Anthony Mukutuma has had a successful and varied mining career around the world with First Quantum Minerals (FQM) where, as General Manager of Kansanshi, he’s now overseeing the mine’s exciting new pit and smelter expansion, known as S3, due for completion in mid-2025.
Here, Mr Mukutuma shares his fascinating story with Mining For Zambia. It’s one of hard work and perseverance, open-mindedness, a willingness to leave his comfort zone time and time again – and a few twists of fate, too.
How did you get into the mining industry?
I was born in Kabwe, which was a thriving mining town at the time. I used to see these big trucks passing by – trucks that mined the earth, making rock into useful metals – and it was quite enlightening for me as a child. After school, I planned to study mining engineering. But by the time I finished my A-levels, I decided that chemical engineering would give me a broader perspective of mining.
Where did you get your degree?
I studied chemical engineering at the University of Birmingham in the UK. I was on a scholarship with Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) which, at the time, offered 30 scholarships every year to students from secondary schools across Zambia. We studied A-levels at Mpelembe School, their school in Kitwe, and then got the opportunity to choose a university course – as long as it was mining related.
I chose the University of Birmingham because it’s one of the top universities for chemical engineering. You had to get at least two ‘As’ in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry to get in. It was a full scholarship, with boarding, and pocket money, and school fees. That’s how I ended up in Birmingham.
What was it like to move to the UK alone?
When I landed in Heathrow at 18, I had never left Zambia. I went out through the gates to find my way – and we didn’t have mobile phones of course. All I had was a few British pounds and a piece of paper with instructions to catch a train to Euston, and another train from there to Birmingham. But as a young man, I didn’t really feel phased – it was more like an adventure.
We had to stay at university for at least two years before we could get an air ticket back home. This was the early 90s, so communication with home was mainly through letters. We did occasionally speak on the phone but international calls were really expensive, so you spoke quickly! Those were very different times.
“We had to stay at university for at least two years before we could get an air ticket back home. This was the early 90s, so communication with home was mainly through letters. We did occasionally speak on the phone but international calls were really expensive, so you spoke quickly!”
After two years, I came back home to see my parents, before returning to finish my third year. Two years is a lot for a young man! When I came back, everything looked different. Everybody had grown.
A warm welcome in the UK
Did you make any good friends during your time there?
I made all sorts of friends – some Brits and some Zambians. The one thing that I still remember very clearly – and which set up the way I see the world – was being approached by an old couple while I was on a train one day. They were Scots from Glasgow who were in London for a fashion show, and they asked what a young man like me was doing here, all alone. I explained, and they said something like, “Oh my gosh, you shouldn’t be all on your own. We can adopt you!”
This was back in 1992, and very soon I was a regular visitor to their home in Glasgow. I became like the last born in the family. I spent all my uni holidays there and during term-time we spoke on the phone almost every evening.
The last time I saw them before they passed away was in about 2006, and seeing me all grown up with a wife and two kids blew them away. I got a lot out of that relationship. It was like having a dad and a mom in the country. It just goes to show you how much capacity humanity has to give.
What was your first break, after finishing university?
My scholarship bonded me to ZCCM for two years so, when I finished university, I started working at ZCCM’s mine in Chililabombwe. When Anglo American bought the mine in Chililabombwe, I stayed on. But Anglo had this system of assessing employees and identifying some as “high fliers”, whose development they wanted to fast-track. I was swapped out to go to Anglo American Research Laboratories in Joburg, South Africa, to work on a pilot plant with a number of very intelligent people.
It was a step up, career-wise. But, more than being a step up, for me it was about being in an environment where I could learn from highly experienced people who were doing so many different things.
Once Anglo had pulled out of Zambia around a year and a half later, everybody went back to their original country. I came back to Zambia, but instead of going to Chililabombwe, I went to Chingola to the tailings leach plant.
The journey at FQM begins
Soon, I had accepted a job offer from a UK-based chemical manufacturing company. My family was all packed up to move to the UK when one of their customers had a problem with a chemical at the Bwana Mkubwa Mine, a small operation in Ndola. That customer was First Quantum.
