Seeing firsthand the impacts of a mine

July 16, 2014
by 
Sean Jeffrey, Development and Peace youth member

On Canada Day, we drove to the mining town of Mufilira with Development and Peace’s partner JCTR Kitwe. We shared some of our national pride with our Zambian friends by singing them Oh Canada. The pride that I held onto was challenged many times throughout our very eye-opening visit that day. The site of the copper mine we visited was very similar to the mines that are headquartered back in Canada. The town centre of Mulfilira had a quaint feel and plenty of small town character; a nice change from the busy markets of Lusaka and Kitwe. It appears that the copper production is providing an acceptable level of affluence to the town.

Our drive to the mine and the adjacent community had disturbing contrasts though. The objective of coming to this mine was to see how the community of Kankoyo, which resides just a few hundred metres from the massive operation, is impacted. There were was much that we saw that showed how difficult it is for the community to subsist in the existing conditions created by the mine - conditions that could be greatly improved if the company in charge was willing to adhere to even a minimal level of corporate social responsibility. The first effect of the mine that I observed was the stinging odour of sulphur dioxide coming from unfiltered stacks of sulphuric acid emissions. It immediately filled my nostrils and overwhelmed my mouth with a bitter metal taste. In addition to this very apparent health risk, people in the community told us that crops are unable to grow in surrounding soil, that the well water is completely undrinkable, and that paint will not stay on houses due to the acidity of the air. Many houses had large cracks from the blasting process at the mine and some had already collapsed.

The wonderfully welcoming tone of the loving Zambian people we had met was not as easily felt in some parts of the community. This was especially apparent in the young adults who walked by swearing and yelling threats because so little has changed over the years to improve the living situation. It was in these moments that my pride as a Canadian was challenged. Our nation is the headquarters to almost 70% of international mining operations and our thriving comes at the expense of so many people.

The day did end with a great experience though. We were invited into the house of a local college instructor, who shared with us a traditional Zambian meal - including the staple food nshima, a type of doughy porridge made with cornmeal, and fried caterpillars! It was nice to feel her love and appreciation of our presence after the disturbing and discouraging sights earlier in the day.