With fighting in Rhodesia and Zaire spilling over its borders, and its major copper mines losing millions of pounds, Zambia is trying to find a way out of its worst economic crisis since independence.
With fighting in Rhodesia and Zaire spilling over its borders, and its major copper mines losing millions of pounds, Zambia is trying to find a way out of its worst economic crisis since independence. In the past six months, a Western rescue operation has got underway. Some 20 countries and organisations are to meet in Paris from June 27 to 29. They will be looking for a solution to the problem that began when copper prices collapsed in 1974, a crippling blow to a country depending on coper for 95 per cent of its foreign export earnings.
SYNOPSIS: The Chingola open pit mine in Zambia's copper belt. Owned by the giant Nchanga Consolidated Mines, it continues to produce copper, but at a loss. And for this reason, President Kenneth Kaunda has been forced to turn to the international community for help.
The government brought in an austerity budget six months ago, clearing the way for a hefty International Monetary Fund loan in March and further help from Britain and the United States. But, the problem continues to be found in copper mines like Chililabombwe, very close to the border with Zaire. Mining is an expensive, even more expensive as more than 400,00 cubic metres of water is pumped out every day. Chililabombwe suffers the unhappy reputation of being the world's wettest underground copper mine.
The 4,000 whites employed in the copper industry are regarded as a crucial element. The slump has resulted in the Zambian government appealing to them not to panic and leave their jobs. In this case, if the Europeans did go home, much of the technical expertise needed to pump water two thousand feet to the surface would be lost. This water, in fact, is now quite clean and can be used for agricultural irrigation.
From Chililabombwe and Chingola, the copper is taken to the refinery at Kitwe and turned into ingots. Four years ago, this copper would have fetched 1500 pounds (2,800 U.S. dollars) a ton. That's more than double its price today. With the collapse of copper's value, Zambia found that other areas, especially agriculture, had been unexploited. Many of the white farmers in the country at independence have left and the number of Zambians turning to commercial farming is rising only slowly.
Zambia is confronted by a depression. and by fighting in neighbouring Rhodesia and, more recently, Zaire. For President Kaunda, that means juggling with two major problems, while at the same time, considering the prospect of a General Election expected sometime in the early autumn.