In an interview, Chewe said the country had long suffered with foreign investors who continued to externalize huge revenues from their mining operations to other countries.
“This country has learnt lessons. Look at the capital flight that is leaving the country all the proceeds go to (other) countries. I can tell you that, for example, Vedanta (Resources) is a family, even FQM (First Quantum Minerals) the biggest mines in North-Western (Province); they are a family. So, I think the challenge to us Zambians to rise to the occasion and start owning some of these mines either in partnerships or bringing in other partners to develop the gold deposits that have been found in North-Western,” Chewe said.
“Otherwise, we have the potential, though we may not reach there now, but I think the President (Edgar Lungu) must drive that one day, a Zambian should own a mine, which should be run as profitably and efficiently. So, I think the gold deposits in North-Western should be an eye-opener and I think the President should encourage Zambian ownership because there’s no money that is being left in the country. So, it will mean just a name having gold here in Zambia; beneficiaries are outsiders! Look at Switzerland; Switzerland is a country where billionaires are sitting and syphoning money there.”
He said Zambians had a successful trackrecord of managing mining companies, citing the old ZCCM as a success story.
“Yes, we may not have resources as a country, but I think we need to start somewhere. I can tell you that, currently, there are Zambians running KCM; you have seen how production is now going up. Even Mopani, the people that are actually doing the mines are Zambians, so, we have the capacity. What we just need is capital and also sustainability. We have run the mines before; ZCCM was one of the best companies in the world and foreigners destroyed it! So, we still have that capacity. We have the capacity, we have the brains,” argued Chewe.
But in a separate interview, Zambia Chamber of Mines president Goodwell Mateyo stressed that the challenge for locals to own mining companies lay mainly with the need to mobilize large capital investment.
“There is nothing wrong when equating Zambians from applying for mining licenses. But, of course, there is a challenge of mining being largely capital intensive and, therefore, what Zambians would need to be able to make that work is to have access to big fields of capital and finance because it is a highly capital intensive venture and it has very long time to profitability; that is the biggest obstacle into Zambians owning (mines), not to say that we can’t run or we can’t own mines, but Zambians are free to apply for mining licenses and a number of them are holders of mining licenses. But when it comes to developing them and working them, the biggest challenge is access to finance. Because, locally, we don’t have a sort of big pools of capital that will work a large mining enterprise endeavor for a period say, 15 to 20 years, from the time you start exploration to the time you actually start mining unless you can access it from abroad. That is the reason why Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is still critical in the working of mines in Zambia,” said Mateyo.