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Zambian Minister Sees Gradual Improvement in Country's Struggling Copper Mining Industry

Two economic forecasts this week predicted a dismal future for African economies. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted Africa’s economic growth would be cut in half as a result of the global economic downturn. The head of the African Development Bank warned yesterday that per capita income in Africa will fall this year for the first time in 15 years.

Both assessments said the global economic downturn will mostly affect economies dependent on petrol, minerals and agriculture.

The Zambian economy, which is heavily dependent on copper and cobalt mining, has seen many mine closures and as many as 10 thousand workers who lost their jobs as copper prices have fallen as low as 60 percent on the world market.

Minister of information Ronnie Shikapwasha told VOA that although Zambia has been hit hard, things are gradually improving.

“The economic downturn has left many countries with a very huge financial deficit, especially commodity producing countries such as Zambia. The price of copper dropped more than 60 percent, and it’s very difficult to make up that, and that indeed affects the gross percentage of economic growth. So it will take quite some time to remain on that plateau before the economy will start to pick up again,” he said.

Zambia gets more than half of its gross domestic product from mineral mining. But recently the industry has been hard hit by closures and lay-offs.

Shikapwasha said government is hoping that things will continue to improve.

“Things are improving specifically we are hoping that things will continue to improve. There was a big drop on the production in the mines because a number of mines were teetering on closure. Luanshya Copper Mines closed; a number of such processing plants as the refineries were closed because they didn’t have the materials to come through from the Congo. So yes we were hit quite hard; we were between 12 and 16, 16, 000 jobs were lost, 10,000 for sure. Because of that, we had a situation where many other mines were trying to lay off people. But as government we felt it necessary to engage the mine owners and look at positive future rather than create a difficult imbalanced employment sector,” Shikapwasha said.

He described as a good and positive move the Zambian government’s selection of China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Company to take over the operations of Luanshya Copper Mines which had been shut down but will now reopen on May 30.

“Specifically they came and they bought 85 percent of the ownership of the mine while the Zambian government and a number of other people retained the 15 percent. They have their contract that has been signed. Specifically they are going to re-employ the majority of those that were laid off, and they’re going to re-employ because they intend to put in more money than the previous company. So it’s a good and positive move because they are a stable company. We feel that among the four that were bidding for this mine, they have the best,” Shikapwasha said.

Shikapwasha said the Mine Workers Union of Zambia has welcomed the selection of the Chinese company to run Luanshya Mines although they will have to work out any concerns with the new company.

“The Mine Workers Union, they are on board, specifically everybody really doesn’t have a choice. The need is to get the mines to open; the need is to get the people back to work so that they can earn a living for themselves as well as their families. Of course there are issues as to what sort of conditions were going to offer, but that is really the right and prerogative of the Mine Workers Union themselves to sit down and negotiate. Of course as a government we are interested. We want to see that our people do value for their job and the work that they do,” Shikapwasha said.