MWEMBESHI Resources corporate affairs manager Oliver Shalala says charcoal burning damages environment more than mining in this country.

And Shalala says the majority of Non-Governmental Organisations against mining in the Lower Zambezi National Park are foreign based with unfounded fears.

Speaking when he featured on Diamond TV, Sunday, Shalala said the narrative against mining in the Lower Zambezi was being driven by people in the tourism sector for fear that it would affect their businesses.

“There is illegal mining happening and it is not regulated. No one can regulate something that is illegal. You can regulate a legal mine because ZEMA can come in to check our activities. We cannot regulate the illegal mining. The damage being done to the environment by charcoal burning in this country is worse than what mines can do. These activities that happen without regulation actually have a worse impact. People make it sounds like mines are so bad,” he said.

“Some mines on the Copperbelt are along the Kafue River. We have Nampundwe mine which is next to Kafue River and a national park. But Kafue River is the one we use to pump water to Lusaka and the water is deemed safe. So I do not see this problem that is being feared. I think the narrative is being driven mostly by people in the tourism sector fearing that we would actually affect their businesses but we will not. We will actually enhance them.”

Shalala said the company would preserve the environment because that was also in its best interests.

“As human beings, we make interventions from time to time but we cannot stop civilisation because of the fear that there will be an effect. There’s always an effect on the environment in whatever activity we do. Whether it is driving home or building a house. So I think most of this is just emotive reactions. There are ways in which we can mitigate activities of the mine. We cannot ignore human civilisation and we cannot ignore human progress in these areas. Even if we left it today, there will still be a generation that will come one time. Maybe they will even just want to settle like the way we have done with Forest 27. At some point there used to be people in that place in 1953. So there has been human habitation and a gold mine,” he said.

“So there is always a potential that at some point, human development will move in. What matters is we are doing self regulation as a mine to ensure that we do not rely on ZEMA. ZEMA may not have the capacity to monitor us all the time. As a mine, it is important that we do the right thing because we do not want to be closed. The interest of a business is profit. Are we going to get profit if we pollute? No. People will move in and close the mine and we do not want that. So just because the NGOs and other people are crying, it is important for us to comply and preserve the environment. We have studied the place where we will be mining and we do not have any endemic species that can disappear because of the mine. We plan to actually restock around that area.”

And Shalala said the majority of Non-Governmental Organisations against mining in the Lower Zambezi were foreign based with unfounded fears.

“In all our documents, 25 years is what we got in 2011. We are remaining with 14 years now. In the license which was given in 2011 which expires in 2036. By that time we should be able to demonstrate to everyone that we did not pollute and we were a profitable company. We did not externalise funds, Zambians benefited and then we can also apply for an extension. By this time I am sure the support will be quite high. I am also very confident when we began this process we had very bad backlash from the community but as at now, most people appreciate the need for us to have this mine because of the lack of employment in Luangwa which has 50 people working in the tourism sector of the whole district. An industry like this which can employ about 2500 in the district, this is a no brainer,” he said.

“If you look at the people that are fighting the mining, most of them are not local NGOs. I saw a letter written to the Minister of Environment from 54 NGOs. 46 of them were foreign. Have you seen any NGO based in Lunagwa fighting the mine? No. The Luangwa NGOs are all supporting the mine, the people in Rufunsa are supporting the mine and all the MPs and councilors are supporting. So I do not see the people we are talking about if the government that we voted for is supporting the mine, the local people are supporting but who are the NGOs speaking for?”

Shalala said the debate on whether mining in Lower Zambezi National park can proceed was over, asking stakeholders to instead focus on how it can be done without harming the environment.

“The President is an individual. Like I said, we are a democratic mine. He has got the right to be against and we respect his position. But then there are technocrats who gave the go-ahead, the courts have given a go-ahead. The President is somebody I believe who respects the laws of this country. I do not think he is going to intervene. He is not supposed to because he is actually breaking the law. So the best I expect from the President is to find ways and means that the mining is done without damaging the environment,” said Shalala.

“I feel that those who want to be part of the conversation to see development in this country will come in that way to discuss how best we can get a win-win situation. We are passed the conversation of saying no mining. It is about how we can mine without damaging. So for us, we feel that maybe it has to do with a lot of fear that when the mining comes, it is going to grab some of these spaces for mining which people have been using illegally. I think there is just this whole fear that they will lose tourism of theirs in the Lower Zambezi. Those are very unfounded fears.”