Changing Planet

Massive Copper Mine in the Heart of Lower Zambezi National Park Approved

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”
― Aldo LeopoldA Sand County Almanac

If you look on a map of Zambia, about 100km to the east of Lusaka, you’ll see a massive green nondescript block of nothing on the  Zambezi River. 

This patch of 4000-square-kilometres is the Lower Zambezi National Park.

I visited the reserve in early 2012 and was amazed by it’s inaccessibility. There’s a single main road in the reserve that follows the 120-odd km of Zambezi River frontage. Opposite the park, on the other side of the river, sits the famous Mana Pools area, a World Heritage site, together making up an unfenced conservation space of over 6000-square-kilometres. While on the Lower Zambezi, I saw massive breeding herds of elephants, I saw lion, leopard and large herds of buffalo roaming the floodplains. It seemed like paradise.

Elephants crossing the Lower Zambezi River.

You want to mine where? 

Shortly after visiting the park, I received the strangest news. In 2011, an Australian mining company by the name of Zambezi Resources had been granted a 25-year mining license by the Zambian government (MMD) to begin plans for an open cast mine right on the Zambezi escarpment, slap bang in the centre of the reserve. That must be a rumour, I thought. How could the government even consider mining in a National Park, which was then under consideration for World Heritage status?

It turned out to be true. I immediately began researching and learned that Zambezi Resources had submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the local environmental authority while confidently raising capital for the project as if it was about to go ahead. I wrote a story and tried to remain grounded about the whole thing, but still felt myself  growing angry.

The main crux of my argument was simple: You don’t need an environmental impact assessment to inform you that it’s wrong to mine in the middle of a National Park. Other than the obvious ecological negatives, It’s just simply wrong to dig up a legally proclaimed conservation area.

But having already secured government permission to go ahead, it all seemed painfully inevitable: The company was simply ticking the boxes before sending in the equipment.


And then the most amazing thing happened. The Zambia Environmental Management Agency rejected the EIS. ZEMA’s public statement went as follows:

“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.”

Of course, Zambezi Resources did not take long to appeal the decision and went straight back to the Zambian PF government for support. In a twist of painful inevitability, On 17 January 2014, ZEMA’s rejection of the project was overturned by the Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. Now, despite a fully rejected EIS, full permission has been given for an open cast copper mine in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

So what does this mean for ordinary Zambians? Surely there must be some benefit to the people, the land and the country as a whole? Surely, in the end,  that’s what really matters?

The truth is, even if there were major benefits to ordinary Zambians of mining copper in the Lower Zambezi National Park, whats clear is that these benefits are not even close to being realised. Think about it; How many jobs will the project really create for ordinary Zambians? Large-scale open pit mining uses explosives and heavy earthmoving equipment – nothing like as labour intensive as the proponents would like us to believe.

In a recent alarming study of copper mining in Zambia titled: Copper Colonialism, the following was concluded  in reference to the appalling mining practices of Vendata, another international copper mining company currently extracting minerals in various parts of Zambia.

Zambian politicians and newspapers often talk about foreign companies as ‘investors’ in their country, and companies themselves present their presence in Zambia as a benevolent effort to create jobs, even at their own loss. This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Extractive industries come to Zambia to take advantage of low taxes and liberal policies which allow them to ruthlessly loot and exploit the natural resources, leaving behind corruption and environmental and social damage which their minimal tax contributions don’t come close to compensating.

Zambezi Resources may be different… but the truth is: there are very few benefits of mining in the Lower Zambezi National park that will trump the long term environmental, economic (from tourism), spiritual and cultural losses incurred over the next 25 years of large-scale open pit mining on the Zambezi escarpment. It’s as simple as that.

Yes, the mining companies may see the Lower Zambezi National Park as a blank space on the map, ripe for the picking – a ‘new copper province’ in Zambia, as it has been called, feeding a global demand. But we know this is not the real case. It’s a burgeoning tourism paradise with massive long term economic value; a spiritual home-land for thousands of Zambians and a haven for wildlife and biodiversity.

