Zambia seizes Chinese-owned mine with poor safety record

February 22, 2013

The government of Zambia, citing a poor safety record, has taken control of the Chinese-owned Collum coal mine, 200 miles south of the capital of Lusaka and revoked the mining licenses of the officials who ran the mine.

“Collum coal mine has failed to consistently provide employees with approved personal protective equipment," Yamfwa Mukanga, Zambia’s mining minister said at a news briefing, citing, among other things, that the mine lacked any emergency facilities like ambulances or a first-aid station.

"In some instances the entire mine has been closed to allow the mine management (to) comply with mine safety department directives, but there has been no improvement," he said.

In addition, the mine operators had failed to pay mineral royalties and did not reveal how much output it produced as required for all mining companies under Zambian law, The International Business Times reported.

Mukanga added that the government will continue operating the mine “until a suitable investor is found.”

The Chinese, who have their footprints all over the African continent, have invested at least $2 billion into Zambia’s mining sector alone, BBC reported, but their stay in the country has been troubled.

In 2012, a Zambian miner was charged with murdering a Chinese supervisor while 11 others faced rioting charges for a protest over low pay at the Collum mine. These incidents reflect the growing hostility of Zambian laborers who charge that the Chinese are taking advantage of them through underpayment and complete disregard for their safety.

The year before the murder of the Chinese mining boss, the Zambian government dropped charges of attempted murder against two Chinese managers who allegedly fired shots at miners during another pay dispute at Collum according to The International Business Times.

In November 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report deploring Chinese behavior and conduct at Zambian mines, including the imposition of poor health and safety conditions, regular 12-hour and even 18-hour work shifts involving hard labor, as well as preventing the formation of unions, all of which violate Zambia’s national laws.

“China’s significant investment in Zambia’s copper mining industry can benefit both Chinese and Zambians,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW. “But the miners in Chinese-run companies have been subject to abusive health, safety, and labor conditions and longtime government indifference.”

Chinese officials claim that their investment in Zambia has created some 50,000 jobs, while bilateral trade between the two countries some 7,000 miles apart reached $3.5 billion in 2011.

Mining, particularly copper, is Zambia’s principal industry, accounting for almost 75 percent of the nation’s exports. Many mining companies are owned by foreigners, including, of course, the Chinese.


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