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Saturday, January 16, 2021

The secret copper industry

Economy The secret copper industry

Children scavenging a dump site
Children scavenging a dump site

By Son Mumbi

I realize that by not giving context of what our copper industry looks like today most of you must be imagining that our copper industry comprises only the big mining multi-nationals. I imagine that some of you flying home may have seen the very positive images of the booming copper industry in your in-flight magazine. Well that is not the entire copper industry. There is a parallel market that I only hinted at in the earlier article. I will describe it from the perspective of a braver, some may say less ethical colleague of mine. My colleague who I shall call, Mwaiche was approached by a number of foreign businesspersons looking to invest in copper but at low cost. Their interest in particular was in recovering copper and other minerals from the copper dumpsites left by ZCCM.

Mwaiche lives in a neighbourhood located near such a dump and one where people in the neighbourhood had already been collecting copper by-product for various uses such as paving the increasingly potholed township roads. What he set out do, without formally registering his business (because of course he knew he would be excavating from dump sites he had no legal title to) was too informally recruit what is now a workforce of 300 to 500 people.

The arrangement was that this workforce (normally young persons because they are less likely to be prosecuted if caught on prohibited territory) would individually excavate the equivalent of 10 tonnes of copper ‘waste’ product per week. This product would be transported at the back of taxis (evading police checks) to his holding house where he would have it arranged to be transported to mini-smelters where it would be melted and reduced to an impure metal mass. When I asked a colleague who owned these mini-smelters, I was told that I should look to those that drove the most expensive military style cars on the Copperbelt.

Mwaiche’s business has been successful and has funded entrepreneurial s

pin offs in transport, property and trade. On the Copperbelt, Mwaiche is lauded as a Robin Hood figure who by appropriating the copper dumps has distributed wealth better than the multi-national companies have.

What Mwaiche was pragmatically aware of was that the cost of doing formal business in Zambia is very high. One has to factor in time lost in lengthy bureaucratic processes, dealing with officials constantly waiting for kickbacks and high taxes. In addition, he was also aware that the most effective way of doing business is along kinship ties (fictious or otherwise), so rather than formally employing a whole lot of strangers, people are recruited along personal networks, very much like highly organised gangs.

Mwaiche has been one of the few local success stories of the copper boom. If he curbs his propensity for expensive cars and women and diversifies into low-tech, ecologically sustainable business, he will still be a success in the long term. Other colleagues who made a short term success through the mine supply business might not be so lucky and may already be feeling the pinch. The reduced investment and cost cutting measures of the mines, means that most are not making the 300% profit margins there were previously and are actually now making losses. Most did not save when their businesses boomed; and we know as Zambians that our propensity for lavish lifestyles and live for today is our undoing. For the masses, the majority who suffered ZCCM retrenchments  (with no guarantee of benefits), they will likely retreat to subsistence agriculture; a difficult prospect with the high value on land. However, if my friend Mwaiche used the capital he has gained from the copper to diversify into sustainable business ventures appropriate for our context; and employing our increasingly low skilled populace, we might still have some hope.

As we face the unfortunately harsh realities of the times, what are We as Zambians going to do?


  1. bambi kwati they get paid for blogging!! Always aiming at being #1. Enda usebenze, ndimwe mubweza ziko kumbuyo. number 1 kwisa?!!.. same signature, dont get it twisted.. :d

  2. #5

    If you cant beat e’m join them! so goes the saying! dear you just have to join in the fun.

    Abena Rashid na ba Moze, can i get a nod!!!

  3. Ba Rashid, you beat me to that chap called Pa Nsaka. Anyway, Pa Nsaka, ifwe twalibomba mudala. We all cant be employees, unfortunately. sorry.

  4. thats called nzimbi nzimbi pa cb! its actually been going on 4 alonger time than what most people think.
    as of late, it has developed into the small enterprenuers vanturing into the mines to steal the actuall purified bars of copper( 70%-80%).
    if we remember well, they have a surge in the number of people shot on site, while stealin en actually cops been killed! though it does distribute the weath, it creates anarchy……the likes of YOUNG and his cronies r the example.

