HONE SIAME, Kitwe & CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
PRESIDENT Lungu (right) last Thursday announced what in medical circles would be described as a â€˜kiss of lifeâ€™ to the Copperbelt.
The mineral-rich province is in the throes of job losses triggered by problems in the mining sector and is in dire need of just that kind of relief.
It is â€˜curtains upâ€™ for the over 4,000 retrenched miners because many of them can now hope to continue winning the bread or nshima for their families.
Addressing his first press conference at State House in Lusaka, the President unveiled a package of measures aimed at ameliorating the impact of the job losses by creating over 10,000 direct jobs.
The President has directed the provincial and district administrations to find land where retrenched miners who may want to venture into agriculture will be resettled.
He has also directed the permanent secretaries in the ministries of Works and Supply, and Local Government and Housing to give priority to the people of the Copperbelt when recruiting workers for three massive projects to be undertaken on the copperbelt.
This must have breathed hope into the lives of the retrenches and their families.
Leslie Sichone, who lost his earlier job with Konkola Copper Mines in a similar fashion in 2009 during global economic meltdown, is facing the future with boldness.
He is among the 3,000 miners who were recently retrenched by Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) in Kitwe.
A father of two children, a girl and a boy, Mr Sichone is pondering how he can best invest from his retrenchment package of two monthsâ€™ pay for each year served.
Another affected miner is Brian Kombe, who looks after nine people, whose survival depends on him.
Mr Kombe has already identified a business for the sustenance of his family, assuring that he will continue to play the role of bread winner.
â€œI have already identified a business to venture in. I will do everything possible to continue providing for their needs,â€ Mr Kombe said.
He said he is limited with business ideas due toÂ his small
package and that he intends to invest part of his terminal benefits in procuring a block making machine to effectively contribute to the growth of the construction sector.
â€œThe little packages Mopani is giving us is a wake-up call for mine unions to negotiate for better separation packages. The current situation where mining companies have different ways of calculating retirement packages is not good. It works to the advantage of investors in the mining sector,â€ Mr Kombe said.
Apart from the loss of over 4,000 direct jobs, Glencoreâ€™s decision to shut its critical production areas, has also affected contractors and suppliers.
Retrenched workers should indeed use their separation packages wisely.
Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) president Nkole Chishimba has also stepped in to caution miners who have lost jobs against squandering the money but should instead use it wisely to save their families from destitution.
Mr Chishimba, who is also Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president, said the labour movement is sympathetic of workers that have lost jobs in the mining sector.
â€œWe are appealing to mining houses to always find better ways of reducing costs when faced with external shocks. The battle we have gone through hasnâ€™t been a battle worth fighting for,â€ Mr Chishimba said.
At the height of commodity boom in 2011, when copper prices surged to a record, Mopani earned US$207 million on sales of US$1.15 billion, a 204 percent increase from 2010.
Minister of Mines and Minerals Development Christopher Yaluma has described the massive retrenchment of workers at MCM as unfortunate and stressed the need for investors to value human capital.
Mr Yaluma also advised the opposition to be sincere with themselves by not blaming President Lungu and Government for the external factors that have led to loss of jobs at Mopani.
â€œWe share the burden and symphathise with people who have lost jobs. Weâ€™re all saddened by what has happened at Mopani,â€ Mr Yaluma said.
MCM was the largest employer in the countryâ€™s mining sector, whose workforce stood at 10,000 before the just-effected lay-offs of over 4,000 workers that will certainly hit the countryâ€™s economy hard as contractors and suppliers are also badly affected by the sudden shutdown.
Copper production accounts for 70 percent of Zambiaâ€™s export revenue, one of reason why the currency is among the worldâ€™s worst-performing this year.
And the labour movement has lampooned some opposition politicians shamelessly trying to reap some political capital out of the problems in the mining sector.
National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) president James Chansa said: â€œThe problems in the mining sector are not PFâ€™s [Patriotic Frontâ€™s] or opposition political partiesâ€™, but national.â€
The copperbelt recovery programme is expected to have a ripple effect because the income of over 10,000 people, the projects will employ, will improve household economies and cascade down onto the local communities.
This must also have come as a timely balm to the business community because more people earning regular income means more buyers for their goods and services.
The President has directed the Zambia National Service (ZNS) to work with other government organs to quickly clear land where retrenched miners who want to engage in agriculture will be resettled.
The Copperbelt development projects will cost a total of US$1.3 billion (K16 billion).
President Lungu said Government will soon implement the three multi-million dollar capital projects in the roads, aviation, and water and sanitation sectors.
The three projects are the US$397 million Ndola International Airport, C-400 Copperbelt Township Roads, which will cost US$492 million and the US$400 million Kafubu Water Reticulation System.
â€œThe three projects have a total value of US$1.3 billion or K16 billion over a period of three years [2016-2018],â€ President Lungu said.
President Lungu will not brook any procrastination in the implementation of these projects.
â€œI further direct the respective implementing agencies to ensure that 20 percent of the above works worth US$260 million [K3.2 billion] are given to local contractors and suppliers based on the Copperbelt in order to mitigate the impact of the recent job losses in the minesâ€¦,â€ he said.
And the President has directed the Zambia National Service (ZNS) to work with other government organs to quickly clear land where retrenched miners who want to engage in agriculture will be resettled.
He said former miners who are interested in pursuing agriculture as a source of livelihood will be given land to be identified by Government, which will be cleared by ZNS.
HONE SIAME, Kitwe & CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka