Glencore subsidiary, Mopani Copper Mines has placed its mining operations in Zambia under care and maintenance until further notice, subsequently putting over 11, 000 direct jobs on the line. In plain English, this means the mine contractors and suppliers have been condemned to starvation with immediate effect.
Mopani raises two major reasons for this decision: The dwindling copper prices on the international market and the negative effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, which is claimed to have impacted mining operations. This is a very sad development and we agree with Mines Minister Honourable Richard Musukwa’s arguments against this decision. This is not the first time that copper prices have plummeted since Mopani started mining operations in Zambia. The coronavirus is another lame excuse that the investor has chosen to do what they had planned to do sometime back.
So, we join the Mine Workers Unions, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, the employees and the Cabinet Minister’s call for the investor to reverse this decision. The grounds advanced truly do not hold water. It would have been more sensible for the investor to simply and honestly admit that they don’t have further interest to continue operating in Zambia because they don’t think the mining policy creates an enabling environment anymore. If they have made enough profit, they should simply surrender the mine and go.
But while we agree with the Minister’s protest against the investor, we disagree with his message to the mine workers and residents of the Copperbelt, on how they should deal with this situation. Maybe the minister had good intentions in making his statement, but the interpretation of the remarks may lead to the opposite results.
“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). 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! “If the company has failed to operate the mine, they must tell our workers, our workers must hold the mine accountable. We are not in support of this move, so our workers, our unions and our citizens must stand up” said Musukwa.
We understand that the minister feels belittled and disregarded by the action taken by Mopani, but even in the most daring and frustrating moments, leaders are supposed to exercise restraint and good judgement. Leaders need to be careful not to incite lawlessness, and unfortunately, this is what we see in this statement. What does he mean when he says “people should not be docile but rise up and fight mediocrity?” To us, this is not any different from ordering people to take the law in their own hands. The opposite would be telling workers to remain calm while government resolves the issue.
Now, the minister must also be reminded that his government is also a culprit of mediocrity. The PF government has been failing its employees for years. This regime has been abrogating the labour laws with impunity. Lecturers are not paid their salaries because government is not funding institutions of higher learning, diplomats are going months without pay, retirees are starving to death. When these government employees stand up to protest, State police are unleashed to go and shoot down demonstrators. Why?
Is the minister telling us that only employees of foreign investors are allowed to protest while those employed by government remain docile and accept mediocrity? Why should it be a crime for UNZALARU to stand up against the government and demand accountability when the minister can openly encourage Mopani workers and Copperbelt residents to rise and fight their employer? Just like Mopani, the PF has failed to fulfil its promises, it has been governing on lies. If such mediocrity calls for uprising, why are the people of Zambia being shot dead when they attempt to exercise their civil rights?
We are not here to side with Mopani. Like we said, the reasons advanced by the investor for a shut down do not make logical sense. But our government needs to learn from its mistakes; they can’t win this new battle by fist fighting. Those in leadership must learn to negotiate. You can’t solve all problems with an iron rod. Bullying has its effective limits, it doesn’t always work. Where has the government arrogance taken their fight with Vedanta after the take over of Konkola Copper Mines? Where is the mine today and how much debt has it created for the country?
When those Mopani employees start torching mining infrastructure and throwing stones at their employers, you won’t have the capacity to stop the fire. This is a very bad time to start inciting lawlessness. If chaos breaks out in Kitwe and Mufulira, it will be on you Honourable Minister!