By A CORRESPONDENT
MINING has been Zambia’s economic mainstay since time immemorial and the biggest contributor to the country’s export earnings.
As Africa’s second-largest producer and exporters of copper, Zambia also produces about 20 per cent of the world’s emeralds.
In 2019, mining accounted for 70 per cent of Zambia’s export earnings and 28 per cent of Government revenues.
Mining is so important to the Zambian people that anything to do with this sector must be closely scrutinised.
The Copperbelt, especially, is driven by mining as it is the largest employer in the province.
This is the reason why when the Zambian government privatised the mines in the early 1990’s the economy on the Copperbelt slumped.
Among the affected towns was Mufulira with many mine workers losing employment as the new mine owners downsized the labour force.
Now, there is a new hope for Mufulira with the likely potential of new jobs coming once the Government sells the Mufulira mine slag to a new developer.
The Mufulira slag is the equivalent of the Black Mountain in Kitwe which has created a lot of jobs for the youth and changed the economy of the town.
The tender for the operation of the Mufulira slag was advertised late last year and has attracted a lot of interest from many bidders.
Some of the bidders are mere speculators with no background in mining and no financial muscle to manage the slag project where, according to Diversified Minerals Group (DMG), an estimated 13 million tonnes of slag at estimated grades of 0.7 per cent copper and 0.3 per cent cobalt was deposited over the years.
DMG is a Zambian company with strong interests in base metals and gemstones- emeralds and gemstones- mining and brokerage.
The company, which holds mining licenses in Angola and Zambia, is run by the Lamaswala family that has a total of over 70 years of mining history in Zambia and the region.
Apart from the foregoing, the family also have a strong history of mining and bringing successful investment into Zambia.
Mr Kwalela Lamaswala is the chairman of DMG while his son Michael is the founder and chief executive officer.
The senior Lamaswala is a founder shareholder of First Quantum Minerals.
Today, the Lamaswala’s focus is squarely on Mufulira as DMG and its partner Jubilee Metals Group is one of the bidders for the Mufulira slag project.
“We have a close working relationship with Jubilee Metals Group Plc in Zambia. We see Jubilee Metals as the right people to partner with. We worked together on the Kabwe Sable Zinc project and pushing forward here,” says Michael Lamaswala in an interview from London.
The Jubilee Metals Group is listed on the London Metal exchange and has done some work with some of the best mining companies in the world.
He explains that Jubilee Metals Group is the right partner as it has not only the financial but also technical ability required to execute a successful Mufulira processing project.
“Jubilee are on track to hit US$350 million of investment in Zambia. The technical, operational and financial ability cannot be overstated as they’re all connected.
“You can’t just bring fire to the slag and hope for the best. This is speculation at its worst! You will only disappoint the people of Mufulira who need real jobs and real economic benefit,” he emphasises.
He says according to what the DMG laboratory research and development division has analysed, the Mufulira slag is a uniquely complex slag with resultant metal content locked in a complex silicate lattice or, to put word to it, glass.
“This requires a bespoke plant and chemical extraction technique to target the finally distributed metal contained therein. We and our partner Jubilee have this technology and clear ability,” he says.
He stresses that he is aware of the seriousness of the United Party for National Development government when it comes to taking development to the people.
“We, therefore, see ourselves as uniquely placed to bring the development that government wishes to see in the Mufulira project. We and our partner Jubilee must, therefore, be the preferred bidders given our broad mining experience, financial and technical ability,” says Mr Lamaswala.
He explains that there is, actually, no similarity between the Mufulira slag and the Kitwe Black Mountain slag.
“It is important that as a Zambian, I help to inform and, if required, educate my community that for us to extract value, we require the right expertise to process the slag and extract value not only for shareholders but for the people of Zambia and locally in Mufulira,” says Mr Lamaswala.
He states that Zambia is moving forward and is being led by a government that has clear Goals.
Therefore, he adds, clear goals are achieved by genuine players.
“This is why, as a Zambian, I want to see real progress and investment and not posturing or gambling for personal benefit. Jubilee Metals Group already has two significant plants in Zambia; one in Kabwe and the other plant is in Ndola.
“You will recall how the economy in Kabwe had lost its vibrancy until Jubilee helped to revive the economy in Zambia’s oldest mining town,” he says.
He notes that the Government is very serious about economic development and wants to see serious players helping to achieve this.
“Speculators cannot help achieve our target of three million metric tonnes of copper per annum.”
He explains that the Mufulira slag project requires a minimum of US$200 million to take off.
“A serious project requires serious people. We are the people who can do this project. Zambians must feel the benefits of their natural resources,” he adds.
He explains that it is not every mining investor that shares their technology with Zambians but the Jubilee Metals Group team has exhibited a strong willingness to empower, educate and train Zambians and share its technical ability.
“For example, there’s an open commitment to the expansion of the new technical development centre in Zambia as Jubilee seeks to offer these solutions to the Zambian copper and cobalt industry,” he says.
He emphasises that Mufulira is an important historical town in Zambia and needs continued investment in the community and stakeholder engagement which is something done at Jubilee’s various operations and lies at the heart of its successful operations.
He says an inclusive corporate social investment programme has been proposed alongside the processing solution that ensures direct benefits beyond job creation.
“The Jubilee approach to sustainable long-term benefits to its stake holders is well recognised. We’re looking forward to implementing a high-value corporate community programme for the people of Mufulira,” concludes the DMG boss whose partnership with Jubilee employees 700 people at the Kabwe and Ndola plants.
It is hoped that the tender for the operation of the Mufulira slag will be offered to a bidder with a strong mining background and with the interest of the Zambian people at heart.