Last week, Zambia’s infamous copper slug dump Black Mountain plunged 11 people to their deaths. According to media reports, the men were busy hand-picking the chrome when part of the mineral-rich ‘rubbish’ collapsed on them, resulting in the deaths of 11 of them while eight are still battling for lives in hospital.
The tragedy has left Zambia stricken with grief. The mood is even more somber in the mining town of Kitwe, where residents are trying to come to terms with the death of the young men.
The disaster has sparked a fresh debate on the safety or lack thereof during the operations at the copper and cobalt rich dump site. There seems to be unanimous consensus by stakeholders on serious safety flaws at the site.
Furthermore, safety alarm bells were first rung last month when a blasting operation at the Black Mountain by the small-scale miners went wrong. This left shattered windows and cracked walls in some of the houses nearby.
At the time, the Minister of Mines and Minerals Development Richard Musukwa assured the nation of the people’s safety while operating at the Black. Unfortunately this incident served not only to prove him wrong, but also as a warning that has sadly come too little too late.
On the other hand the mines safety department director Gideon Ndalama also pointed out that most of the people onsite were unskilled miners who were allowed access to the site without proper safety measures taken. He further added that the officers from the mines safety department had been denied entry to the site for purposes of regular inspections. This was a few days before the incident.
According to Mr Ndalama, the nature of operations at the Black Mountain is supposed to be less labor-intensive. However, this has clearly not been the case in the last one month where the small-scale miners have been working.
Meanwhile, Chapamo Mineral Processing Investments, a holding company for the small-scale miners at the site, has snubbed Mr Ndalama’s assertions about denying his access to inspect the works.
Black Mountain site dates as far back as the 1930s when the first mine shaft called Rokana Mine was sunk in Kitwe. According to a statement released by Kitwe Mayor Christopher Kang’ombe, Rokana Mine was later to be known as the Nkana Division under the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).
ZCCM Nkana Division would then mine the copper ore and process it through its smelter. Other valuable minerals which remained as waste and eventually dumped at Wusakile dump site, which came to be known as Black Mountain.
This resulted in the encroachment of illegal miners at the dump site in the early 1980s to salvage any material that would be dumped at the Black Mountain. By the late 1990s no investor was interested in the dumpsite. He further added that interest in the site only grew later after advancement with Chambeshi Metals being the first mining company to express intentions of acquiring ownership of the Black Mountain.
However, Chambeshi Metals sold the Black mountain to a Chinese company called Nkana Alloy, whose shareholding is 90%, while 10% belonged to ZCCM-IH.
However, this would not hold as the status quo after illegal miners teamed up and registered a company. This was between the year 2003 and the 2 subsequent years. They then took the matter to court claiming ownership of the Black Mountain. They would later come to succeed with the government bequeathing them ZCCM-IH’s stake in the site. At the time, the handover was aimed at empowering young people in the area.