A choking beast of prey – Mega Mines in Zambia

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

“A crouching vicious beast of prey whose snorts grow ever louder as if choking on its painful digestion of human flesh”. Thus goes Émile Zola’s description of a vast coal mine in his novel Germinal about a mid-nineteenth century coal mining community in northern France.

Under Zola’s analysis, if the vicious beast is choking, so are the people living in its midst. At least this is the case with two mining communities I experienced earlier this week when I accompanied a Zambian Jesuit, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, in some fieldwork examining environmental and social degradation caused by large-scale mining. We visited Kankoyo and Chingola, two townships situated approximately 50km north of Kitwe in the Copperbelt region of northern Zambia.

Kankoyo – sulphur fumes and unemployment

Kankoyo sits in the shadow of the Mufulira mine, smelter, concentrator and refinery. Producing 35,000 tonnes of copper ore each year, it is one of the world’s largest copper mines. When we arrived, the air was thick with sulphur and dust. The poverty-stricken houses almost touch the perimeter fence of the heavily security-guarded Mufulira plant. At one point, walking on the dirt road through the township, alongside which runs an open sewer, I found myself on verge of choking from the overpowering fumes emanating from the refinery. Meanwhile kids around us played, and the life of the residents went on.

It was a Sunday afternoon.

Mufulira is owned by Mopani Copper Mines, of which the global mining giant Glencore has a majority stake. Incredibly profitable, according to the European Investment Bank, Mopani has generated at least $560 million in tax revenues for Zambian government coffers since 2000.

           Kankoyo – life goes on

Why then do its neighbours live in abject poverty, suffering from unemployment and harm to health? Fr. Chilufya, who is student chaplain and a lecturer in business and economics at Copperbelt University, explained to me that problems of Kankoyo derive from the Zambian Government’s zealous embracing of Neo-Liberal economics in the late 1990s. With encouragement from international governments and financial institutions, including the European Investment Bank, previously state-owned companies like Mopani were privatised. Almost overnight, jobs and services previously provided by the state mining company vanished.

The new private companies rationalised their operations, recruiting many non-Zambian employees, automising processes and vastly reducing employment of local people. Communities of former mine workers, like Kankoyo, quickly became ghettos plagued by alcoholism and prostitution. The people of these towns see nothing of the mine tax revenues and they are likely to die prematurely from the effects of pollution because state regulators do not compel companies to improve conditions. The wretched conditions of Kankoyo are documented in a 2012 film “Zambia: Good Copper, Bad Copper” produced by Alice Odiot and Audrey Gallet written in collaboration with Stéphane Horel.

The complete failure of state regulators to enforce against mining companies who cause serious pollution was a factor that led us to visit Chingola.

Chingola – water poisoning and community action

              Joseph, James & Fr. Charlie

As with Kankoyo, Chingola is an impoverished township of mostly former mine workers. Close by is Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) which is held by the Indian-owned, although London-registered, company, Vedanta. In 2006 KCM spilled a huge quantity of raw copper, manganese and cobalt effluents into the Mushishima and Kafue rivers which supply water to households in Chingola. Thousands were poisoned, leading to serious sickness and suspected premature deaths.

Outraged by the KCM’s negligence and the Zambia State’s failure to act against KCM, the residents of Chingola launched a legal action. In 2011 their claim succeeded in the High Court, which ordered KCM to pay a total of $2 million to 2000 residents in Chingola. However KCM appealed to the Supreme Court. Whilst the Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision, KCM managed to persuade the Supreme Court judges to make it more difficult for residents to get damages by requiring claimants to obtain expensive medical reports. As such, to date, none of the residents have received any compensation.

Knowing a little of the background to the case, it was a great privilege for Fr. Chilufya and I to meet up with its lead claimant, Mr. James Nyasulu. James invited us to into his simple single-story house in Chingola. We were joined by Joseph, also a participant in the legal action, and another former miner. A family man, James explained that his chief goal in organising the case was to prevent future pollution, and to ensure basic health for his children. He expressed his sadness that the Supreme Court decision meant that residents were effectively barred from obtaining a legal remedy that the High Court had insisted upon. He explained that what grieved him most was the dishonest conduct of government officials and members of the legal profession throughout the case. He wants to continue in pursuing justice for Chingola residents.

                Polluted Mushishima river

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Chingola’s situation is that KCM appears to continue to contaminate the Mushishima river. James and Joseph took us to see the river. Right enough, there were visible signs that the water was laden with copper deposits. Tree branches and grass next to the water were dead, and toxic foam accumulated against rocks.

Future involvement with Copperbelt University

Fr. Chilufya wants to raise awareness of the plight of Kankoyo and Chingola. His hope is to build a partnership between the students of Copperbelt University and the residents of these townships. This partnership would help raise consciousness among Zambia’s future leaders. At the same time, it could open up potential opportunities for university staff and students to undertake environmental and social analysis. The towns of Kankoyo and Chingola are “frontiers” says Fr. Chilufya, insisting that our advocacy should have the objective of allowing the voice of those at the margins to be heard.

