In March, a Chinese company invested $37 million to revive a dormant nickel mine in Zambia [AP]
Zambian police have questioned two Chinese managers over the shooting and wounding on Friday of 11 miners revolting over pay and conditions.
Authorities on Saturday said they were still investigating whether people associated with the Chinese owners of Collum Mine, about 325km south of Lusaka, may have opened fire on the protesting miners.
“Managers using shotguns started to shoot aimlessly, not in the air,” Ndandula Siamana, police spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
“It’s possible that the managers feared that they might be attacked, but we shall ensure that the culprits are brought to book.”
Before Friday’s incident in the southern town of Sinazongwe, workers had complained often about poor working conditions at the mine.
A Chinese embassy spokesman confirmed to Reuters on Saturday there had been tension between the Chinese owners of the mine and local employees but refused to comment further.
“The police have opened a case record and are now awaiting the advice of the director of public prosecutions on whether to proceed with the case,” Oliver Pelete, the Sinazongwe district commissioner, told Reuters.
Two of the miners with serious bullet wounds were transferred to a hospital in Lusaka for surgery, and the other nine were reportedly out of danger.
“The situation at the mine is calm and production should resume by tomorrow because the management agreed to address the concerns of the miners,” Pelete said.
But according to the Lusaka Times website, local residents were blocking the road to the mine on Friday, preventing vehicles from going in or out.
Copper is Zambia’s top export earner, with Chinese firms already involved in several mining projects.
Collum Mine Ltd supplies coal to mines in Zambia’s mineral-rich Copperbelt area and to the country’s largest cement producer, a unit of France’s Lafarge.
The incident threatens relations between workers and Chinese employers in the mining industry and other sectors.
Chinese investment in Zambia is on the rise, with several Chinese firms having snapped up mines in the southern African country.
Rupiah Banda, Zambia’s president, urged investors on Thursday to ensure worker safety and avoid mining accidents similar to the one in Chile.
Banda made the remarks at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Konkola North Copper Mine, a joint venture project between Brazil’s Vale and African Rainbow Mining (ARM) from South Africa.
He also said that Zambia, Africa’s top producer of copper, aims to have mining contribute 20 per cent of GDP by 2015 – double the current contribution.
Foreign mining companies in Zambia include London-listed Vedanta Resources, Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, and Equinox Minerals of Switzerland.