PF Lawlessness and the Lower Zambezi mining project

Over the last week, we have seen the Zambian Government set a dangerous precedent in relation to the care and management of our country’s National Parks. Through the Minister of Lands Mr Harry Kalaba, Zambezi Resources Limited (ZRL), an Australian Stock Exchange-listed company, has been granted permission to mine for copper in the middle of the pristine Lower Zambezi National Park. This is despite reservations and the outright rejection of ZRL’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA). ZRL appealed the decision and the result was Mr Kalaba’s overruling of ZEMA.

The immediate question that comes to mind is this: For how long will politicians continue to disregard national institutions? The only word to describe this state of affairs is lawlessness; governmental lawlessness. If not this then what? When you have lawlessness, anything goes. We now know that there is no guarantee that other National Parks will indeed be protected from unsustainable, suspect mining agreements. If ZEMA can be ignored in the Lower Zambezi, then it can also be ignored in the Kafue or Liuwa or wherever else private interest trumps that of the public.

My reasons for objecting to the Minister’s decision are many. The threat to the ecosystems of the Lower Zambezi Valley – fauna, flora, rivers – is an obvious one. Towns like Kabwe and others on the Copperbelt are a ghostly reminder of what happens when mining, and an over-reliance on it, go wrong. Today we are in the process of destroying a beautiful National Park to make way for a mine which we speculate will bring “development”. What folly!

Though countries like Zambia own much of the world’s mineral resources, we are continually failing to reap the benefits owed to us. What makes Mr Kalaba think things will be different this time? This mine will not only negatively affect an area of outstanding beauty, it will also put local communities at the mercy of external players. If we are simply failing to introduce a mining windfall tax, what makes us think Zambezi Resources Limited will stick with us when times get hard? And please note, times will get hard.

Let’s be clear however: I am not against mining per se. I am a child of the mines myself, having grown up in Kitwe and gone through the mine school system for my primary. The mines however were state-owned then. Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) invested greatly in people and communities despite incurring huge debts in the process. The story is very different now. The mines are privately owned and are more accountable to shareholders outside Zambia than to the people of Zambia. This means that those who believe that this mine project will bring “development” and jobs (what sort and for whom?) will need to think more critically.

Razia Khan, the Head of Research (Africa) at Standard Chartered Bank in London, recently stated that much of Africa’s economic growth this year will be driven by consumer spending rather than by commodities. Tourism is a consumable product and our Government needs to be making deliberate efforts to ensure that the sector is sustainably grown. This will also correlate with its verbal commitment to diversifying the economy away from copper production. Our expanding middle class will visit these areas if the incentives and the commitment is there. Widening access to people from poorer backgrounds must also become a matter for serious policy consideration by the Ministry of Tourism and industry operators.

When all is said and done, the most frustrating thing about this debacle is the range of unanswered questions that remain – like little elephants spread around the room. Here are some of them:

– What convinced the Minister of Lands that the changes made to ZRL’s 2nd EIS were sufficient to warrant his approval?
– Why won’t ZEMA come out and openly support the Minister’s decision?
– Why is ZEMA’s rejection report not available on its website?
– What is Sylvia Masebo’s position on the matter, as Minister for Tourism?
– Where does this decision leave the Government’s verbal commitment to economic diversification?
– Why should we trust anything the Government says?

I believe this issue is a test of Zambia’s democracy. The Minister has said his decision is final but many Zambians think otherwise. Will any step out and take action, as it is their democratic right to do so? That is why I support the call to examine whether a legal case can be brought against the Government before the 17th February deadline.

Chipo Muwowo is a writer and campaigner. He blogs at MasukuOnMyMind.com. Visit the ‘No to Mining in Lower Zambezi National Park’ Facebook page for more on this topic.

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