the copper ore if they obeyed the rules and paid their share of taxes.
I provide this brief history only to make it clear that I am not against responsible mining by privately owned firms. But Kangaluwi is different.
On the 17th of January 2014, the Honourable Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Ignorance [sic] Harry Kalaba okayed Zambezi Resources, an Australian firm, to begin open pit mining operations at the heart of the Lower Zambezi National Park, the most iconic of Zambia’s National Parks – the very same National Park that is being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit the Lower Zambezi know that it is no exaggeration to call it a paradise.
Despite reservations from his predecessor on the matter, Mr Kalaba single-handedly overturned the Zambia Environmental Management Agency ‘s (ZEMA) decision to reject the original mining proposal. Soon after his statement, the stock price of Zambezi Resources jumped by over 300% on the Australian Securities Exchange. It appears that Mr Kalaba cares more about Australian investors than he does about Zambian heritage.
In defence of his decision, he claims that the mine will create jobs and that Zambezi Resources have adequately addressed all negative impacts that may arise out of this project. Unfortunately, mining does not create sustainable jobs nor have I ever seen a mining operation that does not have negative impacts on an already fragile environment. What is needed in the Lower Zambezi is a conservation programme that preserves its unique ecosystem for posterity while generating revenue and sustainable jobs through responsible tourism.
The harsh truth, Mr Kalaba, is that the copper will not last forever. One day the Australians will declare Kangaluwi to be “economically unviable” and wave goodbye to Zambia and her welcoming people to retreat back to their leafy suburbs in Sydney, Perth or wherever else our good looking guests call home.
And of course, being the friendly folk that we are, we’ll wave back with toothy grins while our children, infinitely wiser, weep for the heart that has been ripped out of the body of our nation.
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.” –Alan Paton