Police in Lusaka have detained Mopani Copper Mines CEO Nathan Bullock after he attempted to leave the country through Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Immigration sources confirmed the development, saying Bullock was nabbed before he could board his flight to Australia.

“Yes, he has been arrested. He was supposed to travel to Australia. We are told that his wife and children are in quarantine in Australia so he was going to take care of the needs of his family. So he flew from Copperbelt to Lusaka where he was supposed to take his flight out, but he was arrested here [at KKIA]. He was prevented from travelling because the Ministry of Labour has lodged a complaint against him,” said the source.

“We are also wondering why police have arrested him, but obviously it’s instructions from above. His people are arguing that in the letter that Mopani wrote to the Ministry of Mines, they actually assured that they would not lay off any employee. They are saying Mopani actually made a commitment to pay the workers their full salaries for the initial three months before the situation can be reviewed.”

A source from the Ministry of Mines told News Diggers that government wants Mopani to also guarantee payments to the mine contractors as well.

“Mopani is arguing that they have a duty to their own employees not the employees of the contractors, but government’s concern is that without business for three months the contractors, most of whom as you know are big guys in the [Patriotic Front] party, the effects would be catastrophic on the residents,” said the source.

The Zambian government is in a tiff with Glencore’s subsidiary, Mopani over its decision to place its two mines on care and maintenance, citing dwindling copper prices on the international market and effects of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Mines wrote to Bullock, informing him of government’s intention to revoke mining licenses for its two units in Kitwe and Mufulira.

According to the Zambia Mining Cadastre Portal Mopani Copper Mines licence number 7625-HQ-LML for it’s Nkana business unit was issued in 2005 and was expected to expire on March 30, 2025, while the Mopani Copper Mine licence number 7073-HQ-LML operating from Mufulira was issued on March 31, 2000 with a 25 year lifespan.

The source told News Diggers that the letter delivered to Mopani stated that the mining company breached Section 37(3)(c) of the Mines and Minerals Development Act of 2015 by defying the directive of government.

Last week, Mopani proceeded to put operations at the Mufulira and Kitwe plants on care and maintenance despite threats of dire consequences from government.

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.

But Minister of Mines Richard Musukwa asked unions and workers to rise up and fight for the mine, saying “this is not time to be docile”.

Musukwa said government was currently studying the situation and would inform the nation on whether or not they will take over the mine.

“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.

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.

“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,” Musukwa told News Diggers in an interview.