MINING activities at Kansanshi and Lumwana mines in Solwezi have dramatically changed the social landscape of North-Western Province.
And the intensity of the effects of these huge investments, which have come with great potential and challenges, are well-known and documented.
The two large-scale mines are driving the transformation of the once cinderella but otherwise very rich province, creating economic opportunities and providing thousands of jobs, notwithstanding that a good number of these jobs may have been taken by people from outside Solwezi due to low skills levels among locals.
The economic prospects following the re-opening of Kansanshi Mine and the opening of Lumwana Mine have come with great posibilities to impact lives of the local people. And these perceived opportunies have attracted droves from other parts of Zambia.
And as a result of the migration, there is much strain on social and other basic services including health, education, housing as well as recreational facilities. Infrastructure developed for a small popultion is struggling to cope, and implications include illegal structures emerging.
With the former ZCCM mines having demonstrated a steadfast support to communities in towns they operated on the Copperbelt, maintaining roads, providing medical, educational, sporting and other recreational facilities, the people of Solwezi are enthusiastic about the mines.
Kansanshi public relations manager, Godfrey Msiska, whose company has spent millions of Kwacha on projects in Solwezi under its Kansanshi Foundation, says: "The Kansanshi Mining Plc philosophy is to enrich the environment and communities in which we operate. This is in line with the First Quantum Minerals (FQM) group ethos of adding value to th e communities in which it operates."
Equinox Minerals, who have built a mine and township on a former greenfield in Lumwana, and FQM group, owners of Kansanshi Mine, are striving to make a difference as corporate social citizens of Solwezi. But even after pumping billions on community projects in their support for Government efforts in providing health and education services, the two mines still appear under pressure from the locals to take more responsibility for social and economic impacts in communities affected by their operations.
To somewhat explain why the investors seem to continue receiving the flak, a researcher, Kinsley Cheelo puts it aptly in his paper 'behind the economic figures: large- scale mining and rural poverty reduction in Zambia. The case of Kansanshi Mine': "One could argue that local communities benefit from investors' presence through their corporate social responsibilities, but the fact that investors are not welfare organisations and are not experts in service delivery implies that even under this initiative the locals still lose out."
But it's not all locals complaining. Solwezi-Kansanshi Lions Club president, Elisha Zgambo and other many beneficiary organisations like Youth Alive Zambia applaud Kansanshi that despite the global economic meltdown, the mine had continued to contribute to the social and economic well being of communities in which it operates.
"This in the essence of humanity bears a reflection of the mine being a concerned investment geared to change the image of the community through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme," Mr Zgambo said recently after Kansanshi gave his organisation K10 million for community projects
And with the mining companies appearing under unrelenting pressure to do more, the Catholic Diocese of Solwezi conducted a survey to get specific information on the social, economic or environmental impacts of mining activities on surrounding communities in the province.
The study, which investigated the corporate social responsibility agenda of the mines in the province, revealed that while Kansanshi and Lumwana had CSR strategies, the corporate social responsibility was a missing virtue in mining activities in Kasempa and Mufumbwe.
Researcher Stephen Muyakwa, releasing findings of a recent baseline study on CSR for the Catholic Diocese of Solwezi through its Zambia Extractive Industries Project, said community responses in Solwezi confirmed contrasting approaches of Kansanshi and Lumwana mines.
"Kansanshi has shown to have a traditional approach to CSR of giving away money and projects as and when the management feels it is time to make a gesture of goodwill or as a form of philanthropy.
"Lumwana, on the other hand, has shown to have built- in the CSR policies, strategies and has in place structures to consult with local communities on priorities and concerns of local people. Lumwana has, thus a modern approach to CSR," Mr Muyakwa said.
The study found that the situation in the other mining districts of the province Kasempa, Mufumbwe and, to a limited extent Mwinilunga, was different but more critical than Solwezi.
"Mining activities in Kasempa and Mufumbwe are mostly characterised by small-scale quasi-legal mining operations with no CSR policies. The situation is particularly worrying in Kasempa where illegal mining operators have set up camp in various parts of the game management areas combining mining with tourism activities" he said.
He said the research found that North-Western Province was poised to join the ranks of major copper and other mineral producing and exporting regions of Zambia and the world.
"This is a big development as it brings with it big risks but more importantly, big opportunities. This study has shown that the country has had a long history of copper mining and has over the years put in place policies to manage the mining sector," Mr Muyakwa said.
And on policies and regulations, the survey found that Zambia had important documents like the Vision 2030, Fifth National Development Plan and laws like the Mines and Minerals Development Act 2008, environmental protection regulations and indeed, labour regulations.
"The study has further shown that there are some weaknesses in the policies and regulations, in particular the absence of the all important empowering clause in the Constitution and the mining law providing for legal rights to community ownership of mineral resources within their areas," he said.
He said the research showed serious social conditions of poverty, HIV/ AIDS, health and educational deprivation existing in the province, contrasting with the vast economic potential existing in the province for the production of various agricultural products such as mixed beans, cattle and honey.
"It is hoped that the baseline data presented will form the core set of indicators for measuring the impacts of the mining sector on social, economic and cross cutting variables of gender and environment," he said.
Among the strategies the study recommended to the Government was the inclusion of a clause in the Constitution providing legal ownership of mining and other resources to the local people and ensure that some of the revenues from mining activities went to the community through improvements in schools, health facilities and economic infrastructure.
To civil society organisations (CSO), the research suggested among other strategies to monitor and acknowledge the efforts of different mining companies and devise a scheme of rewarding the best and worst performing mining companies in terms of CSR policy and practice.
And to the cooperating partners, it recommended that they assist in building the capacity of CSOs, local communities and the Government in ensuring that pro-poor economic policies were formulated, implemented and monitored.
Hoping that the growth of the mining industry in the province would answer the aspiration of the people, Catholic Diocese of Solwezi, vicar-general Albert Sakala said the study intended to call for public policy, law or programme change aimed at poverty reduction,
"When we look at the recent growth in the mining sector in Zambia and the opportunities it presents to the local communities, there is a ready source for comparison. The growth of the industry should answer the aspiration of the Zambian people, in particular those of the North-Western Province," Fr Sakala said.
He said with billions of dollars invested in the mining projects, a lot of development was taking place in North-Western Province, and the mining industry had brought with it much hope and aspirations to the people in the province and Zambia in general.
Diocesan Caritas coordinator, Frederick Nabanda said the civil society were not against investors and the Government but were actually looking for the best way for a common approach to solving people's problems and improving their standards of living.
Mr Nabanda said lack of previous information on the impact of extractive industries on communities in the province impeded Solwezi Diocese's capacity to effectively design and subsequently evaluate activities aimed at empowering communities socially, economically and environmentally.
"As part of the Zambia Extractive Industries Project, the Catholic Diocese of Solwezi is undertaking a number of activities aimed at gathering information to strengthen national and international advocacy efforts and to empower local communities to understand and monitor the industry's impact, and in turn, advocate on their own behalf locally," he said.