Home » Zambia’s Copper Mine Rescue: A Race Against Time and Water

Zambia’s Copper Mine Rescue: A Race Against Time and Water

How the incident affects the relations between Zambia and China, and the future of the mining sector

by Motoni Olodun

Zambia is facing a desperate situation as seven workers remain trapped in a flooded copper mine since Monday. The incident has sparked a massive rescue operation involving the government, the Chinese embassy, and various mining companies.

The workers, five Zambians and two Chinese nationals were working at the Macrolink copper mine in Ndola city, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, when water and mud entered the mine, which is still under construction. The mine is owned by China Nonferrous Mining Corporation (CNMC), one of the largest investors in Zambia’s mining sector.

The rescue teams are trying to pump out water from the mine, which is about 235 meters (771 feet) deep, and reach the trapped workers, who are believed to be at the shaft bottom. The Chinese embassy in Zambia said it was mobilizing rescue specialists and providing dewatering equipment and other necessary assistance, to complement the efforts of the Zambian authorities.

The Zambian government said it was doing everything possible to save the lives of the workers and ensure their safety. President Hakainde Hichilema, who visited the site on Tuesday, said he was deeply saddened by the incident and urged the rescuers to work with speed and diligence. He also expressed his solidarity with the families of the trapped workers and assured them of the government’s support.

The incident comes barely a month after another mining disaster in Zambia, when landslides buried dozens of informal miners at the Seseli mine in Chingola, about 400 km (250 miles) northwest of the capital, Lusaka. The fate of around 30 miners who went missing in the mudslide remains unknown after emergency services were unable to locate them.

Zambia is among the world’s top copper producers and a significant number of its mines are run by foreigners, especially Chinese companies. China is also Zambia’s largest creditor, holding about a third of its external debt, which amounts to nearly $13 billion. The two countries have a long history of cooperation, dating back to the anti-colonial struggles and the construction of the iconic Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) in the 1970s.

However, the relationship has also faced some challenges, such as labor disputes, environmental concerns, and debt sustainability issues. Last year, Zambia became the first African country to default on its debt during the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking speculation about the role of China in its debt restructuring. President Hichilema, who took office in August after defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu, has vowed to reset Zambia’s relations with China and seek a fair and transparent debt deal.

Despite the difficulties, the two countries have also shown signs of mutual respect and goodwill. In September, President Hichilema visited China and met with President Xi Jinping, who upgraded the bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation”. The two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in key economic sectors, such as mining, agriculture, infrastructure, and energy, and to support each other on issues of common interest.

As the rescue operation continues, the hope is that the seven workers will be found alive and well and that the incident will serve as a wake-up call for improving the safety standards and working conditions in Zambia’s mining industry. The incident also highlights the need for strengthening the cooperation and communication between Zambia and China, as well as other stakeholders, to ensure that the mining sector contributes to the sustainable development and prosperity of both countries.

Source: BBC


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