In June 2021 the Zambian government has given the green light to the proposal for an open pit copper mine – the Kangaluwi project - in the heart of the Lower Zambezi National Park. The project could set an important precedent for the future development of its mining sector; that of mining activity within protected areas . The proposed mine is the first in Zambia which involves a foreign-owned company, Zambezi Resources Limited, to develop a large-scale mining project inside Zambias national park. In 2003, the Australia-based company Zambezi Resources Ltd was granted an exploration licence of 240sqkm in the Lower Zambezi National Park and established a subsidiary company, Mwembeshi Resources Ltd registered in Bermuda.
Already in 2010, 17 chieftains of the surrounding region signed an agreement to oppose all mining in the Lower Zambezi National Park . However, in 2011 the company was granted a 25-year mining licence and began to prospect for copper. In March 2012, Mwembeshi Resources Limited submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which was rejected by the Zambian Wildlife Agency in September 2012. The authorities claim that “the proposed site is not suitable for the nature of the project because it is located in the middle of a national park and thus intends to compromise the ecological value of the park as well as the ecosystem” . According to the 1998 Zambian Wildlife Act, mining is allowed within National Parks, and protected areas in general, if an Environmental Impact Assessment is undertaken .
In January 2014, the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection overturned the decision of the Zambian Envrionmental Management Authority (ZEMA) and granted full permission for the Kangaluwi copper mine. The same year, a Dr. Kelly Leigh published an extensive report which analyses the EIS put forward by the company together with likely economic, and biodiversity impacts as well as impacts on local communities and consolidates available information on the projects . The key findings are the following: first, it laments a flawed documentation by Zambezi Resources Limited process, with dubious Environmental Impact Statement data, and neglection of community and stakeholder concerns. Second, modelling figures suggest the project is not economically viable and that the EIS failed to assess the full scope and risks of economic impacts, temporally and spatially beyond the mine’s life span . For example, the EIS fails to acknowledge the negative impacts on the tourism industry in the park and the loss of foreign aid investment or to take into account costs and impacts of building new roads inside the park. Third, it does not acknowledge long-term risk of damage to ecological and hydrological connectivity of the area. Lastly, it highlights through the company’s track record a questionable management capacity and commitment to any form of Corporate Social Responsibility .
The minister’s decision to allow mining in the Lower Zambezi prompted a legal case put forward in February 2014 by David Dgwenya and representatives of 5 different Zambian environmental and conservation NGOs. They appealed to Zambia’s High Court to reverse the minister’s decision. The court granted a temporary injunction to halt the mine as long as the court case is pending . Between 2015 and 2019 the court case stagnated and after the death of the presiding judge, a new judge was appointed, tasked with clearing backlogged cases . Under the newly appointed judge, the case was dismissed because of the appellants' failure to file a Record of Appeal. Thus, the case was closed on October 17th, 2019, over a legal technicality, rather than considering the full environmental impacts of the mine . In 2021, the same coalition led by David Ngwenyama and 5 NGOs attempted to overturn the High Court ruling through the Court of Appeals. However, the court of appeals upheld the High Court’s ruling, effectively ending all legal remedies for the case .
Another important development was brought by the Mines and Mineral Development Minister Patrick Musukwa on the 5th of January 2020. Despite gaining green light on the mining project through the High Court judgement, Patrick Musukwa claimed before the Parliament that the mining license was invalid. In his parliamentary statement, he claimed that according to the Environmental Management Act a mining company is required to commence implementation of a project within three years from the date of approval . As Mwembeshi Resources Limited had failed to do so, the license had effectively expired in February 2017. This would have meant for the company to conduct a new environmental and social impact assessment and re-apply for mining rights. However, Zambia’s Environmental Management Authority granted an extension of the Decision Letter and thus the EIS, granting an extension to the companies mining rights without requiring a new environmental impact assessment.
Besides the legal mobilization against the mine, the projects proposal together with the deeply flawed Environmental Impact Statement has led to response and resistance of various civil-society actors, politicians, and local as well as international NGOs. For example, both Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda, and former President Rupiah Banda openly expressed their opposition to the Kangaluwi copper mine and the damage it would do to the tourism industry and the country’s natural heritage . Similarly, a youth organization called IMPI organized marches, petitions and held conferences to attract public attention to the court ruling of 2019. NGOs and community-based organizations involved in opposing the mine include Zambia’s Climate Change Network, Chalimbana River Head Waters Conservation Trust, and the Green Living Movement. A prominent role was played by Zambia’s Community Based Natural Resource Management Forum which in 2014 issued a press statement on behalf of over 100 environmental organizations in Zambia calling the approval of the copper mine a “national tragedy” . Additionally, social media platforms were used to raise awareness and a petition, which by November 2021 had gained 35,000 signatures, addressed the incumbent president and pleaded for a suspension of the project . Additionally, OXFAM Australia and Action provided support or whereas WWF and Conservation International raised the issue to international fora through public awareness campaigns .
The Project has also considerable relevance to downstream riparian countries of the Zambezi River namely Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kangaluwi mine’s location poses a significant threat to the integrity of the Mana Pools, a World Heritage Site 25 km downstream on the Zambezi River . The EIS fails to propose serious mitigation of toxic substances flowing into the Mana Pools. However, considering that the area is prone to earthquakes additional safety provisions to the tailing’s storage facilities are necessary. Estimates claim that toxic spilling would threaten the lives of 20,000 people who mainly rely on the riparian system for subsistence . Furthermore, an open-pit copper mine would invariably threaten the tourist economy in the region which employs 1,000 people in the area. It remains to be seen whether alternative legal remedies to stop the mine can be found, whether public campaigning will exert enough pressure on Zambia’s national politics or whether a new environmental and social impact assessment will be necessary to continue with the project.