To quote former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who spent time in exile in Zambia:
“I am an African…I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers….and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land…”
To paraphrase Mbeki, I am a patriotic Zambian.
I work for a listed global mining company. I am proud to be both a Zambian and a modern miner, and I see no contradiction in that, merely a continuation.
Copper is the foundation of our development. For decades, it has fed Zambians, it has housed Zambians, it has educated, clothed and protected Zambians.
And, at least 600 years before copper was “discovered” in Zambia in 1895 by American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, copper crosses were being used as currency in the great trading civilisations of the 11th and 12th centuries.
Our Zambian Coat of Arms, adopted at independence in 1964, pays a fitting tribute to our industry by prominently featuring a miner’s headgear.
As the world continues to develop and industrialise, it drives demand for copper. So, despite the current downturn, copper has a great future.
Can Zambia be a part of that future? I firmly believe it can.
Last year, we produced 711 000 tonnes of copper – more than three times the level of 15 years ago.
I have a vision that in another 15 years, when my hair is greyer, Zambia’s copper production will have breached 2 million tonnes.
I believe this is achievable.
The copper is there.
Zambia’s mines have enough reserves to last another 50 years. More recent discoveries could take us well into the next century.
The long-term demand is there.
As countries in Asia, Africa and South America develop and industrialise, they will need copper.
But the story of Zambian mining should not only be about copper. We have undeniable evidence that Zambia is capable of producing a wider range of mineral materials if concerted effort is made to address the long term sustainability of the mining sector in Zambia.
And in mining, the long term is everything.
It takes at least a billion dollars to start a new mine, and several years before a return on investment is possible. But when good mining meets a good, stable policy framework, investors will commit their capital. This will result in a reinvigoration of exploration projects, which will then drive discoveries that will promote new and more exciting mining projects.
It is this fusion that we must strive for, if Zambia is to maintain its position as a favoured mining destination.
Yes, last year’s 711 000 tonnes is a record. But if you go back to forecasts made a few years ago, we should by now be closer to 900 000 tonnes.
Yes, our existing reserves are extensive.
But after a century of mining, the ore grades are lower, and the copper is more technically challengeing – and expensive – to access.
Since privatisation, approximately $12 billion has been invested in Zambia’s mines. Kalumbila and the recent modernisation of Mopani are just the latest shining examples.
But more is needed.
The World Bank is forecasting a decline in Zambia’s copper production after 2019, unless there is, quote-unquote, a “new wave of investment”. Given the timescales in mining, we have no time to lose.
All of us here today know that policy instability and friction between Zambia’s Government and mining industry have benefitted no-one in recent years. But, I truly believe those days are past us. Since early last year this Government has shown that it is willing to listen. To those investors here today, I point to the recent decision to lower MRT, in the face of budgetary pressures, as evidence of long-term policy making to safeguard the future health of the country’s pre-eminent industry.
The industry, too, has learnt from recent times. We acknowledge our wider role as a developmental driver for Zambia, and we recognise that we must ‘make our case’ to the people of Zambia.
This week, the Chamber has launched a new website, appropriately titled MiningforZambia.com, to help ordinary people learn all about our industry, its challenges, and its contribution. As a purely educational resource, I believe this is the first industry website of its kind.
So, good progress has undoubtedly been made by all parties in the last 18 months.
However, we all need to acknowledge the further challenges that lie ahead.
We must find the collective means to overcome them, through the symmetry of industry excellence and responsive regulation, if my vision is to come to pass.
Many of those challenges – power, regulation, investment, and so on – will be aired over the next two days, and I thoroughly look forward to being part of this vigourous debate.
For, let us be clear, tomorrow’s mining industry depends on decisions taken today.