Chingola residents weigh impact of Sensele disaster on economy
Published On December 14, 2023 » 965 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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By JOWIT SALUSEKI –
CHINGOLA, with its profusion of trees and flowers, is one of the most picturesque of Copperbelt towns.
Founded in 1943, the town, which is synonymous with mining activities, is home to one of the biggest open-cast mines in Africa, the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).
Zambia Statistical Agency estimates from 2022 put Chingola’s population at over 187,827.
Many of the town’s inhabitants, especially the young people, have for a long time set their eyes on a making a fortune from the decommissioned mining sites, which predate even the days of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).
These days, a first-time visitor to the town once known as the cleanest in Zambia will be greeted by a pile-up of black mountains that are dotted across this transit mining town.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the youths from sprawling townships such Kasompe, Kansenji, Chiwempala, Kabundi North and East, Kakoso, have habitually descended on the decommissioned black mountains to scavenge for high-grade copper and cobalt minerals.
It is their bread and butter.
According to those familiar with the operations at the slag dumps that are dotted across Chingola, thousands of young people, as well as those above 40 years, eke out a living from the fortunes underneath the pits such as Sensele.
On December 1, 2023, the nation woke to sad news that over 30 miners had been trapped at the Sensele slag dump, where the small-scale miners known in the local parlance as ‘Jerabos’ but would rather prefer to be called stone dealers, had been trapped in three locations after rains flooded the site on the night of November 30.
The unfortunate situation has not only brought the nation to mourning as rescue efforts continue, but has also impacted on the social and economic wellbeing of this town.
“Chingola’s economy has been brought to its knees in the almost two weeks in which we have been coming to terms with the news of the Sensele mine disaster,” said Esther Nanyangwe, a restaurant owner at Chiwempala Market.
“As you may wish to know, these stone dealers are real big spenders. Once they sell their copper ore or get paid by their agents, they spend lavishly, buying food in restaurants, bars and other business outlets.”
Ms Nanyangwe was worried that if the authorities decided to indefinitely close the illegal mines owing to the poor safety measures, many businesses in the district will lose out.
“I only hope as President Hakainde Hichilema assured on Monday this week during the mass burial of the nine retrieved dead bodies, that safe mining will be prioritized and that the slag dump will resume operation again. In this way, most businesses won’t die out too,” she explained in a worried tone.
Nabwalya Chombo, a 38-year-old widow of the sprawling Kansenji Township, who owns a makeshift restaurant at the junction of the Chingola- Solwezi-Chililabombwe road where the infamous Senseli slag dump is located, expressed similar sentiments.
“Ine nachinsakamisha sana [I am nervous] because in as much as Sensele was a disaster in waiting because of issues of safety, some of us who are widows running small businesses such as this restaurant will be badly affected if the mine was indefinitely closed,” she claimed.
Ms Chombo explained that on a good day, she would knock off with between K1’000 and K1,500 in food sales at her third-rate eatery.
“One thing you can’t take away from these stone dealers is that once they get paid, they will come and buy food and even give us some tips…even in the communities they are known as big buyers,” she said.
She however noted that Sensele was a disaster waiting owing to the unorthodox means in which the miners would work in the tunnels without regard for their own personal safety.
As for Helen Mutepuka Twatasha-Chabanyama, much as her nephew Kangwa Mwaba, who was still registered as missing 12 days after the mine accident, would provide them with home needs, she feels the authorities should just go ahead to completely shut the slag dump as no life was worth risking in the name of making a fortune.
Robert Kapanga, an electronics dealer at Mwaiseni Market in the Central Business District, bemoaned the slowing down of business after the Sensele mine accident.
He explained that he expected his business to be booming especially now that it was the festive season.
Meanwhile, one of the local stone dealers of Chingola, who didn’t want to be named, but had his car parked near the slag dump, said he was equally lost for words, further claiming that he gave one of his ‘agents’, who is still missing, K17,000 to buy copper ore for him.
Insiders at the Sensele confirmed to this writer in Chingola that a 25 kg of high grade copper ore fetches K700 while a medium sized truck-load would be priced at K200,000.
Apart from local business executives who flaunt wads of cash to entice the miners to risk it all underground, some of the buyers of the copper and cobalt from the slag dumps are mainly individual Chinese buyers.
But with literally no certification from the Zambia Environmental Management Authority (ZEMA), Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB), Occupational Health Safety (OSH), the mines safety department, among others, the lucrative mining activities which are an attraction for economically-depressed communities on the Copperbelt are conducted amid poor safety measures owing to the unorthodox means of miners carrying out their mining activities.
The good news is that on Monday this week, during the mass funeral of nine victims of the mining tragedy, President Hakainde Hichilema promised to avert any further loss of life by ensuring that mining activities were conducted in a safe environment.
On November 30, 2023, over 30 miners at Sensele Mine located on the western end of Chingola were trapped in three locations after a heavy downpour flooded the area.
So far, only one person has been retrieved alive, while over a dozen bodies have been pulled out dead and have since been buried in Chingola.
A 24-hours rescue mission is going on to try and reach the other missing miners.

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