And of global demand? Just in case I’m accused of hypocrisy: yes, I use copper. We all use copper and need it for the cars and gadgets that we buy everyday. But it’s also one of the most easily recycled substances in the world. On top of this, world copper reserves are still huge. In fact it was reported by the Financial Times that  2013 saw an oversupply of copper, pushing the prices way down, dropping by about 11% over the past 12 months. There’s plenty out there without having to dig up a National Park.

Copper fittings. Photo copyright wikimedia commons
Copper fittings. Photo copyright wikimedia commons

Keep talking

Often expensive African projects like Kangaluwi fly under the media radar, too far removed from the western consciousness to make a stink. These projects are often drawn out over many years, waxing and waning in the limelight like the changing moon, often shrouded in bureaucracy, but always creeping towards the pot of gold in the distance.

This latest development is a major step towards that pot of gold, and I believe it’s our job to continually question who or what get’s trampled on the way.

Please keep talking about this, questioning the motives and putting pressure on those involved. Does an Australian company have the right to apply financial muscle in Africa? As a prospecting company, are they simply going to sell off the rights to a Chinese investor once the battle is won? Who takes responsibility for the damage at the end of it all? Where is a summery of the plan to mitigate damage? None of these questions have even been addressed in the thin media statements made by Zambezi Resources.

Africa still has many blank spaces on the map, saved from the claws of heavy industry because of whatever reason. National Parks are one of the few ways to keep them as such; a mechanism put in place to preserve things the way they are now, for the future. How can we justify bending the rules to this extent for the purpose of short-term gain for the few?

Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • Tracey Davies

    Another Australian mining company looting Africa. The investors in this company need to be made aware of what it is doing. As do many more people than will, unfortunately, read this article. Have you considered starting a petition on Avaaz?

  • Gavin

    Are you sure Zambezi Resources is part of Proactive Investors? PI is a media group – and I can’t see any mention of them on ZR’s website as a shareholder. PI is used as a bulletin board for companies to put out announcements.

  • Chris Hamilton

    Having spent time in the lower Zambezi, in fact all of the Zambezi, there are very few places in the world that compare. It is a paradise and one of the last places one can go an experience the “real Africa”. To build an open cast mine in the middle of this is insane. Yes I use the word liberally, they are insane. There are a couple of things mines are famous for and one of them is pollution, without a doubt this will bring pollution into the Zambezi, there is the impact on the animals, increased poaching, being the least. This has to be stopped, it is insane!!!

  • Merlyn Jones

    I would like to thank you for printing this story. I am one of thousands of zambians right now petitioning against this devastating decision. Currently we are over three thousand people hoping to have our petiton heard. We are asking people not only in zambia and africa but all over the world to petition with us and have their say. I am sure this does not only happen in africa. Please like our facebook page titled no mining in lower zambezi national park and help the zambian people with plight. Lets stand together as one.

  • Sofie Graham
  • Jay Jay

    Surely something can be done to STOP this…why is everyone quiet immediately everyone starts talking and voicing their concerns our politicians will panic and rescind its decision.

  • Mary Matthews
  • Nora Blay

    I have been to this park and it is a national treasure for Zambia and the world. Something must be done to stop this atrocity.

  • Paul Kasanda

    The problem we have is that politics influences everythng in africa. We do not need new mines as at now until proper mechanisms are put in place to benefit the locals. Poverty as enslave us all our leaders it is even worse.

  • David Chile

    I own a farm just north of the proposed site. Honestly speaking, this project is much welcome by the locals who see it as a source of employment and hopeful of its spill over economic effect. To us as farmers, we anticipate a ready market for our produce. Our area is not connected to the national electricity grid ever and this project could accelerated the bringing of power. Years have passed and tourism alone has failed to bring tangible development in the area. Currently, only the big rich guys ( mostly foreigners) who ran lodges and and tour companies get real benefits. Infact they are so mean that even the vegetables they feed their clients are mostly imported from South Africa. Yet they are farmers arround the park.

    As of today, a company to put up electricilty cables (possibly to go as far as the mine) through our area is ready on site at Chinyunyu some 60Km east of Lusaka. Trees are being being bulldozed along Great East Road to create way for power lines.

