Editor's Comment

Zambia needs long-term plan on mines

GOVERNMENT’S constitution of a team of Cabinet ministers, technical experts and trade unionists to look at the sustainability of the mining sector during and beyond COVID-19 is not only timely, but visionary too.
For many decades, Zambia has relied on the mining sector as a major contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP). This is obviously because the country is richly endowed with mineral resources.
However, it is worrying that this sector, which anchors the Zambian economy, has been at the centre of controversies and uncertainties.
It is saddening that many times when the sector is faced with challenging situations, mine owners rush to halting operations by means of care and maintenance at the expense of the huge workforce and the economy as a whole. Not that we do not understand and appreciate the fact that they are in business, but even as they are, we assume they know that they have a huge moral obligation.
And now that the sector, like many others, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future is even more uncertain.
Recently, Mopani Copper Mines, against Government’s position, went ahead to halt operations in Mufulira and Kitwe, sending over 11,000 workers home after citing the effects of COVID-19.
It is, however, comforting that the mine rescinded its decision a week ago after talks with Government and has recalled some workers. A conclusive solution to the mine’s predicament is yet to be found.
Needless to say, the trend has been that every time mines are faced with challenges, talk of care and maintenance pops up.
Sadly, even in times when mines have been asked to fulfil their tax obligations, they have used the unholy weapon of laying off workers against Government.
It is not a secret that the country has not derived sufficient value from its mineral resources. The cry of every Zambian has been that the country needs to derive maximum value from the minerals before they diminish, given their nature.
Amid such challenges, the outbreak of COVID-19 has only worsened the situation, making the future of mines and workers more uncertain.
No doubt, COVID-19 has adversely affected the mining sector, like many other facets of life. However, opting out and laying off workers should not always be the quick way out.
Mines and technocrats in particular should always endeavour to look at the bigger picture. Mine owners should always aim at finding win-win solutions as opposed to dumping workers as though they never add any value to their operations.
It is obvious that with the effects of COVID-19 on the mines, it cannot be business as usual.
There is need to strategise on how the sector will weather the COVID-19 storm and remain afloat beyond the pandemic.
It is, therefore, commendable that Government is alive to this fact and has constituted a team comprised of ministers of Mines and Mineral Development, Finance, and Labour and Social Security, and experts such as geologists, mining engineers, metallurgists and lawyers.
The team’s mandate is to look at ways to ensure the mining sector survives and sustains production beyond the global pandemic.
“Government is concerned by the constant tendency by some mining companies to always propose care and maintenance or to reduce the workforce whenever the country is going through a ‘rough patch’.
“The team will critically look at ways of helping the mining industry navigate through this COVID-19 period,” said Minister of Mines and Mineral Development Richard Musukwa.
This is a good initiative which needs the support of all progressive Zambians.
It is also good that Government is cognisant of the fact that the team constituted does not have all the answers and is, therefore, calling on all those with ideas and suggestions to submit them.
Certainly, there are many people out there with brilliant ideas. As opposed to criticising Government when things go wrong, this is an opportunity for all those with ideas to come forth and help save the mines and jobs which are under threat due to the pandemic.
This should not be an academic exercise whose report will gather dust at the ministry, but it should give a perfect way forward in this sector.
It’s time Zambia got back to real work and decision-making rather than dancing to the whims of capitalistic investors whose sole objective, it would seem, is to reap super profits.

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