MOPANI Copper Mines has proceeded to put operations at the Mufulira and Kitwe plants on care and maintenance despite threats of dire consequences from government.

And Musukwa has asked unions and workers to rise up and fight for the mine, saying “this is not time to be docile”.

Meanwhile, Musukwa says government is currently studying the situation and will inform the nation on whether or not they will take over the mine.

On Tuesday, Musukwa warned Mopani not to put the mine on care and maintenance, saying their arguments did not hold any water.

But in a statement later that day, Mopani maintained that the mines in Kitwe and Mufulira would be put on care and maintenance on April 8 saying the move was necessary to protect the company’s value until market conditions improve.

“The operating, regulatory and macro-economic environments remain very challenging and have continued to place significant pressure on the business. In addition to the impacts of a rapid decline in the copper price, Mopani’s situation has been further impacted by the critical disruptions to international mobility, transportation and supply chains arising from COVID-19. Mopani has had to place a number of projects it was in the process of commissioning on hold until key personnel are able to travel to site. In the circumstances, and following consultation with its majority shareholder and funder, Mopani can no longer continue operating its mining operations and will transition those mining operations to care and maintenance (C&M) with effect from 8 April. Regarding the smelter and refinery, we currently have material on site which will continue to be processed until further notice. Mopani believes that the transition to C&M will help protect the company’s value and preserve the option to deliver our growth projects when market conditions improve,” read the statement issued by the Mopani Corporate office.

“During C&M, Mopani looks to continue to maintain its commitments, to the national workforce and host communities and we will be engaging the Government and unions regarding the nature and duration of that support, but we expect: Permanent Zambian employees (excluding management) will be sent home on their base salary, Impacted unionized contractor employees will receive an ex gratia payment. This measure is over and above what is required by our contractual agreements, Employees and their dependents will continue to receive healthcare, Mopani will remain committed to its CSR projects. The health and safety of the workforce and surrounding communities is our top priority. Mopani will engage with its employees, contractors and local communities regarding the impact of any operational change. Mopani remains committed to supporting its community projects, hospitals and schools during the period of C&M. Mopani will work with the local authorities and community leaders on how best it can continue to support its partners in light of the government decrees relating to minimizing the spread of COVID-19.”

Mopani has since written to its employees, informing them that they will continue to receive their basic pay, subject to review after three months.

But in an interview, Musukwa asked workers and unions not to be docile.

“Government is the people, the people is government, government has rejected Mopani’s decision and our workers, residents of Kitwe and Mufulira must ensure that they are not at business as usual. Our workers, together with the union must not accept mediocrity from Mopani. And they have government support to stand on their right, on their mine, our God given resource, that’s our position. Abantu besu bafwile ba ima not baleba fye docile (Our people must rise up and not remain docile), nabekale fye. Ba beba ati baisala umugodi ba yamba uku cita, namwikala fye, (they are being told that the mine will be closed and they are just sitting idle) this is not time to sit, it is time to stand up and tell the investor ‘enough is enough’, this is our country, we cannot be waiting on your goodwill, no!” Musukwa said.

“If the company has failed to operate the mine, they must tell our workers, our workers must hold the mine accountable, this is not an issue of boma iyangenepo, boma inayanganapo kudala yaba uza ati (It’s not a matter of government must look into the matter, we have already done so and told them that) we don’t accept, boma yaba uza kudala ati (government has already told them that) we are not in support of this move, so our workers, our unions and our citizens must stand up.”

Asked whether government planned to take over the mine if the Mopani continued on its path, Musukwa said a comprehensive statement would be issued soon.

He insisted that Mopani was trying to take advantage of COVID-19 to restructure.

“Government is studying the entire structure of what is at play and we will be issuing a comprehensive statement to that effect. We are actually aware that they will proceed with their arrogance but no one can be above government, this is our country and we reserve the right. We are a law abiding jurisdiction as a country and so my team is currently studying the situation and we will ensure that the law applies. You can clearly see that these are old choreographed decisions that Mopani had already decided and we are aware that this is a Glencore directive to Mopani, the local management and team know very clearly that the decision they are taking is not in the best interest of the company and its not in the best interest of our people,” he added.

Musukwa charged that Mopani was making losses because it was being mismanaged.

“This arrogance, we expected it and we are up to the task, this is a country with its own rules and we know that this is a scheme that Glencore hatched a long time and unfortunately for a company of an international repute wants to use the COVID-19 as an excuse is unfortunate. I mean the explanations that they have responded to my director of mines, nothing points to Covid, they are talking about the cost profile and the profitability of the mine and how Glencore has been sustaining Mopani the last one year. Clearly, if they are in a loss making mode, it’s as a result of their management style and application of how they have been running and operating the mine,” said Musukwa.

“Glencore removed all South African managers and directors and replaced them with Australians, clearly you can see that the Australians have failed to run and operate the mine profitably. While Australia is a jurisdiction of hundreds of mining experience, certainly the type of mining which is under ground, at Mopani needs well thought out and experienced mining engineers and gurus to run and operate and we have seen an absence of that. The way they have been changing their management style and way of impacting change management in terms of management is what is cascading to these poor decisions.”