21 February 2013

Zambia: Collum Mine Takeover Long Overdue

THE decision by Government to take over the running of the trouble-torn Collum Coal Mine will certainly restore dignity and confidence among workers and also protect public interest.

Workers at Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe have gone through tribulation from as far back as 2005, while several submissions were made to Government at the time, but in vain.

In 2006, then Southern Province Minister Alice Simango wept openly when she witnessed barefoot miners emerging from underground in tattered overcoats.

In sweltering heat, the miners ranging from the youth to relatively old, wobbled their way out of the dark shaft, much to the chagrin of Ms Simango and her entourage.

It was a depressing sight which was beamed on the national broadcaster.

Surprisingly, the sad tale ended with the televised shedding of tears by the minister.

In October 2010, the country witnessed one of the worst forms of violence ever when some Chinese workers at Collum sprayed bullets on 11 Zambians some of whom have been left permanently incapacitated.

The matter was taken to court, but the perpetrators were discharged by the court.

Several Government officials made trips to this mine in Sinazeze area, but follow-up action of these fact-finding missions was not taken.

Tension and frustration were building up among the workers who in August 2012 vented their anger on their managers, leaving one Chinese dead and the others seriously injured.

The revocation of the licence, therefore, has not come as a surprise, firstly, because the state of the mine appeared to be a ramshackle such that one would not believe that it was churning out coal on a large scale.

Secondly, safety regulations were not being followed, while salaries and conditions of service for the workers were poor.

The workers were living in squalid conditions and subjected to long work hours.

Those who complained had their services terminated.

Coal is a critical source of energy in the manufacturing industry whose production is labour-intensive.

Production of this rich energy resource requires high standards of safety and technical knowhow.

It also requires best methods of extraction and a conducive environment for the workers.

This may not have been the case at Collum!

Therefore, the Government was left with no option but to revoke the three small-scale mining licences held by Chinese at Collum Mine in Southern Province.

In fact, Mines, Energy and Water Development Minister Yamfwa Mukanga candidly stated that Collum Mine management had failed to comply with the law.

Following the cancellation of three licences, the Government, through the ZCCM-Investment Holdings, has taken over the running of the mine until a suitable investor is found.

The Government has painstakingly made a decision in the interest of the nation and also to protect its citizens.

It is also true to state that the revocation of the mining licence was long overdue because of the many violations reported at the mine, ranging from poor safety record to violence which came to a head when 11 miners were shot and wounded.

Zambia has never witnessed industrial unrest at which management officials have resorted to using fire arms on defenceless workers.

The takeover is in the interest of the nation and should not be viewed as nationalisation.

Instead it should send correct signals and a warning to investors who flout the law with impunity.

The revocation of the mining licence is, therefore, long overdue.

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