When a mining company that is still engaged in the early stages of an exploration venture in Northwestern Province initiates a project to benefit communities in the area where it hopes to do business, this shows real commitment to a long-term relationship in which both corporation and community can co-exist symbiotically. 

This is the message being delivered by diversified miner Anglo American (‘Anglo’), which has opened a COVID-19 testing laboratory in the Northwestern town of Solwezi, close to the company’s mineral exploration activities. The laboratory will benefit an estimated 130,000 people over the next 12 months, with specimens collected from the Zambezi and Chavuma districts and then transported to the Anglo testing lab in Solwezi, greatly improving COVID-19 testing capacity in the region. The miner’s investment will cover the cost of sourcing polymerase chain reaction testing kits, medical consumables and personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel.

Anglo’s mineral prospecting in Zambia has been ongoing in the last few years, but the miner is yet to commence with any new mining operations. In early November, the company entered into an exclusivity agreement with copper explorer Arc Minerals, which has done extensive exploration drilling in Zambia in its study of a near-term copper opportunity. 

FQM Zambia steps up again

First Quantum Minerals (‘FQM Zambia’), well-known in Northwestern Province for its longstanding commitment to social investment in sectors including education, conservation, livelihood creation and sustainable farming has joined hands with Anglo to provide support for the new COVID-19 testing centre, assisting with the lab’s day-to-day running, and working with Anglo to ensure the testing strategy is implemented successfully. The two miners have also partnered with the Mary Begg clinic in Solwezi to provide health expertise.

The opening of Anglo American’s COVID-19 testing laboratory in Solwezi, in partnership with First Quantum Minerals

Supporting Government’s efforts has, in fact, been central to several miners’ COVID-19 prevention initiatives since March this year, among them FQM Zambia, Barrick Lumwana, and Mopani Copper Mines.

Both FQM Zambia and Barrick Lumwana undertook major construction projects to support the Government in expanding capacity for treatment and isolation centres. After schools and colleges were closed nationwide to prevent the spread of infection, Solwezi Nurses Home was designated for renovation as an isolation facility, which FQM Zambia completed in May 2020 at a cost of US$ 85,300.

Supporting Government’s efforts has, in fact, been central to several miners’ COVID-19 prevention initiatives.

Working closely with Kalumbila’s provincial Director of Health, Barrick Lumwana responded to a separate request to construct an isolation centre for COVID-19 patients. Both mining companies invested in stocking the facilities they constructed with the necessary equipment, including oxygen concentrators, refrigerators, beds, along with testing kits, medication and medical consumables such as PPE. 

By June 2020, FQM Zambia had spent over US$ 400,000 (equivalent to approximately K7.3 million at the time) after initially pledging US$ 120,000 towards the fight against COVID-19. Barrick Lumwana’s pledge towards containing COVID-19 totalled US$ 530,000 (equivalent to approximately K9.6 million at the time), with medical supplies and equipment to the value of US$ 340,000 allocated at the national level, US$ 100,000 earmarked for Northwestern province and US$ 90,000 for Kalumbila district. Both miners have provided indispensable support as partners to Government, working closely with the Ministry of Health.

Enter Mopani 

Despite severe financial challenges following COVID-19 which forced Mopani Copper Mines to transition its operations to care-and-maintenance status from April onwards, the Copperbelt-based miner – majority-owned by Glencore, in which FQM also has shares – rolled out several of its own initiatives to curb the spread of the virus, running awareness campaigns about COVID-19 prevention within the communities surrounding its Mufulira and Kitwe operations, implementing a series of workplace interventions, and setting up triage tents to prevent infection within Malcom Watson and Wusakile Mine Hospitals. The miner also took responsibility for modifying rooms in both hospitals to serve as COVID-19 isolation facilities, obtaining certification to meet Ministry of Health requirements. 

Zambia’s Government, in acknowledging its own limitations both in terms of capacity and the financial means to meet the enormous need for COVID-19 testing, treatment and equipment – as well as expertise and manpower to drive countrywide measures to contain the pandemic – has received the far-reaching assistance provided by these mines with gratitude, knowing that, without this level of private sector support from the mining sector, Zambia’s public health response to COVID-19 would have been severely curtailed. 

Northwestern Province Permanent Secretary Willies Manjimela said of Barrick Lumwana’s donation that it would be “treasured by all generations to come.” In expressing his appreciation for FQM Zambia’s contribution, Kalumbila District Commissioner Robinson Kalota said that, even if the Ministry of Health is leading it, the fight against COVID-19 is a responsibility for everyone. “I am very delighted by this gesture [of financial support] as it shows what we can achieve by working together.”

Images: https://www.facebook.com/AngloAmericanZA/

See also: Beyond the headlines