Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Threat of Corona Virus Causes Congestion at Kasumbalesa Border

Trucks parked along the Kitwe-Chingola Dual Carriageway 
road this morning. -Picture by Ralph Mukuka
By Paul Shalala at Kasumbalesa Border

Thousands of trucks from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are stuck on the Zambian side of the Kasumbalesa border post in Chililabombwe District following the detection of two suspected cases of Corona Virus in the Congolese city of Lubumbashi.
On Sunday, authorities in the Congolese border town of Kasumbalesa closed their side of the border after word went round that the Corona Virus had reached Lubumbashi.
This caused panic on the Zambian side as hundreds of truckers from SADC parked their vehicles after failed attempts to cross the border.

This forced authorities on the Zambian side to engage their Congolese counterparts who agreed to address the truckers.
“The border is wide open as I speak. But the truth is that we had two cases of Corona Virus in Lubumbashi yesterday and the Governor of Upper Katanga has directed us to take measures to avoid the spread,” said Adrian Kapampa, the Mayor of the Congolese town of Kasumbalesa when he addressed hundreds of truck drivers on the Zambian side.

Despite this assurance, truckers refused to cross fearing the Corona virus.
Buy the end of Sunday; the queue of trucks from the Kasumbalesa border reached the town of Chililabombwe which is 15 kilometers away.

And by midday today, the queue has reached the mining town of Chingola which is 50 kilometers away.
The trucks are now pilling up on the Kitwe-Chingola Dual Carriageway and authorities fear that if truckers do not cross into the DRC, the queue may reach Zambia’s second largest city Kitwe which is 54 kilometers away.

Kasumbalesa is the busiest crossing point between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Trucks from across SADC use the border to supply the DRC with mining equipment, food and fuel.

On the other hand, raw materials from the mineral rich Katanga region pass through the Kasumbalesa border on its way to ports like Durban in South Africa, Walvis Bay in Namibia and Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.
Kasumbalesa, which handles about 1,200 trucks on a daily basis, is a major economic center for the region and any disturbance on the operations has far reaching consequences to the two countries.

“As a municipality, we are worried because these truckers are parked along the road where there are no sanitary facilities. This is a big threat to us and can spread communicable diseases. Secondly, most truck drivers come from countries where the Corona Virus has already been detected,” said Chingola Mayor Titus Tembo in an interview.
A visit to the Chingola-Kitwe Dual Carriageway, Chingola-Chililabombwe road and the Chililabombwe-Kasumbalesa road found drivers using the nearby bush as toilet.

“In this situation it is easy to catch the Corona Virus because as drivers, we come from various countries,” lamented Kelvin Milambo, a Zambian driver who works for a South African trucking company.
Other truck drivers are more worried about health.
Some truckers from foreign countries have been stuck 
on the queue for over two days.

“We are asking the Zambian government to supply us with a water bowser so that we can be washing our hands and relieving ourselves,” said another driver who did not want to be named.

The threat of Covid 19 is high in Zambia, a southern African country which has now confirmed 12 cases.
Earlier in the day, President Edgar Lungu addressed the nation and announced that 10 more cases had been detected and an undisclosed number of people have been placed under quarantine.

As a measure to contain the virus, all schools, bars, gyms and cinemas have been shut while churches only operate for an hour per week.
The Zambian government has resisted calls to lockdown the country insisting that the country’s landlocked geographical position can disadvantage it if a lockdown is enforced.

Opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema has led calls for a lockdown.
President Lungu has shut down three international airports, only allowing the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka to handle international flights.
Zambia has four international airports in Lusaka, Ndola, Mfuwe and Livingstone.

Of the 12 cases of Corona Virus recorded, 11 involve Zambians who returned from abroad.
This could be the reason why some international airports have been shut.

The airport in Lusaka has more sophisticated surveillance equipment.
Zambia imports and exports a lot of products from China, Europe and the United States of America and it relies on its neighbours for passage of these vital products.
This could be the reason why the Cabinet has resisted locking down the country as South Africa has done.
But despite this disease posing a big challenge to society, Zambians have taken a casual approach to it.

On the streets, people can still be seen gathering in large numbers, shaking hands and hugging.
If a lockdown ever comes to Zambia, soldiers have to be deployed to enforce it because Zambians cannot keep themselves away from the streets.

But one positive aspect the Corona Virus has brought is a quest for cleanliness.

Markets and streets are being cleaned by traders without being forced by authorities.
And the threat of the virus has hit hard on the hospitality and tourism sector.

Several national and international conferences and meetings have been cancelled or postponed.
“So far, 15,000 visitors have cancelled their trips to Zambia since we recorded our first case of the Corona Virus. Some of them are even demanding refunds,” said Zambia’s Tourism Minister Ronald Chitotela last week.

Livingstone, a town which hosts the majestic Victoria Falls, has suffered heavily due to the Corona Virus.
The town, which is unofficially recognized as Zambia’s tourism capital, has seen a slump in tourist bookings and arrivals and with the closure of its international airport as announced today, the situation is likely to become even worse.

The state run Times of Zambia newspaper has reported today that 759 out of the 1,200 workers involved in the tourism industry in Livingstone have lost their jobs.
Livingstone is named after the 18th Century English explorer David Livingstone who became the first white man to see the Victoria Falls which locals call “Mosi Ou Tunya” or the Smoke that thunders.
In the mining region of the Copperbelt, the effects of the Corona Virus have also been felt.

The Copperbelt, which borders the DRC, has several copper, cobalt and emerald mines.
“We have also been badly hit by the Corona Virus. Most of the equipment we supply to the mines come from China and the restrictions put in place to contain the virus thatside have seen our products delaying on arrival for between 15 to 20 days,” said Augustine Mubanga, President of the Association of Mine Suppliers and Contractors.

Mine Suppliers and Contractors are a major stakeholder in Zambia’s mining sector as they employ thousands of workers to execute their contracts in major mines run by renowned international firms like Glencore, Gemfields and Vedanta.
Countrywide, alcohol based sanitisers which are being encouraged by health authorities, have run out in most chain stores as Zambians rush to protect themselves from the virus.

This has led to locals using improvised methods of sanitizing their hands using local products.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Performance of Zambia’s Mining Sector in 2019

Action Aid protesting against some mine investors in 2019
By Paul Shalala 

2019 has been a challenging year for the mining sector in Zambia.

Africa’s second largest copper producer started the year with implementation of various government measures which were prescribed in the 2019 National Budget.

One of these was the 15 % tax imposed on imported copper concentrates.

This measure was meant to boost local production of copper concentrates which is a highly sought after product in the mines.

However, this measure was heavily opposed by the mining houses.

“This measure was done without consultation. It led to a situation were the sector thought government was fighting it. The measure brought problems for Chambishi Metals which ended up laying off some workers,” said Association of Mine Suppliers and Contractors of Zambia President Augustine Mubanga.

Secondly, the 2019 National Budget also brought in Sales tax.

This tax was brought in to replace Value Added Tax which had been in use for decades.

But due to heavy opposition from the mines, talks between government and stakeholders went on for almost the whole year.

Implementation of the tax was postponed two times and in the end, the Ministry of Finance ended up scrapping it off in the third quarter.

Mining, being a huge undertaking, has far reaching consequences on the environment.
A number of mine houses were caught off guard in this area in 2019.

For example, in March, Mopani Copper Mines was exposed for constructing an illegal tailings dam in the Nkana Tailings Complex in Kitwe.

Here, harmful products were being released into this tailings dam which was built without approval by authorities.

The illegal tailings dam was exposed when then Mines Permanent Secretary Paul Chanda toured the tailings complex and found Mopani workers discharging waste into the bush.

In anger, Mr Chanda threatened to take on the mining giant.

Inspectors found traces of harmful substances in the effluent and the mining firm was later fined by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency.

