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Bold statements are not rare among us when it comes to issues that relate to foreign direct investments in our countries in Africa. Our African Leaders seem to care less of what would become of their people in the aftermath of making rush decisions. It is a sheer selfishness when our people are subjected to deplorable living conditions when it comes to Extraction of Natural Resources in our midst. Zambia is yet to make another big mistake of not taking the concerns of the people at heart when striking deals on Uranium Mining. Dennison Mines is Canadian and African Energy Resources is Australian, are there not Uranium Fields in these countries? Has anyone in the government tried to follow up what happens in these countries with regards to Uranium countries so that informed decisions are made? Copper mining has evidenced big failure since privatisation era and we are watching now…
Rushing to Destruction
LATE last week the Zambian Minister for Mines, Maxwel Mwale was assertive of the imminent opening of the operations of the African Energy Resources, a company which ‘intends’ to carry out Uranium mining in the Southern province – Siavonga.
It is a good thing that the Zambian government through the Ministry of Mines is focused on seeing that Uranium mining activities takes off as soon as possible. But in the face of this readiness on the part of the government; a moment of reflection need to be taken lest the government and the Ministry overseeing mining activities rush into destruction.
The government needs to take a moment to reflect on how ready the local communities are to have Uranium mining among them; tight in the midst of the communities. ‘In March the people who are supposed to be relocated will be relocated and the mining activities will take off-ground!’ so the minister was quoted on the media.
Uranium exploration activities is said to have “begun in 1980s.” “We have had a number of companies from Italy, America and other countries in the west since 1980s coming here with claims that they are carrying out exploration activities,” said a senior member of community.
In the foregoing, it was evident from the local community members that these ‘explorers’ “carried out their drilling activities, packed the product in boxes tightly packaged and were shipped out of the country. We know that you do not need a huge amount of Uranium to make final products from it and these people have been coming here and carrying out Uranium out of the country to meet their desired end. How long should exploration take to ensure that there is enough deposits of Uranium?”
Are Local Communities Ready?
I do not know whether it was a matter of coincidence or just a mere fact that the Minister was in the region and our team was also in the same area where he made his bold statement!
Talking to the traditional leaders in the three Chiefdoms, it was evident that the government of the day; even though in “a hurry to see these investors go ahead with uranium mining activities, we are still in the dark with what mining of this kind is all about. We have not been told the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of Uranium mining,” the chiefs and the headmen unanimously said at different times.
Speaking to the leadership in Sikoongo Chiefdom, it emerged that the investor in their midst – the African Energy Resources have given the community members conflicting information.
“We have been confused with the turn of issues because the company that came to us first is not the company which is now here. At first it was Albidon which came to us and now it is African Energy Resources. But even in their coming – African Energy Resources, we are not sure what exactly is being done. All we know is that they have prospecting licence but now they are talking about mining. Is it not the case that they should change their licence first?” queried one of the concerned community members.
Another concern which was raised by the local community members in Sikoongo Chiefdom was that of information that was passed to them by a lady they called Pamela and her team from African Energy Resource.
“At first, when Pamela and the team from African Resource Energy came here; they told us a little about Uranium and the dangers that come with it but later on when we started asking more questions about the impacts the story was changed and we were told that it is not all that dangerous and the company will be monitoring all activities closely,” said a retired teacher.
Lack of Awareness on Uranium Mining
The community members in Sikoongo, Simamba and Sinadambwe Chiefdoms raised their concerns on lack of awareness creation on what impacts come with Uranium mining in their communities. “We are completely in the dark and the government does not seem to care much about educating our people. We have heard of what this kind of mining can do to a community and we have also been told of Heroshima and all the effects that came with the bombing. Even though this is not a bombing but it is the same mineral we hear was used to make that dangerous bomb.”
At this juncture it should be remembered that the Simamba Chiefdome will not be directly face the impacts of the Uranium mining but certainly people from this chiefdom will go to the Sikoongo and Sinadambwe’s chiefdoms where the mining activities for Uranium will take place, hence they also need to have sensitisation programmes conducted.
The Namibian Experience
Two Chiefs from the Sinadambwe and Simamba Chiefdoms were accorded a trip to Namibia to see how Uranium is mined and processed but also to have round table discussions with the top management team at Dennison Mines offices in Namibia.
From their experiences their Royal Highnesses, Sinadambwe and Simamba said that, “The mining activities are literally in the desert and not close to the people.” This is a sharp contrast with what is happening among the Southerners in Zambia’s second tourist destination.
On our talks with the local leaders at the Chiefdom levels, we were informed that the relocation plans which are being discussed “…only talks about people from 6 villages in the Sinadambwe Chiefdom being relocated only 5 kilometres away from the central Uranium mining activity area.”
Concerns on the Zambezi Water Basin
While the government of Zambia and the ministry given the responsibility to oversee the mining sector are in a hurry to see production of Uranium taking place – are there any measures taken to mitigate the impacts that would visit the local communities and the regional impacts if one mistake occurs?
We know of the cutting cost mechanism which mining companies have used all over the world with regards to disposal of over-burden materials; otherwise known as wastes. The areas where Uranium mining activities implementation is proposed to take place in Zambia are mainly in the valleys and or in the water steams. The main concern in this line is to do with the allegations that Dennison Mines at one point wanted “to push overburden materials from one of their operational sites which is on a hill to a valley under them. This valley carries water from upstream to the Kariba Lake. Siavonga is supposedly the second tourist destination in Zambia; now, my only question is will this fact be the same once contamination cases starts to shoot up? Which Tourist will come here? How about the trans-boundary impacts which will be faced by neighbouring countries who share the Zambezi water basin when such impunity has started even before the full operation starts?”
Claims of Low Quality Products
The statement by the Minister of Mines on Friday the 22, January 2010 was preceded by reports from the company that the Uranium which is going to be mined in the Southern part of Zambia is of low quality, “Not strong enough!” But the most surprising thing is that they ( the investors are still pushing on to open the mine in March and or shortly after the reallocation of the villagers.
This is another story that has been echoed for ages by the investors in mining Industry to make decision makers think that it is worth disposing of the mineral at a throw away price and disregard all the impacts in order not to lose the investor who is readily at hand.This is technically called ‘brainwashing.’ if it is true that the Uranium in Siavonga is “weak” then the best thing to do on the part of the investor is to let it lay in the ground without starting a process which will eventually end up leaving the communities in ill health for generations to come.
Fresh Look into Uranium Mining in Zambia
With the emergence of such statements the government of Zambia should be advised to look into this matter afresh. The investor in this case wants the government to be on the beggar’s footing and beg them to stay and give them whatever little they can offer.
Unless the government officials want to enrich themselves, they will not go back to the drawing board but t if they (the government) has the interest of her people at heart, they certainly will take this simple advise and call all the parties to the drawing board and make decisions where no one will be blamed to be a killer of the people.
Zambia should not be on the begging side of the table but an equal who should walk tall and proud of having the mineral which is needed by the investor.