Please like & share:

Reforming DRC’s Mining Code? CEPAS Kinshasa

The devil hides in the details, but very often he also lies low in the lack of detail. This is the situation regarding the laws and guidance governing the mining sector in DRC, which are weak and ineffective from the point of view of human rights, environmental protection and the common good. Recognising that a robust domestic legal framework is essential to bring about a fairer and more transparent mining industry, Jesuits and their partners have been involved in proposals to reform DRC’s mining laws.

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

The Centre d’Etudes Pour l’Action Sociale (CEPAS) is a Kinshasa-based project of the Jesuit Central Africa Province. Its basic mission is to promote integral human development through research and analysis.

By organising conferences, workshops and publications, CEPAS provides a platform for an honest exchange between civil society and DRC’s decision-makers. An example of this activity was its les journées sociales, which took place last week. This programme brought together members of various organisations, and CEPAS’s director Pére Alain Nzadi SJ welcomed Aubin Minaku, president of the State National Assembly, who gave a lecture on democracy and the public’s perception of the state.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.21.39In addition to its publication of Congo-Afrique, a journal exploring economic, political and cultural topics, CEPAS produces studies and policy papers on a variety of issues. A subject CEPAS has devoted a lot of energy to over recent years is the reform of DRC’s mining laws. A decade ago, under the leadership former director Pére Ferdinand Muhigirwa SJ, CEPAS helped initiate a review of the DRC’s “Mining Code”, the corpus of laws and guidance regulating the mining sector.

Part of this work has been to scrutinise existing mining concessions by reviewing contracts with mining operators. Synthesising the outcome of research and dialogue with stakeholders, CEPAS has also put forward legislative revisions to make the Mining Code better able to respond to human rights violations, environmental protection, and a fairer distribution of revenue derived from mining projects. Most recently, in October 2016, CEPAS staff member Patrick Mavingo coordinated the publication of 12 raisons de soutenir le projet de modifiant et complément le Code minier de 2002.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.29.27Sadly the legislative project to revise the Mining Code has stalled, and it is unlikely to be put before the DRC Parliament within the foreseeable future. A powerful mining lobby which profits from the currently feeble Mining Code has from the outset fiercely resisted any reform proposals. At the same time, widespread political corruption and links between politicians and mining interests have compounded an already lethargic response of the Kabila government to instigate and pursue reform. Present political instability and imminent budgetary and electoral crises have further overshadowed the mining issue on the legislative agenda.

Please like & share:

Jesuits against conflict minerals

This week yielded a breakthrough for campaigners against the importation of conflict minerals into the European market.  The EU has finally agreed to introduce legal requirements on companies to check their supply-chains.  Whilst the EU’s proposed regulations are not all advocacy groups like the Jesuit European Social Centre had hoped for, they are at least a start.  Below is a Q&A on the subject.  A bit more background on the Jesuit involvement is available in an article on the Jesuits in Britain website.

EU Conflict Minerals Regulation Q&A

What is the latest?

On 22nd November 2016, the EU issued a text for a proposed law (“regulation”) designed to restrict the importation of so-called “conflict minerals”. This is the fruit of years of campaigning by faith and civil society groups, including JESC. We have joined others in calling for the introduction of legally-binding obligations requiring companies to ensure that imported minerals are not linked to conflict or human rights abuses.

Why is it significant?
For the first time in history, companies will need to carry out checks on the origin of “3TG” minerals, namely tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. 3TGs are vital for a range of everyday consumer items like laptops, mobile phones, engines, and jewellery. Many 3TGs are sourced from regions of the world, especially Central Africa, which are affected by deadly conflicts. A tragic reality is that the trade in minerals often helps finance human
rights violations. The proposed regulation attempts to remedy this situation.

eu-conflictIs it all good news?

Sadly no. The final version of proposed regulation is severely limited in scope and contains a number of loopholes which will blunt its effectiveness. For example, in contrast to the EU Parliament¹s more rigorous draft of 2015 that reflected relevant OECD Guidance, the proposed regulation applies only to imports of raw minerals. Thus companies do not have to carry out checks for components or finished products containing 3TGs. Another weakness is that the regulation¹s provisions only “bite” when certain volume import threshold are reached, meaning that a great number of companies will escape having to comply with the legislation. Further problems arise from the ability for companies to outsource their obligations to certain private industry bodies. Worryingly, inadequate mechanisms exist to scrutinise these industry bodies.boy-digging_400

When happens next?

The proposed regulation will be voted on by the EU Council and Parliament. Once passed, there will be a lengthy “phase in” period before the legislation must be complied with by companies. Early indications suggest the regulations won¹t come into full effect before 2021. So in the meantime, faith and civil society groups will continue to apply pressure on political leaders and business leaders to support further strengthening of measures to combat the trade of conflict minerals regulation.

Please like & share: