Copper mining requires bravery. The sums of capital needed to excavate ore deposits and transform these into cathodes for use in industry, are staggering. Shareholders must be patient, often waiting many years for a return on their investment. Long term planning and predictability are essential elements for successful mining.
Almost 14 years ago, London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc, a diversified global mining and resources giant, took over the running of Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). This took place almost two years after another global mining firm, Anglo American Plc, had divested from KCM.
KCM was on its knees and hemorrhaging money in 2004. The days when KCM’s Nchanga division contributed 60 per cent of total annual copper production in Zambia, were long gone. The company was loss-making – costing the Zambian Treasury $1 million every day to maintain operations. KCM was in desperate need of private capital to keep it afloat and alleviate the pressure from the Treasury.
In November 2004, Vedanta came in, and within six months a Vedanta Board approval to invest in the Konkola Deep Mining Project (KDMP) was announced. The KDMP had been under consideration by previous owners for many years.
By 2012, the KDMP bottom shaft loading was commissioned, paving the way for production on one of the world’s richest seams of ore, at just over three per cent grade. Today the Konkola Deep Mine No. 4 Shaft, with a depth of 1, 500 metres, is the heartbeat of KCM’s operations and the cornerstone of Vedanta’s 50-year vision for mining in Zambia.
Keith Kapui, the Vice President at KCM’s Konkola mine and a veteran miner who has witnessed the journey of KCM for over 16 years of his total of 38 years in mining, spoke about the company’s bright future.
“The Konkola deep mining project as a flagship of KCM essentially anchors the 50 year mining vision. We have more than 300 million tonnes of resource at over three per cent of copper,” Mr Kapui says. “The excitement this creates is that the Tier 1 resource opens up the whole future for KCM, for the Chililabombwe community and the entire Copperbelt… the economic benefit will be significant”.
More than US$3 billion has been invested to upgrade and expand KCM’s assets, including a new copper smelter, three new concentrators, upgrades to a tailings leach plant and new underground facilities.
Steven Din the Chief Executive Officer of KCM is buoyant about the future.
“We speak confidently about our Path to Growth and our 50-year vision because of the strong foundations that we have laid over the last 14 years. I am confident that we have a platform from which to grow our production over the next four to five years from two million tonnes to our six million tonnes annual target,” Mr Din added.
The Path to Growth maxim refers to a mining model,which embraces cooperation with technical partners and contractors and a strong focus on safety, environmental sustainability and community investments.
KCM staff and are tasked with introducing specialist skills, new processes and modern technologies into the value chain, to improve performance. Within the realm of water management for example, new partners are helping to more efficiently pump nearly 350 million litres of water per day out of the Konkola mine. Other mining partners have been engaged at the No. 1 Shaft, No. 4 Shaft and No. 3 Shaft to accelerate mining and raise volumes of copper ore production.
With plans to treble volumes of annual copper production, shareholders, management and the workforce are all focused on increasing volumes. Mr Anil Agarwal, the Chairman of Vedanta Resources Plc, reinforced the company’s vision and Path to Growth on his recent visit to Zambia, when he said that KCM’s Path to Growth will be capitalised by an injection of $700 million, following Vedanta’s previous release of $300 million to complete a new $1 billion pledge that he made in 2017.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Zambia-India Business forum in Lusaka last month, Mr Agarwal said that KCM would construct a new cobalt refinery, a coal-fired power plant and a training school for skills development.
In his remarks to local stakeholders, Mr Agarwal said, “I was eager to come to Zambia almost 15 years ago at a time when KCM was facing a lot of challenges. We have now created a strong position for KCM after investing over $3 billion, and we are targeting strong growth in the years ahead. Our desire is to have a win-win situation. The government must be happy, the Zambian public must be happy, and our communities must flourish.”
Within the realm of CSR, KCM has been focused on local economic development and delivering clean water to communities. Five (5) solar-powered boreholes and twenty-one (21) water distribution centres have been installed, serving 8,000 people.
Villagers who previously drew water from the crocodile-infested Kafue river, now access borehole water in safety. The benefits have been manifold. Incidences of diarrhea have decreased while pupil attendance at schools has increased.
Medical staff have even recorded an increase in child-births at various clinics. At Simulala Primary School, the number of children attending school has increased from one hundred and fifty (150) to four hundred and fifty-three (453) students over three years.
Zambia’s development trajectory depends in no small measure on the ability of companies like KCM doing what they do well – namely mining, processing, refining and exporting minerals and metals.
“Our first priority is to manage a robust, sustainable and profit-making business,” says CEO Steven Din. “The next step requires us to strengthen our linkages with the immediate economy. We must break the traditional enclave culture that has characterised mines in the past and challenge ourselves to see what more we can contribute to Zambia’s national development,” Mr Din concludes.
Breaking the traditional enclave entails conducting mining activities in a sustainable way. Just last year, the company announced the KCMGo Green initiative, which has promoted more consultation with local communities on environmental issues and remediation measures.
The KCM Go Green initiative comes on the back of Vedanta’s focus on improving KCM’s environmental footprint underpinned in recent years on the commissioning of the Nchanga Smelter with a sulphur capture rate of more than 99.6 per cent, which replaced the Nkana Smelter, that captured only 50 per cent at the time it was decommissioned.
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