By INNOCENT DAKA-
TO DATE, the Kalumbila area of Chief Musele in Solwezi has been a community of few economic opportunities.
Its residents were mainly small-scale farmers subsisting on slash and burn shifting cultivation producing cassava, practising artisanal fishing and collecting mushroom.
But there has been sharp turn of fortunes. Today, the 8,337 hectares between the Bushingwe National Forest to the west and Lualaba National Forest to the east and south is now an area of mining activity with an investment of US$1.8 billion.
It is a massive mining operation in a remote underdeveloped area. An estimation of 14,500 truckloads of construction steel material and earth moving equipment have replaced 566 households mainly comprising of mud and grass-thatched huts that had been dotted around Miombo Forest.
The mining area is bustling with various activities with a plant currently assembling Japanese-made Komastu tippers and graders depicting the massive investment that has been poured into the project.
Kalumbila Minerals Limited (KML) Trident project assistant general manager Tristan Pascall says the mine is investing in bigger equipment to reduce high costs of production.
“The copper ore here is low grade of about 0.51 per cent and we will need to process 10 times material than at Kansanshi to get one tonne of copper,” he said.
“To have such a mining activity operate efficiently we must invest in economies of scale.”
The equipment doing the job includes a caterpillar shovel costing $28 million that will run on electricity to reduce the cost of diesel.
First Quantum Minerals (FQM), the owners of the Kalumbila project have made an upfront payment of $200 million to Zesco to erect a power-line from Lusaka, through Mumbwa and Kasempa districts, to Musele area in Solwezi.
On the other hand, workers are welding steel and erecting concrete walls into sky-reaching structures that will form part of the mine’s copper and nickel processing network.
Once fully operational the mine is expected to be producing 300,000 tonnes of copper every year and employing 2,700 peoples, according to the implementers of the project.
A few kilometres away from the Sentinel mining site, a town of 10,000 modern housing apartments is coming up courtesy of the project.
It will be a home to thousands of residents working on the mine while 300 units of those apartments are already completed and occupied.
Besides, the boom of the economy that has been sparked by the mining project has also seen Stanbic bank opening its branch while Total is currently constructing a filling station. There is also a three-storey hotel presently under construction.
“With 10,000 houses, the area will have about 50,000 residents and create jobs for taxi drivers, garbage collectors and domestic workers,” Mr Pascall explained. “There is going to be a big customer base for retail business and we expect more people to open shops.”
The Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) is said to have approved the Multi-Facility Economic Zone for Kalumbila, which will attract diversified industries to sustain the local community beyond the life of the mine.
But this will happen once the land lease titles are approved to ensure that the area is owned by individual businesses and residents so that after the mine is closed Kalumbila will not turn into a ghost town.
Mr Pascall attributes the motivation for such investment to the confidence that the mining firm has in Zambia as a stable country for business.
He told North Western province permanent secretary Amos Malupenga that Zambia is an attractive destination for foreign investment.
In the meantime, the owners of the 560 households which made up a population of about 3,000 people have not been left in the cold.
KML management has settled famers on the southern part of the mine were it is equipping them with techniques on conservation farming while others have been resettled north of the mine, five kilometres from the new town.
“Displaced families were given options,” said Mr Alex Mapapayi, KML resettlement and community engagement manager. “Those who wanted to continue with their agriculture life opted to settle to the southern resettlement area while those who wanted a modern town life accepted to settle in the northern part.”
The northern resettlement area will have 347 households whereas the southern part will accommodate 181 households. In addition, 99 households accepted compensation and relocation”.
Mr Mapapayi said the resettlement package will cost KML a total of US $11.6 million to relocate and compensate the affected families.
Permanent secretary Mr Malupenga described as heart-warming the US$1.8 billion investment taking place at the mining project.
He said the kind of investment at Kalumbila will produce huge returns for both the mining owners and to government in terms of taxes and contribute to job creation.
Mr Malupenga urged stakeholders to focus on the positive aspects of the project which has suffered negative publicity in the past.
“It is undoubtedly a huge investment that will bring huge return both to the investor and government. Therefore we need to focus more on positives of the project and learn from the negatives,” he said
The Trident mining project is expected to be fully operational by mid 2016 with an initial workforce of 2,700 people and will start paying taxes in 2017.
Since the commencement of the project, more than 4,000 job opportunities have been created with 81 per of those allocated to the local people.
Implementers of the project say each of the families resettled have at least one or two members of their family employed by the mine.
Beyond contributing to the country’s GDP through increased copper output and taxes to government, the Trident project is opening up Musele Chiefdom for further infrastructure development opportunities.
The project is set to spark massive improvement in various sectors including the upgrading of access roads, building of an airport, mobile telecommunication infrastructure, and modern health and education facilities.
Interestingly, even timber from the clearing of the bushes at the mine is being processed from a modern sawmill and used to make furniture at a workshop that is recruiting and training local youths in carpentry and joinery.
From this background, it is clear that Kalumbila Trident has already generated multiplier effect before even reaching its full operational stage.
It is further hoped that apart from benefiting the individuals, the project will have a significant benefits to the local and national economy.