The company didn’t have any Zambia-based engineers to assist, so they sent me. As I was leaving the site in Ndola that evening, the General Manager called me back and said, “Would you like to work with us?” I explained that I’d accepted a job in the UK, but the chemical manufacturing company and I agreed that I’d spend a few months helping FQM to commission an expansion they were doing. “We should be up and running in three months’ time,” said the General Manager. “Then you can be on your merry way.”
Long story short, I didn’t leave. After three months, I decided it was quite interesting working there. I loved it. So I stayed.
What was it about the company culture that appealed to you?
At the other companies where I’d worked, you didn’t have much autonomy. There was quite a bit of red tape, and you had to do a lot of work to convince people when changes needed to be made. Joining FQM felt like joining a company of entrepreneurs. If you’re convinced there’s a better way to do something, do it. You don’t need to beg, or try to get the funding approved by seven people before you do it.
“Joining FQM felt like joining a company of entrepreneurs. If you’re convinced there’s a better way to do something, do it. You don’t need to beg, or try to get the funding approved by seven people before you do it.”
Is that still FQM’s ethos today?
Yes, that’s an ethos that remains, and the people who’ve worked for the company for a long time will tell you the same. In fact, it’s this ethos that drives a lot of the people who work with us, and retains them: that entrepreneurial mindset of being free to express yourself and your talent, knowing that if you try something in the workplace and it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would, you learn from it, and carry on.
‘The Land Down Under’
What came next?
After working as a senior metallurgist and then plant manager at Bwana Mkubwa Mine for five years, I left at the end of 2007 to take up a job as a technical manager working in Australia out of the Perth office, doing designs for the various process plants that we were working on: the development of Kansanshi, another completely new mine called Frontier Mine in the DRC, and an operation we had acquired in Mauritania.
After a few years at it, I decided I didn’t really want to do design and technical work. I was more operational and I like working with people, so I transferred to become a plant manager for a greenfield project in Finland that we had acquired – a copper-nickel mine.
The Arctic Circle and beyond
What was it like living in Finland?
It was different… The mine is in the Arctic Circle, in a place with a very small population, right up north in a town called Sodankylä. Employees lived in houses in the town, so we were sort of mixed into the community, and we drove 40 kilometres to the mine every morning. I commissioned the mine and then became plant manager, and stayed for four and a half years.
After working in Australia and then Finland, was it time to return to Zambia?
Not yet. A General Manager (GM) role opened up at a copper-gold mine – Mauritanian Copper Mines in North Africa – and, because I’d spent time there doing design work and getting to know the place, I was offered the job. My wife and I decided to base ourselves in England so it would be easier for me to get in and out of Mauritania. I worked six weeks on and two weeks off. It’s in the desert so it’s quite a harsh place to live, but I spent about four years there as GM of the site.
At the end of 2018, I went to Ravensthorpe Nickel Mine (RNO) mine in Australia to assess the state of the operation – and the nickel market – and work out what it would cost to restart it. By the beginning of 2020, the plant was running again.
Then, in March 2020, COVID hit, and we were sitting in Australia watching footage from Italy thinking, “This is going to end in tears.”
I flew to the UK to check on my family. The last thing I wanted was to be so far away and in such a different time zone during a pandemic. While I was in the UK, I got a call from Rudi Badenhorst (FQM’s director of operations) who said that Kansanshi’s GM at the time – who was from Australia – was also worried about being so far away from home. So Rudi said, “Look, he’s here in Zambia but wants to go back to Australia. Would you like a role here?”
It made a lot of sense! So the two of us traded places, and I came to Solwezi in June of 2020. After living all over and being on the trot for almost 12 years, my wife and I were happy to be back in Zambia. And it turned out to be exactly the right decision.
In Part 2 of this interview, Mr Mukutuma tells us about the progress with S3, what having an expanded pit and increased smelter capacity will do for Zambia’s economy, and which of Kansanshi’s many community projects he’s most proud of.
Look out for it later this week on our website, our social media platforms, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a message the minute it’s published.
See also: Safety is a year-round commitment