Gold! It is the world’s most well-known precious metal and also one of the most expensive in the world. To extract gold, one has to dig deep into the Earth’s crust; in many cases, using all sorts of heavy-duty extractive industry machinery. But here in Zambia, this world’s ‘most expensive’ metal has been discovered right within the surface – in the soil. You only need a simple gardening hoe to dig out gold.
In Petauke’s Sasali and Sandwe areas; in Vubwi, south of Chipata City; in Rufunsa and Luangwa; in Mwinilunga and not to mention the Copperbelt Province itself, gold is plenty! Farmers are literally cultivating their crops in gold fields. If we are to be too explicit, we could say that in Mwinilunga and Petauke right now, gold is like a by-product of farming activities. In short, we have had plenty of copper in Zambia, but now we have plenty more of gold.
Elsewhere, this news would translate into an instant economic boom. Government would be lining up local mining investors for consideration with mining licences; banks would be preparing credit facilities for these local investors to start operations and employ other citizens. But nope! None of that is happening in Zambia. Instead, it is the same foreign investors who are getting mining licenses from government. In fact, some of them don’t even have immediate plans to start mining operations; they are just getting the licences and keeping them idle for their future generations to use. This situation has to be corrected.
The gold rush in Mwinilunga should not have invited government authorities to deploy trigger-happy military personnel to shoot the poor local citizens who are jostling for their God-given gold; it should have, instead, motivated government to consider empowering these people so that they can own the gold mines. Rich minerals such as gold are a source of turmoil. Today, we are reading about people crooking each other and swindling one another of gold, but tomorrow this story will be bloody if government mismanages the situation on the ground. When you see government law enforcement agencies being side-lined in the investigations of crimes committed at a gold mine, just know that private individuals have control over the State. This is dangerous!
Police and the army may shoot a few people today to protect the mineral reserves, but over time, if this situation in Mwinilunga is not managed, we will start seeing local people mobilising into militias and taking on government security wings. If we let foreigners take control of gold mines in this country, we will not be able to chase them away when they get grounded. These are the same people who will empower the local people with illicit arms to wage battle for the extraction of gold. This situation must not be taken lightly, the moment we allow dirty dealings in our gold mining, it will turn to blood and the markets will blacklist it. If Congo DR and Sierra Leone were not mineral-rich countries, they would not have gone through endless civil war.
The Minister of Mines should take interest to know who owns gold mines here in Zambia, and once he confirms that foreigners have control, a deliberate policy must be put in place where no mining license will be issued to a company that doesn’t have a Zambian majority shareholder. This is the only way we are going to create a clean gold mining sector; a nation of wealthy citizens; citizens who will make genuine money and invest within Zambia without having to run away from their houses when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) come knocking.
Let’s face it: Zambians have no control over copper. It’s gone! Foreign investors are in charge of our most abundant mineral reserves. They own the copper mines; they own the processing and they also own the markets, locally and abroad. There is nothing for Zambians where copper in concerned. Those citizens, otherwise called Jerabos, who have the energy and interest in mining, are confined to the Black Mountain where they are treated as scavengers in their own country! In fact, these Zambians risk their lives so much to the point of death. In June, 2018, at least 10 Jerabos died at the infamous Black Mountain while scavenging for mineral resources in their own country which is full of gold and copper.
We must not allow this to continue. We are saying to the Minister of Mines and his President, who is also a Jerabo from Kitwe, that there is need to give gold mining licenses to Zambians. Yes, foreigners have the money, but we have the minerals. The fact that they can’t keep their money, while we keep our gold, means that they need us more than we do. So we should be able to dictate terms. The citizens in this case must have an upper hand to determine the level of foreign involvement in mining. It hurts to see reports such as the one posted on YouTube “Alecto Minerals going for gold in Zambia” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUeETVJfM8k)where foreign investors are selling gold mines to each other in our country, while Zambians wait to be employed or to scavenge on the slag dumps! It hurts to see Sudanese nationals owning gold mines in Zambia while Zambians are condemned to poverty.
Last year, Minister of Mines and Minerals Development, Honourable Richard Musukwa, promised that government would soon start revoking mining licenses for investors who have failed to develop mining operations within the legally-stipulated timeframe. Has that been done? We wonder. Today, we are reading statements from the same ministry justifying the foreign ownership of gold mines? If you say gold is a strategic mineral meant for improving the national reserves at Bank of Zambia, how are you going to achieve that when gold mines are in the hands of foreigners?
The people of Zambia have suffered enough exploitation. Look at what is happening in the tourism sector. Key tourism operators who benefit from our abundant wildlife are foreigners. We have very few indigenous citizens who have been supported by the government to start businesses. Zambians have been made to appreciate that being waiters and tour guides is all they can be in this country. It’s unfair! What kind of country are we? What kind of humans are we who look down on one another and give opportunities to foreigners?
Revoke mining licences from companies that have majority shares in the hands of foreigners. We want gold mines in this country to belong to Zambians who have interest in mining. If they don’t have money, empower them. Mobilize commercial banks to provide credit facilities for mining investments. We should not lose out the way we have lost out on copper, the way we have lost out in the tourism sector.
We can’t continue to have citizens suffering in a country which God has blessed with so many natural resources just because government authorities are illicitly motivated to grant mining licenses to foreigners at the expense of its own poor people.
Ba Ministry of Mines, lekani ungwele na tulo. Stop justifying wrong things, listen to the people are take decisive action. How many Zambians own licences to mine oil in Sudan?