Zambian villagers ‘hindering development’ by resisting Canadian mining company?

Recently a horrible drowning took place in the town of Kalumbila in the Solwezi District of Zambia, the area that Zambians now call ’the new Copperbelt‘. A woman had been fishing at the dam. According to the local Chief, guard dogs were used by the mining company to chase the woman away from the dam which was now in the control of the company (Interview, 5 Dec 2013). Frightened of the dogs, the village woman fled into the river and drowned. The dam was constructed by Kalumbila minerals and the agreement with the community members and the chief was that once the dam is constructed it can be used by the local community members.

This account was relayed by the Chief who is the traditional leader for this North Western region of Zambia. The mining company he referred to was First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian company that has been investing in copper on the Chief’s customary land  for the last few years.

The company/The Trident Project

The investor has an interest in converting the acquired customary land to statutory land, governed and regulated by the government. The project in this area is called the Trident Project and encompasses three areas of mining — Sentinel, Kalumbila and Kansanshi. Prospecting began in 2008 and First Quantum became the key investor soon after. First Quantum Minerals is represented locally by a white South African intermediary, Resettlement Manager Garth Lappeman, a Zambian  Community Liaison Officer Alex Napapayi, and an Australian manager.


The new investment has witnessed a breakdown of communication between the company and village representatives in the Kalumbila area. Different stakeholders had participated in these discussions in the early stages of the investment, including provincial government representatives, the Zambia Development Agency and the Zambia Environmental Agency (ZEMA). At this point in the discussions, the investors did not have any title-deeds over the land but they started working anyway. The mine requested 750 km2. The Chief and the ‘“royal establishment‘ – as the villagers refer to the customary powers – resisted and reduced this request to 518 km2 (51,800 ha).

As soon as they got surface rights, the company started working even though rights to the land were vested with the Chief and the community. The villagers formed the Musele Task Force in order to act as a liaison group between the community and the mine, as the investment became contested locally. But the villagers complained that these investors did not communicate with the elected Task Force (Focus Group, 5 Dec 2013). Others attended meetings held by the investors themselves to see what was expected of them. In 2011, worse was to come for the villagers as the mine applied for an expansion of the allotted area and chose a place where they wanted to build a dam (Kisola and Kasombo). ZEMA came in 2013 to inspect the issues surrounding Chingola Dam. They were not happy with their findings, and ZEMA instructed the company to stop with dam construction. There were a number of agencies involved with these constructions.

Community responses

There was concern that the community would have no say over this land once the investors came, and that the resettlement action plan would bring great insecurity to them. The investors have been dealing with government directly thereby overlooking the role of the royal establishment in their deliberations. As the company and the mine was already there, there was no way of blocking it, so all they could do was ask from the mines the things they needed — roads, clean water and boreholes, schools, agricultural inputs, and a hospital.

We are left out. Our lives are in danger. Here we are eating three times a day. Those who have lost their land, they eat once a day, and some they don’t eat. This is not fair. (Focus Group, Kalumbila, 5 December 2013).

When interviewed by the Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA) in June (18 respondents), villagers said that they felt too big a portion of land had been given to Trident in relation to what local law allowed.

The chairman of the Task Force complained that the Chief had since been left out; the mine was just ’doing their own thing‘ and the Chief was not happy with this situation (Focus Group, Kalumbila, 6 December 2013).  The Chief himself was also very negative in his statements about the company. He complained that he was no longer consulted about any developments, after being approached at the start of the project. He said he had no knowledge of their plans at any point, except that the company was encroaching on land used for livelihood by his community members in his chiefdom.

They are chasing people away from the dam where they fish; from the forest where they get mushrooms. The mine people said the river will be free to the people but they are chasing people away and using police dogs. This is land where people get their relish.  … They are cheats! Land for homes and land for fields belongs to the Chief in as far as he holds the land for the villagers. But this land was for the community because it was an inheritance from the ancestors. Others (villagers) may come here and ask for a piece to use it. There was doubt that it is our land, but the Chief has the final say over this land (op. cit.).

The anger of the community was palpable in the meeting with the researchers and they seemed desperate and uncertain about the way forward. They were keen to present their issues to government and the investors and willing to make an effort towards dialogue, but there was no response forthcoming from government. The community had generated a Grievance Form. The villagers had contracted a local lawyer to represent their grievances.


Villagers contend that the government has been corrupted and that the mine had power over their government. The Chief wrote letters and even met with the Deputy President. The investment was halted and interested parties were given 45 days to respond and make submissions in February 2013. The Task Force made their submission, but the Minister of Mining went to the mines and said that the villagers were ‘hindering development‘.

The government is in the mine day and night but nothing is happening. The Chief went to see the Deputy President, then went to President Sata. He [Sata] said, ‘give me one week!’ Since then, nothing! Now the community is fed up. We are fed up and we are planning to react. We are calling our ancestors. (Focus Group, Kalumbila, 5 December 2013).

The mine had full operations during these 45 days when it was agreed that operations would be halted. Villagers say that government is on the side of investors because, even when there has been dialogue and terms and conditions have been agreed on, government allows work to proceed before these recommendations are accepted. As the community they have submitted several reports to relevant government departments, but these are swept away while they (the villagers) will be left in poverty.


An area has been identified for relocation of the community: Shinegene. A new road that cuts through the Chiefdom is planned. The Chief was dissatisfied as he wanted people resettled on customary land. Resettlement plans and the dispossession of the community from customary land is disrupting the power and influence of the Chief as well.

In interviews conducted by ZLA (June 2013), an elaborate resettlement scheme was laid out by the company for its resettlement plan. Of the 566 affected households, each was to be given a designated area for farming. Fifteen kilometres would be reserved for road construction, an area for a primary school, six churches, 3ha for leisure and culture, a central market place and a place for waste. Sixteen hand-pumps would be supplied for water sources and 5ha for cemeteries in five different areas, as well as a designated area for corporate social responsibility projects.

Villagers in Kalumbila   (Focus Group, Kalumbila, 4 Dec 2013) contested this claim. There were no proper agreements and no security on how their livelihoods were to be sustained. They did not receive news about title-deeds for the resettled communities. They too wanted the areas of resettlement to be customary land. In that way, their future generations were ensured of land for their subsistence. So far, 800 households have been resettled according to the Focus Group. Most of these villagers came from Wanyimwa. They have heard that, when people die, there are no graveyards. People are just taken back to their old living places, so they were very distrustful of the resettlement plans.

Mama, if you go there, you will cry. Here I have a house with 4 rooms. They have 2 rooms. How can I go there with 10 children? Here we are going to have a war, like the Congo. All our wealth, all our riches are going out. (Focus Group, Kalumbila, 5 Dec 2013).

Local representatives of ZLA continue to try to assist the villagers in their efforts at resisting their dispossession, even though the government has charged them with ‘hindering development’. This struggle is ongoing.


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