Editor's Comment

Miners must soldier on

Mopani Mines.

WHEN Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) announced in May this year that it would not renew all contracts for development support services at Mindola North and Central Shafts in Kitwe, most people hoped the mining giant would reconsider its decision.
The notices of non-renewal of contracts were served three months later when all the contractors were given one month in which to demobilise their operations.
While all this was going on, the nation was hopeful about a win-win situation between the contractors and MCM, especially with the development of new essential capital projects, namely the Synclinorium Concentrator and Mindola Deeps Shaft as well as the Henderson Shaft in Mufulira.
The expansion projects (Synclinorium Shaft, Mindola Deeps Shaft and Synclinorium Concentrator) are expected to extend the life of the mine by over 25 years and improve production levels, efficiencies and safety.
The expectation, therefore, was that the expansion projects would create employment and absorb some of the contractors.
While the closure of the two uneconomic shafts was always part of MCM’s plans, there should have been a human face to non-renewal of the contracts of the sub-contractors.
But the worst has happened as 1,500 jobs have been lost.
The loss of 1,500 jobs has serious ramifications for social, economic activities on the Copperbelt Province and beyond.
The immediate losers are the workers themselves and their immediate families. But there are other ripple effects in the area because all the affected workers will also lose their income.
Businesses in the area will also lose income. Their distant relatives who depend on their income will be affected. So, it’s just a bad development.
Therefore, the job losses are a huge disaster for the miners and their families. The spillover effects have direct bearing on at least 15,000 people when you look at the multiplier effect on total families.
The changes in the mining industry are inevitable with advancing technology and an unstable climate in the mining industry with government policy instability and unpredictability.
After so many years of the reliance on the mining industry, government needs to be channelling growth in new and relevant industries such as Information Technology, renewable energy, tourism, among others.
This is probably the best time for Government through ZCCM Investment Holdings PLC (ZCCM-IH) to lead the diversification programme in sectors like manufacturing, power generation, agriculture and real estate.
There has been talk about establishing Zambia’s biggest cement-manufacturing company at Ndola Lime Company Limited.
A 52 megawatt power plant is expected to be constructed alongside the main project.
The cement company will utilise about 22 megawatts of the electricity generated while the excess will be sold.
Apart from helping to bring down the price of cement, the plan was also to cushion the suffering of mine employees on the Copperbelt such as the 1,500 who have just lost their jobs through retrenchment.
ZCCM-IH has about 2,000 hectares of land in Lufwanyama, Copperbelt Province, with a water frontage, which has great potential for farming high-yielding crops such as soyabeans, oilseeds and maize or livestock (cows and pigs) and fisheries (aquaculture).
The programme to resettle retrenched miners should be stepped up. The miners, too, should learn to adapt to a new situation. It would be folly to insist on being a miner when the space is evidently getting tighter for current numbers.
It is understandable that many miners have not known any other industry than mining. They have grown up in this environment with many of them following the footsteps of their parents or even grandparents. Other economic avenues must be explored, but the miners or ex-miners must also be adequately equipped with the prerequisite skills and knowledge. In farming, for instance.
This though does not mean that mining is a dying industry in Zambia. Far from it. There is evidence – lots of it – that the country still has huge deposits of various minerals.
Those exploring these new sites need lot look far for experienced workers. They are in abundance. For now though, the miners should not put all their eggs in one basket.
They should soldier on because when the going gets tough, you are measured by your ability to keep going.



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