    However, I know the value of Wildlife Conservation and I even led the compaign to petition President Fredrick Chiluba to support the Internatinal Ban of Ivory Trade in January 1992. I did this under North Lungwa Conservation Project which was then ran by Mark and Delia Owens. Before petioning the Kangaluwi Mine Project, it is important to understand in details all factors involved. To be honest, few locals benefit fully from tourism in this or other areas. Frankly speaking, this mine has the capacity to stimulate tourism since the area will be opened to more direct funding, better roads, increased demand of local farm produce, and more visitors( foreign workers). The mine will create job opportunities thus pulling people from poaching.

    Moreover, I once worked in Zambia’a new Lumwana mine and I physically saw how fast a new mine can uplift the lives of the surrounding people. This is ofcourse not to ingore its social impact such as increased crime, prostitution and and sudden rise in commodity prices. In any case, these things happen even where you just develop tourism.

    Finally, I have lived and worked in a National Park ( North Luangwa) for four years, visited Livingstone which is Zambia Tourism capital a number of times and worked on several Zambian mines including the new one at Lumwana, I would not entirely disput the development of Kangaluwi mine. However, a careful plan must be designed and put in place to cushion the impact. It is also imperative that all environmental isues are addressed and well stipulated before the mine can take effect.

  • Andrew Thurlow

    this is not the 1st and wont be the last time Aussie mining companies are trying to mine on the Zambezi. 1st they wanted to haul open coal barges down the lower zambezi, and now this.

    It seems to be because they cannot mine in Aus with any negative impact, so why not rape a pillage africa where the laws are behind and corruption is rife. These aussie mining companies are ruthless and disgusting with no objectives other than pure profit.

    This is an absolute disgrace and im sure many Asussies would be embarrased if they found out about this, I know i would!

  • Paul Steyn

    David Chile, I really appreciate your comment. Would love to hear more on-the-ground thoughts about the economic benefits of Kangaluwi.

    I do wonder exactly how many jobs this will create – I’ve heard the figure of 500 thrown around. Which is not much considering the negatives. And how much fresh produce do you really suspect you will sell to a mine? I also don’t think your comments about the lodge operators are particularly true. These lodges employ only local people from surrounding lands and the jobs are long-term and sustainable, unlike those at a mine.

    You thoughts about infrastructure may be relevant. But again, at what cost?

    Anyway – an interesting perspective so thanks.


  • David Chile

    Hi Paul,
    I am glad to hear from you. I am personally mad about Conservation. From 1993 -1997, I worked for North luangwa Conservtation Project in Mpika and I have lived in areas around national parks. I have also seen poaching at its peak and what human and animal conflict can be.

    Currently, I own and ran a farm on a sustainable basis. I use solar for my lighting, irrigate with gravity powered water with a capacity to run eight ordinary sprinklers and raise animals which provide manure for the bananas and pineapples I grow. In my area, alot of people survive on charcoal burning which is a huge problem. Deforestation is massive. I don’t blame them cause like elephants, they need to survive.
    However, this destruction of trees has led to decline in wild animals and plants that were quite common, bush pigs, monkeys, common duikers, bush babies, eddible mashrooms and fruits etc.
    We are experincing soil degradation and streams are drying faster than they normally did.
    Currently, people have moved to cutting a certain type of the tree we have around. There is a huge market for it in Lusaka. Chinese are buying these logs at about US$60 per metre. Am told these logs are to be exported to China where they would use them to make gun butts and luxury furniture because of its hardness, bright reddish colour and beauty. At the source, the guys cutting down these logs are paid about US$ 6=00 per metre. As usual, huge trucks are coming in the bush and more trees are cut to create “roads”.
    Remember, this is quicker than charcaol burning, rains came late and so people have not planted enough. Last year we had army worms that destroyed alot of young maize and so people have little or no food reserves. It’s a chain of events.

    When you put all the above in perspective, it gives relief to people hearing a mine is coming. People need to survive just like elephants and if nothing proper comes their way, they will send even their wives into prostitution just to put food on the table. Tourism is good, but weighing every situation of each environment is crucial. I always say: only when we understand the diversity of each unit of nature can we strive to conserve.