And in October, the Nchanga Acid Plant in Chingola released harmful substances into the environment.

Over 300 pupils at Nchanga Trust School and several KCM workers were hospitalized.
This was after a power surge.

“The other issue which was topical in 2019 in the area of the environment is the debate on the opening of a mine in the South Luangwa National Park. The sad part is that the mine life span is seven years. Now look at seven years and what impact mining will do on the ecosystem to mine for only those few years,” said Lovemore Muma, an environmentalist who runs The Earth Organisation.

But the biggest of all the 2019 mining stories was the takeover of Konkola Copper Mines by the ZCCM-IH, a government congolomerate which has stakes in several mines.

KCM is the largest employer in the mining sector in Zambia and it has operations in Kitwe, Chingola, Chililabombwe and Nampundwe.

Following protracted negotiations over the failure by KCM to pay its suppliers and contractors, ZCCM-IH moved in and ejected Vedanta Resources, an Indian owned conglomerate.

For years, KCM had been reporting losses despite holding to a mine which many Zambians think was sold for a ‘song.’

Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu announced the takeover of the mine during a meeting with mine suppliers and contractors in Ndola.

“They have lied enough to us. We will go to court and get a divorce,” said President Lungu.

Since then, Milingo Lungu was appointed as a liquidator and took over the running of KCM.

Suppliers and contractors are now receiving their money.

“The take over of KCM was well received by us and other stakeholders because KCM was unfaithful. They owned our members millions of dollars and some of them went for over five, six or nine months without payment. Now we are being paid within a month,” said Mubanga.

And in the small scale mining sector, there was a lot of activity.

A number of tailings and dumps, mostly on the Copperbelt were given to the young people.

The youths are still pushing for capital to actualize their dreams.

Still in the small scale mining sector, gold was discovered in Mwinilunga, Mumbwa and Petauke, leading to a rush by local and foreign interested business people.

In Chief Chibwika’s area in Mwinilunga, thousands of prospectors invaded the area in August.

“My chiefdom is under siege. Three thousand people have come to my villages and we are worried because the sanitary facilities in the villages cant cope, am worried for my subjects,” said Chief Chibwika in an interview.

Another gold rush is currently underway in Mumbwa where hundreds of small scale miners are prospecting. 

A video which circulated on social media a few days ago showed hundreds of residents using hand held tools digging for gold in Sichanzu area, near Luiri Mine.

And the Small Scale Miners Association has some advise on how the newly found gold can be utilised.

“We need laws that can govern the mining of gold. The mining going on is uncoordinated. The price of gold is better that copper. Going forward, we advise government to utilise this mineral which can bring the much needed wealth to this country,” said Kunda Chani, President of the Small Scale Miners President.

On a sad note, several miners died in a number of mine accidents.

Mopani Copper Mines, which is partly owned by Glencore, recorded the highest number of deaths in several mine accidents across the country.
This led to suspension of operations.

“These mine accidents and deaths at Mopani exposed their challenges in terms of safety. Mopani must invest in safety, it is not good to continue losing workers like that,” said Joseph Chewe, President of the Mine Workers Union of Zambia.

2019 is also the year when Manganese mining became very prominent in Central and Luapula Provinces.

Various foreign firms, mostly owned by Chinese investors, have set up factories in the two provinces ready to refine the mineral.

As the country enters 2020, the mining sector hopes to see an increase in copper production which saw a drop in 2019.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Jailing Of Homosexuals Sparks Zambia-US Diplomatic Row

By Paul Shalala
Chataba and Sambo talking to their lawyer Daniel Libati
last year. -Picture courtesy of The Punch newspaper

A diplomatic row has broken out between Zambia and the United States after two Zambian men were recently sentenced to 15 years each for practicing homosexuality.

The two men, 39 year old Japhet Chataba and 31 year old Steven Sambo, are the first Zambians to ever be convicted and subsequently sentenced for practicing homosexuality.