  5. When is this guy, Son Mumbi going to accept that even in times of bust life goes on but in a different mode. We built homes, bought cars and married nice ladies and now that the time has come we shall move on and carry on waiting for another boom should we still be alive. As for those who will perish, so be it and if anything it will mean the next boom a new crop of robinhoods will thrive and we go on. Its kind of altenating current. RB had gone bust and retreated to the farm now its boom for him. Magande and Maureen are now bust and some day it will be boom for them. For some of us, this is not the last boom going bust we have seen ba Mumbi.

  6. human nature + zambian mentality – you make a bit of cash – you will be all over – nice cars + women – there is a lot of poverty in kitwe its not even funny – people used to fly all over the world – yes indeed good exposure – but wait – what about tomorrow – reality bites – welcome – you thought older people were not good planners – think again do not live for today or moment – think about your future – big lesson indeed Kitwe has a history of big spenders – remember:
    1. Ba Kagem
    2. ba Footballer
    3. ba Supplier
    at no point did anyone learn from the other – ala nipa calo – kulya ucenjele.

  7. Son Mumbi

    Dude something else is going to come along. Before the so called copper boom there was other activity. Remember the Kagem days? This aint the end of CB and ZED. Better times are coming.

    U asking as if it’s the only boom you’ve experienced. Uli caice te? Uli chaiche te?

  8. Looking at the postings above i can tell that majority are PF.
    Either all PFs are Kaponyas or kaponyas have brainwashed all PFs.

  9. there are peeps on the CB who can afford to top up with talk time for 300 pin.. per day!! not out of spite but i would love to see whats going to happen to them now! live for today forget about milo attitude is dangerous 😕

  10. Mwaiche is better of. Its better than a robbery. Except he was not thinking of the tomorrow. Life in old age shows how much one invested in his youth. The old men / women we see wallowing in poverty today didnt prepare for their tomorrow during their youth. MARK MY WORD. Its actually a lesson to us the youths.

  11. The Article reads in touch with Kitwe and Chingola in my opinion, However the Notion that to register a company in Zambia one has to go through lengthy bureaucratic processes is highly outdated. Things Have changed, it only takes about a week to register a company and its not even expensive ‘less than 200pin’. However i have seen people taking months simply because they keep on submitting company names that are already in use.

  12. I’m just coming back from the USA.I happened to be in the same class with many other nationals.One of my close buddys was from Chile.I was very emmotional when i learnt that the same companies running our copper industries have huge shares in the Chilean copper industry.Chile totally depends on copper for their economy and they have managed to turn it into a viable national asset wher all the investors dance to the governments conditions.

  13. #34 c’tinued- The government returns 51% shares in all thier national minerals.Investors return 90% of their profits and take a look at how quick the Chilean economy has grown.
    Politics is not about complicated reasonnig no.Its about knowing what to do,where,when ,how and why! Believe me you we have very educated Zambians who are aware of what we need to do to turn around the vice.They have elected to keep quite because they are not interested in fighting for the future but thier pockets.why ,why,why and for how long.

  14. # 32 I think the Bureaucracy Son Mumbi is talking about is not registering a company, you are right it takes less days to incorporate or register a company but the aftermath. Mwaiche would have literally shifted to Lusaka chasing up a mining licence, getting an investment licence, getting registered for VAT, TPIN, PAYE, Tax Clearance etc etc. Now back to his home town Mwaiche would have to dance to the tune of the local council with a Manufactures Licence. Business Permits, Health Permit, Fire Cerificate, his workers would have to go to for medics etc etc . The Bureaucracy in Zambia is outdated hence people engaging in illegal businesses and the Govt at the end loses out.

  15. You dont need to be intelligent to tell someone is PF.
    Where do you find it difficult yourself.
    Dont pretend you dont have capacity to tell such a simple thing.
    For example from your insultative spirit I can tell what slogan you chant on daily basis.

