Explosives factory re-opens in Zambia

In the aftermath of the accident, the Chinese government had paid US$500,000 in compensation to the bereaved families of victims of the blasts (equivalent to ZMK47, 831,633-or US$100,000 each family). The victims have since been buried near the scene of the accident.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a message of condolence to his counterpart President Levy Mwanawasa shortly after the incident, expressed sympathy to the government and people of Zambia over the tragedy.

Despite concerns from various critics for the lack of safety adherence by the mine management at the US$7.6 million joint venture, owned by China’s Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (BGRIMM) and Non Ferrous Company (NFC), the Zambian government has approved the reconstruction and resumption of production of explosives.

President Mwanawasa appealed earlier this month to the Chinese investors to adhere to safety measures in conjunction with the mine’s safety department: “The government has given the go ahead to rebuild the BGRIMM explosives plant with enhanced safety standards in compliance with the mining safety department who will enforce these standards,” he said after commissioning NFC-run Leach and Acid plants at the same mine. He attributed the delay in reopening of the explosive manufacturing firm to wide consultations among players on the future of the firm, although this had not been announced publicly.

The factory went into operation in October 2003 and has the capacity to produce 6,000 tons of explosives a year, which it supplies mainly to mining companies particularly on the copperbelt.

Spokesperson for the families, Immanuel Kasongo, had lauded the Chinese government’s honouring of the pledge, claiming the gesture had overwhelmed all members of the bereaved families.

The National Union of Miners and Allied Workers said although the labour movement was happy at the planned reopening of the firm and the economic gains, it was saddened that no report had been released to establish the cause of the tragedy.

“It’s disappointing to note that the government has decided to re-build the factory without releasing the report compiled by a technical committee about the incident in December 2005 outlining recommendations.

“At least people of Chambishi should have been provided with the details of the report as they are critical stakeholders,” said union General Secretary Albert Mando.

According to his ruling in the BGRIMM disaster inquest Coroner Kambanja said last year that he was convinced that safety rules and regulations at the factory were not followed as stated by witnesses during the inquest. Kambanja said witnesses had testified that most of the casual workers at the plant were not inducted but were merely picked from the production gate.

Kambanja agreed with findings of an expert that the presence of soil and ammonium nitrate on the sole of the boots recovered from the explosion site, suggested that standard operating procedures pertaining to employee movement and safety was not enforced.

“Overall the non-compliance of standard procedure at the factory cannot be ruled out as one of the mitigating factors to the explosion.

It is alleged that management provided average salaries of US$100 for the highest paid and US$50 for the lowly paid casual workers per month. Many of the workers complained at the poor working conditions and lack of safety wear, a move that has angered the union.

Chinese and Indian investors have moved in over the past years to buy major stakes in the mines.

September 2006
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