On 25 August 2017, a video of the two men dragging each other at a lodge in the central Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi went viral on social media, sparking huge debate about homosexuality in this deeply conservative Southern African country.

In the video, Chataba was seen dragging Sambo back into the lodge where they allegedly had more sex.

The video formed part of the prosecution evidence during trial which was handled by Kapiri Mposhi Resident Magistrate Ackson Mumba who later convicted the two on August 3, 2018 and committed them to the Kabwe High Court for sentencing.

And last week, the High Court sent the two men to jail for 15 years, the minimum sentence people charged with “unnatural acts” can receive.  

This sentence resulted in a strongly worded statement by the United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote who brought in various issues to the debate.

“I was personally horrified to read yesterday about the sentencing of two men, who had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one, to 15 YEARS imprisonment for “crimes against the order of nature. Meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution, political cadres can beat innocent citizens for expressing their opinions with no consequences, or poachers/traffickers can kill numerous elephants, barbarically chainsaw and sell their tusks, and face a maximum of only five years imprisonment in Zambia,” said Ambassador Foote.

The American envoy added: “Decisions like this oppressive sentencing do untold damage to Zambia’s international reputation by demonstrating that human rights in Zambia is not a universal guarantee. They perpetuate persecution against disenfranchised groups and minorities, such as people from other tribes or political affiliations, albinos, the disabled, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) brothers and sisters, and anyone who is deemed “different.”

This statement led to a sharp reaction from Zambia’s chief diplomat.

“The Government of the Republic of Zambia takes great exception to the remarks made by the Ambassador on the decision by the High Court as well as his comparison of the homosexuality case to other cases of alleged thefts by government officials, political violence and poaching. The Ambassador may wish to note that all cases that are brought before the courts of law are adjudicated based on the available evidence.  It is extremely unfair and highly misleading to suggest that such cases are never brought before the courts of law,” said Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Malanji.

Malanji added that Zambia is a signatory to major international and regional treaties protecting human rights and has several well-established institutions to promote and protect human rights. 
The sentence made it to the front pages of daily newspapers

At a press briefing in Lusaka, the Foreign Affairs Minister disclosed that he phoned the American envoy to express Zambia’s disappointment with his reaction to a matter he considers domestic.

And in a post sentence interview with foreign media, Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu said the Southern African country will not be bullied into adopting what he termed “foreign practices.”

“We cannot allow homosexuality in Zambia. We cannot be forced to allow men to marry men because even animals do not do so,” said President Lungu in an interview with British news channel Sky News a few days ago.

And one of Zambia’s prominent diplomats Emmanuel Mwamba says Ambassador Foote’s statement is in contrast with US President Donald Trump’s policy push that revises pro-LGBTQ rights and protection aggressively promoted by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Mwamba, a journalist who is currently serving as Zambia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, says President Trump promotes pro-family policies.

“The Trump administration has withdrawn special privileges fronted as "rights" granted to the LGBTQ community by the Obama administration in; healthcare, employment, housing, education, commerce, the military, and prisons. President Trump also issued an Executive Order to create obstacles for people seeking to enter the U.S. on the basis of LGBTQ alleged discrimination or harassment from conservative countries that ban or do not recognize these LGBTQ rights. The administration has also cut spending to the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for programs related to abortions and LGBTQ,” wrote Ambassador Mwamba in his opinion piece published by Mwebantu, an online news outlet.

Chataba and Sambo's  case has brought the issue of homosexuality back to the limelight.

Various interest groups, including churches have commented on the matter.

Because of the sensitivity of the matter, a few LGBTQ organisations operating in Zambia have not commented openly on the sentence for fear of the law.

In the past, about two cases involving homosexuality had been dismissed by the courts of law.

Coincidentally, the two cases were both held in Kapiri Mposhi, the same town where the recent case was tried too.

Kapiri Mposhi is a transit town in central Zambia which is located at an intersection of both rail and road junctions heading north to Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and south to Lusaka and other places in the south of the country.