The CEO of Glencore’s Mopani copper mine in Kitwe, Johan Jansen, uses football to explain where the company is in the worldwide league of costs.

“Like a sports team, Mopani is near the bottom of the league, and needs to improve its ranking to avoid relegation or closure,” he says.

As one of the oldest mines in the world, Mopani has already produced a lot of copper, which has caused a decline in its existing reserves. The mine now has to dig deeper underground to find more copper. This increases its production costs, and Mopani is considered a high cost copper mine by world standards.

With parent company Glencore’s commitment and financial support, Jansen wants to turn Mopani into a world-class mining company by 2023.

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Sketching the broad outline of the programme, he says: “We have to achieve operational excellence. We must manage our ore body better and improve efficiency. We must improve safety and reduce accidents. To secure our future, we have to double our copper output over the next five years and nearly halve our costs by using better technology and increasing skilled manpower.”

These are bold objectives, and call for root-and-branch change across every single area of operation – in head office, on the ground and underground. Mopani has assembled a top-level strategic team of specialists in key aspects of mining in order to turn vision into reality.

“Mopani aims to be a world-class mining company by 2023”

Practically, how will the company achieve the staggering gains in productivity required to reach its objectives?

Through new infrastructure (three new shafts), new equipment and new machinery; increased mechanization and automation; and improved systems, processes and workflow.

All of this will not be possible without highly skilled workers, and Mopani has built a $20 million training centre where workers have access to some of the best teaching methods and equipment in the world. This includes state-of-the-art simulators, in which future miners are trained, much like airline pilots are, to handle real-world challenges and emergencies in a safe environment.

To ensure staff buy-in, a comprehensive strategic communication programme has been undertaken using a variety of different media, including industrial theatre.

“We can’t do this unless we take everyone along with us,” says Jansen. “In Zambia, there’s an old Bemba saying, Umuchinshi wanseba kwimina pamo, which roughly translated means that birds that fly together as a flock are stronger.”

Glencore has already invested almost $3 billion in Mopani since privatisation in 2000. The current modernisation programme will take the total investment to nearly $4 billion.