Friday, 6 July 2007

GOLD MADE IN MUSHILI

By Gershom Ndhlovu
Recently I read a story entitled “Uranium ‘hunters’ masquerading as copper miners” in one of the daily papers. The story sent my mind racing back into time to the existence of the Precious Metals Plant (PMP) which was situated at the Ndola Copper Refinery which was later sold to the Binani Group of companies.
The PMP, situated on the Ndola-Kabwe road, fell into such a state of disrepair such that some bold Ndola residents started vandalising it, first by removing all the remnants of copper in whatever form and then roofing sheets and anything movable.
This is the same fate that befell the defunct Furncoz plant in Ndola’s industrial area which was vandalised brick by brick, metal by piece of metal.
I had the privilege of visiting the PMP on two occasions, first on a conducted tour of ZCCM facilities which took me underground at Baluba Mine and Konkola B shaft, with the then ZCCM spokesman, the late Francis Musonda, when I was Zambia Daily Mail Ndola Chief Reporter.
The second visit was when former Vice-President Christon Tembo was Mines Minister and toured the plant.
What I discovered then was that ZCCM used to produce gold, along with silver, selenium and other base metals from the slug that came from copper processing at the smelters in Luanshya, Kitwe, Mufulira and Chingola.
Strange as it may sound, production figures for the gold were not very well publicised, if at all. Or is it that we were only interested in production figures for the “almighty” copper? But stranger still, the same slag started finding its way to Mushili Township where gold processing flourished by people who appeared to be from a neighbouring country.
The tell-tale signs for such activities were gas cylinders and large quantities of charcoal that were found at these backyard refineries. I would not be surprised if this is still going on not only in Mushili but in other areas of the Copperbelt.
During my visit to Baluba Shaft, I learnt from a geologist who conducted us underground that Baluba was actually more of a cobalt mine than a copper mine. In the same conversation, it was also mentioned that one previously closed mine in North-Western Province was more of a gold mine, by South African standards if I correctly remember what this geologist said, than a copper mine.
I do not know how true it is, but there were rumours that at the time of privatising the mines in the 1970s, Zambia’s mineral maps disappeared with the departing foreign mine owners. Would it be surprising that someone somewhere knows where Zambia’s Uranium deposits lie?
The Mines and Minerals Development Deputy Minister, Mr Maxwell Mwale should know that the “domestic” gold processors in Mushili did not need any licences to process the precious metal. All they needed was someone illegally supplying them with the slug. The gold probably ended up in a neighbouring country and onwards to Europe.
Who knows if someone has figured out how to process Uranium in domestic kilns and who knows where it could be ending up? Waiting for someone from Chipulukusu to queue up at the Ministry of Mines for a licence would be a waste of time if all it takes is a “mbaula” to process gold or Uranium and a brief-case to take it across the border.
Of course forget about how toxic the mercury is that is used in gold processing. Equally forget the radioactivity from Uranium. What matters is the money to be made from these illegal and dangerous activities
This is exactly the same with Zambian emeralds which are marketed as coming from one Middle Eastern country just because they are polished in that country and are probably not even registered at the Ministry of Mines even for statistical reasons.
What the Zambian government needs to do for now is to go back to the drawing boards for all things mining, mineral maps, royalties and all.—gndhlovu@yahoo.com.

7 comments:

MrK said...

Gershom,

Why do you think this government is so reluctant to

- review the mining deals
- ensure Zambia gets the best deal possible when negotiating mining deals and development agreements
- develop it's own economy
- start initiatives that help local economies to spring up

Zambia should have an institute to teach delapidary skills to it's young people. It should have an industry to make fashionably designed jewelry around these stones. It should have a ban on the export of unfinished gemstones.

I think Zambia should attract retired diamond cutters and fashion designers from Antwerp and New York, and set up it's own vertically integrated gemstone industry.

This industry could employ not only miners, but gem cutters, artists, marketing professionals, etc.

In other words, instead of setting up a project here and there, people should be thinking of setting up entire industries.

MrK said...

Lapidary skills. Sorry for all the spelling errors. When I'm thinking and typing at the same time, I usually forget to spellcheck, but I'm working on it.

Evans said...

I first learnt of the gold slug from copper refining while learning about the electrolysis of copper in a chemistry class, at secondary school. Our Scottish teacher, being a foreigner, had no fears about raising our awareness as to the presence of this gold in Zed, albeit jokingly. But that was enough.

I think the climate of secrecy and authoritarianism in Zed should be revised so that people can ask relevant questions when and if they need to. That climate stifles debate and ultimately freedom to think, innovate and curtails the spirit of enterpreneurism. If Zedian people were allowed to think freely surely people would learn to exploit that gold, (I would hope)

Cho said...

A fascinating piece!

Zambia definately has a lot of minerals. What you need is government to actually have its own dedicated team out there surveying. I think at the moment it relies on the private sector to do the job and then it steps in to verify the extent of the deposits.

MrK said...

They could also contractually restrict the size of the deposits that are part of the deal. Then, if more is found, or different deposits like uranium are found, those automatically go to the state.

Cho said...

MrK,

But then they would be no incentive to look for deposits? Or worse you could create a black market - "Gold made in Mushili" as the article says...

MrK said...

But then they would be no incentive to look for deposits?

Let me put it this way. What incentive does your car mechanic have to repair your car?

Would you sell your car to him, and then buy it back when the repairs are done? Or would you just pay him for the time and materials he spent on fixing your car, plus some profit and taxes?

There is no reason whatsoever why the exploration companies or the mining companies should actually own the mines or the deposits.

They are doing a job, and they should be paid for that job. Nothing more.


Or worse you could create a black market - "Gold made in Mushili" as the article says...

Isn't that what inspectors are for?

Check out George Ross' books, especially the one on real estate, which has a lot of tips on how to structure incentives to get work done to a high standard and on time.