In 2008 I travelled to Mufulira in Zambia for the first time. After 30 years of knowing the name it was good to be there. As MMTA members know, it is the place where the British mined copper from the late 1920s and is synonymous with the red metal. So steeped in copper is the town, that the locals cannot conceive of life without it. I was regularly asked how we mine copper in London and Somerset.
Today, schools in Somerset have been twinning with Mufulira for 20 years and, more recently, the exchange programme has been funded by donations from members at our annual dinner and other events. It is a charitable link that makes sense – a metals industry reaching out to a metal town.
But just to remind MMTA members, let me tell you about our journey from 2008. The town I visited in that year was still blighted by sulphur emissions vented to the atmosphere for as long as the smelter had been in operation. The lives of 300,000 were affected daily. It is the particular feature of sulphur that, if inhaled, the victim feels choked. However irrational, the person feels he is being strangled.
MMTA became part of the advocacy for removal of airborne sulphur and perhaps our representations were taken seriously because we are of the metal trade and not an NGO with a world agenda.
Today, all airborne pollution is gone and that is thanks not to the British, or the Zambians under ZCCM, (neither of whom captured sulphur), but to Glencore.
The purpose of my trip just now in October 2014 was to witness this transformation. From a smelter that emitted sulphur to one that recycles gases from every part of the plant and safely recovers all other deleterious elements. Instead of emissions to the atmosphere the plant produces 2000 metric tons per day of safe industrial sulphuric acid, some of which is used for electrolysis in the refinery.
Perhaps you will gain a better impression via the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos attached to this report.
Photo courtesy of Hilary Forward
Therefore, in summary, I would like to be the first to pay credit to Glencore who spent $500 mln to do this job. As far as I can tell, it is to the highest world standards. At the same time they have been open with me and our groups from Somerset inviting us to see progress on our annual visits and always available to answer questions too.
Apart from the acid plant, Mopani have opened a state-of-the-art training centre for locals to learn skills as fitters, boiler-makers, electricians, mechanics. We have seen new clinics in the community, a cervical smear programme, newly-built roads, the restored football stadium (home to the Mufulira Wanderers) and many more examples all attributable to Glencore’s work in the community.
I heard it said that Mopani is now regarded as the best mining company in the copperbelt and best payer too. That is a reputation well-earned.
The MMTAs linking with the community will not end. We have completed storage tanks at Kamuchanga Hospital and the new laundry is now working. A second stand is serving the Robin’s Nest Orphanage. The previously donated anaesthetic machine is still saving lives and the autoclaves for sterilising surgical instruments are giving good service .
If anyone from the MMTA is travelling in Zambia, please feel free to contact me and see the work that is being done and see for yourself a little part of this story.
Anthony Lipmann, Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd