Collum Coal Mining: Collapsed tunnels destroy Zambian village

On Thursday eve of early in the new year, the inhabitants of Sinazongwe (Zambia) suddenly felt a tremor and heard some distant rumbling. Shortly after, huge cracks opened in the walls of their houses. All 50 residents were forced to flee. People have been forced to relocate to tents and churches, many of them suffering from psychological trauma after the incident. The livelihoods of the families affected are at risk, as they had to leave their property, including livestock, in the ruins of their homes.

The reason for the sudden collapse was weak pillars in the tunnels of a coal mine situated below the houses. Politicians and locals are now demanding compensation for the incident, as the owners of the mine allegedly did not properly assess the impact that the tunnels would have on the surrounding population1. But the owners of the Nkandabwe Collum coal mine do not feel responsible. The manager, Kepson Munthali, merely said that it was “unfortunate” that the people had settled on this particular piece of land2.

Finding the person or organisation responsible is also not that easy a task, because of the troubled history of Zambia’s second largest mine. There were continued struggles between the Zambian government and the mine’s owners and it was known for its poor safety, health and environmental record. In 2010 and 2012, workers’ strikes were brutally beaten down, leading to the death of at least 14 people. In 2013, after repeated safety and environmental issues, all licenses were taken from the company and the mine was seized by the government3.

Despite continued safety issues, the mine was not completely out of service. Smaller mining licenses were granted to ZCCM Investments Holdings, a company of which the government holds 87.6% of shares4. Under their lead, the coal extraction went on while Collum Coal negotiated a new deal with the government.

In order to restore their license, the former owners promised to improve safety measures tremendously. Last year, they invested in necessary renovations of the mine – controlled by the ZCCM. When they gave the go-ahead, the mine was fully reopened5.

That a tunnel collapsed only months after the newly reopened – now “safe” – mine, does not reflect too well on all parties involved. Collum Coal, ZCCM, the Zambian government – everyone dodges the responsibility. It seems likely the villagers will have to keep waiting for compensation.

 

Shareholders of ZCCM according to Morningstar

 


  1. https://www.lusakatimes.com/2016/01/11/nkandabwe-collum-mine-should-compensate-the-displaced-families/, Lusaka Times 11.01.2016, accessed on 10.02.2016 []
  2. https://www.lusakatimes.com/2016/01/11/110487/, Lusaka Times 11.01.2016, accessed on 10.02.2016 []
  3. http://www.mining-technology.com/news/newscontroversial-collum-coal-mine-to-re-open-in-zambia-4557624 , Mining Technology 20.04.2015, accessed on 10.02.2016 []
  4. http://lusakavoice.com/2013/08/06/zccm-ih-to-determine-nkandabwe-mines-viability/ , LusakaVoice 06.08.2013, accessed on 11.02.2016 []
  5. https://www.lusakatimes.com/2015/04/03/collum-coal-mine-given-licence-back-set-to-open/ , Lusaka Times 03.04.2015, accessed on 10.02.2016 []