  • Chaila Matthews Siwakwi

    The only problem we have in Africa ,especially my beloved Zambia is that politicians make decisions only to suit them when in power.As citizens of any country lets learn to make decisions not only to benefit ourselves but the entire country and its generations to come .A wise leader is one that plants trees on whose shades he or she will never sit in.Zambia wake up,do not be a sleeping GIANT .

  • Evan

    CRY FOR MY BELOVED COUNTRY! I feel for my children’s children. Every time this thought comes through, am shedding tears. Feel powerless!

  • Mayumbelo

    Conservation seems to be championed more by non-state actors (NGOs, private sector mainly foreigners or white Zambians, individual environmentalists and researchers) than the state itself. In fact the state (government in power) is almost always against nature conservation which it sees as a hindrance to development (short-term gains I suppose). And no real environmental sensitization or awareness goes around in most of the conservation areas with rich biodiversity. So the locals tend to listen more to the state (politicians) than otherwise. They are promised (cheated) ‘sweet things’ which even them (politicians) don’t care if they are fulfilled or not. The politics of poverty have really taken their toll on the country such that most people can’t even plan beyond one day! I fear for future mankind in this country unless a miracle happens – we need leaders who can truly champion the cause of conservation in this country. Precedent was set when the steel factory was allowed to go ahead by the state (MMD & the late president) despite the Environmental Agency advising against the project in Kafue District.

  • Evan

    This is purely monetary motivated. Someone not Zambia is gaining from killing our wildlife. I now understand why long long time Kings used to wipe out the entire family of people who were making wrong decisions which impacted on all the citizens. Too Hash but am dead disappointed.

  • Just Me

    Supervision of the mining industry in Zambia leaves much to be desired. There is no provision for land rehabilitation after the life of a mine. One good example is an open cast mine that was mined briefly by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) near Chililabombwe. The place is an eye sore. KCM is around and nobody is forcing them to make good. What more after they have left. I hate to imagine such damage in a National Park.

  • Calisto Ribeiro

    This is a shame and disgrace to our continent! It seems that all African governments have their minds and eyes closed in a way that they only think of money as the only wealth and not the future of the lives that our rich nature offers. The bad impact of this will affect other people and Mozambique with its single largest Zambezi River with huge range of biodiversity is at risk. We Mozambican people are very sad!!!!

  • Miller Chibomba

    Everything with our strength has to be done to stop this, one can never put value on nature. One of the best places one can ever visit.

  • Eneya Maseko

    The project is illegal and fitting with the scam of about 100 years of mining that has nothing Zambia nothing to show for at 50 years of so-called independence.

  • David Ngwenyama

    A group of activists were this morning arrested by the police over a peaceful protest to stop the Lower Zambezi NP mine. The group was protesting a meeting by COMESA-Western Australia mining investors with top government officials in Lusaka

  • Nature Girrl

    There is a page on Facebook with activists who are doing their level best to stop this project from going ahead. An injunction was filed in the High Court of Zambia on Friday. We are waiting to hear the results. Six protesters were arrested in Lusaka.
    Everyone sign petitions and spread the word. There is a petition on Avaaz. Someone reported it from being circulated on Facebook. Mary Matthews has posted the link. See above. Below is the link for the protest page on FB.

  • Mike Mascia

    The actions reported here appear to be an example of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD), the legal processes by which national parks and other protected areas are made weaker, smaller, or wholly eliminated. The website monitors PADDD globally. Go to for more info on PADDD in Zambia.

  • Twambo Simanga

    political decision >>> developmental decision is the state of affairs in Zambia..soul sad.

  • Hakuna Matata

    Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Deforestation has many negative effects on the environment. The most dramatic impact is a loss of habitat for millions of species. Seventy percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes. Deforestation also drives climate change. Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts. Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperatures swings that can be harmful to plants and animals. The quickest solution to deforestation would be to simply stop cutting down trees. ( Please Say No! No Mining in Lower Zambezi. Source:

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