  16. 8-x What else do you expect to do if you work hard and chance favors you? No matter what you do; there’s an aspect of at least wanting to enjoy yourself. Why should you be working if you have money? A well fed slave or a hungry free man? Enjoy your money Mwaice whilst you live. Impiya tashifula; elyo tashi chepa. Tomorrow never comes so mind what you plan for your future. Live one day at a time and you will be happy each day you face! Too careful never does it!>:)

  17. This Youngson chap people are talking about iknow him well. He was just a young boy growing up in wusakile when his father retired and dicided to go back to his home country Malawi. His brother Philimone and pavuma as well as himself remained. Therefore take your children with you when you retire they may end up becoming thieves.

  18. as you are complaigning your friends are getting rich.
    marrying beautiful women and buying nice cars and houses.

    their children will get very good education and end up in influential position while your children will be of low calibre.

    everyone is stealing one way or another. cope fellas.

    admin what profanities don’t you allow?

  19. # 5 pa nsaka: It seems the commentary policy of Lusaka Times that welcomes and encourages commentary and debate has been thrown out of the window by seemingly shallow and arrogant bloggers. The sad part is that cyberspace being what it is, we (Zambians) are collectively being exposed as a bunch of time-wasters who sit in front of PCs just waiting for an opportunity to be number one. This is a whole sick culture that we have now introduced. I hope Lusaka Times will take steps to stem it before responsible advertisers start jumping the fence instead of being connected to such. If you can’t win them, join them? My foot. . . let’s grow up, for goodness and Zambia’s sake.

  20. Zambia is a worst country for any start up. It too expensive to register and incorporate a Business,The line at the Incorporating office is long please plan to carry your breakfast,lunch and dinner you may have to sleep there for days,After you are registered the nightmare is not over yet you have to go to another grinder getting your Vat number after that the Tax office, After you have done all these Taxes are too high,Not good for Business and not good for the consumers high school drop-outs in the corn fields of Nebraska have more Common sense than the Phd Zambian economists :-w

  21. Time for New Leaders we have tried the old Politicians and they have led us nowhere.The Road to No Where RB,Sata,HH. It is time For Change 2011, elect New leaders from President to Parliament

  22. you must have lived outside for too long.where have we come from?

    # 49 ati father KWANZAA? now it is much quicker to register and it took me 2hours the most,considering i was number six.

    don’t just complain over hearsay.we don’t want to compete with competent chaps like you,we have to make it tough for your kind.your the kind who can’t get their hands dirty.so you sit and study knowing it’s the only way you will survive.

    no wonder educated zambians can’t progress well in politics,too sissy mannered,always running to easier options.other countries where there friends are fighting hard to have a good life.keep on eating off your friends plate.

  23. #51 What I have said were facts based on first hand experience I went to these offices actually it is cheaper for us to do business in Malawi,Mozambique or Tanzania.

  24. Iam always taken aback that bloggers do not want to comment on the story. I get the feeling pipo are here to entertain themselves rather contribute ideas. Day in day out kukambakamba chabe.

    The point here is that when the economy boomed and some pipo made good bucks they unfortunately invested in luxuries, bought all the latest cars and never in other productive areas. When the copper business went down they have gone down. And this is the pbm Zed is facing. You can heep the blame on intelligent RB but you deserve the bigger blame. What have you done for the country yourselves? Those saying youve ored worked. You are lying go and work. LAZINESS thats wat you are…..

  25. Father Kwanza you do not know the reforms that have taken place, its true you ve been out for a long time. One of the easiest thing in zambia is to incorporate a company. You can do it yourself or if not go see a lawyer, because you are lazy. There are over a million registered limited companies at PACRO, simply because the process is so easy.

  26. [-( What is there to condemn others on lavish expenditure of funds from illicit activities? Easy come, easy go! Why would you expect illegal miners to be good at diversifying “economic activities”?

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