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In October 2004, then-Australian listed company Anvil Mining told its shareholders back home that it had been forced to temporarily close a mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It insisted the closure had been carried out “efficiently and without incident”. A brief description for what was – in reality  – a horrifying ordeal for many.

After a small band of rebels congregated outside the mine, the company had taken the precaution of evacuating its workers from the site. But it also supplied trucks, planes and provisions to the Congolese military, who proceeded to indiscriminately shell civilians, carry out summary executions and torture of civilians, according to the Human Rights Law Centre, leaving more than 70 dead.

The alleged involvement of Anvil’s equipment in the 2004 massacre has been the target of multiple investigations, including one by the Australian Federal Police in 2005. It was also the subject of an ABC Four Corners investigation in which its CEO, Bill Turner, admitted the company assisted the Congolese military with transportation but denied this made it complicit in the atrocities. This was his exchange with Four Corners reporter Sally Neighbour:

Bill Turner: “We were not part of this. This was a military action conducted by the legitimate army of the legitimate government of the country. We helped the military get to Kilwa, and then we were gone. Whatever they did there, that’s an internal issue, it’s got nothing to do with Anvil. It’s an internal government issue. How they handle that is up to them. No involvement of us, absolutely.”

Reporter: “Well, except that they used your vehicles to move their troops in…”

Bill Turner: “So what? So what?”

Turner is now a director of the Australia-Africa Minerals and Energy Group (AAMEG), the lobby group representing Australian miners in Africa, a group he helped set up. AAMEG declined to respond to questions about Turner’s role at the group. Inq also contacted Turner who was unavailable.

In 2017 the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to re-open an investigation into the Kilwa massacre.

Keren Adams of the HRLC says the case highlights the risk for companies operating in conflict zones. “When a mining company opens up an operation in a country at the tail end of very prolonged and bloody war, it is quite foreseeable that these types of things will happen.”

“Mining in particular is where we have a significant footprint and I don’t think we take responsibility for that.”

School teacher Stanley Katoba at a mining protest in Solwezi. (Image: supplied)

The Northwestern province of Zambia nestles between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Until 2002, its gently undulating landscape, streaked with southerly flowing rivers, was largely considered backward and unimportant by the rest of the country. Its sparse population was largely engaged in subsistence farming, cut off by the remote location and civil wars in neighbouring countries. Poverty was rife, education levels were low.

Then, at the turn of the century, China’s intense demand for copper sent the price skyrocketing, and foreign companies arrived to exploit the copper fields that dotted the province. “Suddenly, dirty great trucks start barreling into town, carrying water pipes and power poles,” explained Margaret O’Callaghan, who worked for the UN in the Northwestern province for the early years of the mining boom and has since written extensively about its impact. “And then the trucks would return from the site carrying men in their overalls and hardhats, woohooing after a hard day’s work. And I thought, ‘Wow. What a change is coming’.”

Three major sites of extraction in the area were all owned by companies that are either Australian or have strong Australian connections: mines at Kalumbila and Kansanshi are owned by First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian company run from an office in Perth by an intensely private Zimbabwean called Philip Pascall. Lumwana was started by the Australian company Equinox, and was sold to Canadian company Barrick Gold in 2011. To this day, there is still an Australian presence in the area, with Argonauts Minerals set up aside Barrick at Lumwana West.

Mining protest in Solwezi, Zambia. (Image: supplied)

In the years following the companies’ arrival, O’Callaghan saw inequality skyrocket. Solwezi, the region’s capital, swelled from a population of around 70,000 to roughly 250,000 in the space of a decade. But the jobs created by the boom rarely went to locals. “The education available in the region was pathetic, so they didn’t have the beginnings of the background required to do work on a mine site,” O’Callaghan said.

Brenda Tambatamba worked for Equinox as a sustainability manager from 2007 until it was bought by Barrick Gold in 2011. During her time at Equinox, and later Barrick, she consulted with the chieftaincies affected by the mine. She told Inq there “were many many challenges,” particularly around employment of the locals.

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“Over time, the jobs started to dwindle — when you’re in the construction phase, there are lots and lots of jobs and once the operations stabilises, those jobs aren’t just there. And at the same time you see a lot of local kids finishing high school or their diploma, running back to Lumwana to try to get a job of the kind they’ve seen people getting for the last 4 or 5 years, but the jobs aren’t there,” she said. “That’s when you see more harsh responses from the local community towards the operation, a bit more resentment. Because now there are more professional level jobs and less unskilled jobs available. And the feeling is that you are preferring outside workers to local workers, so you really had to heighten your consultation with local communities.”

In turn, health, education and other government services were gutted when civil servants were tempted away by monumental pay rises available to even menial workers on mine sites. The influx of well paid mine workers created a two-tiered economy the locals could not keep up with.

At the same time, classroom ratios blew out, as locals desperately tried to prepare their children for possible future mining work. Often there would be only one school near any mine. Stanley Katoba, an English teacher in Kalumbila told us his classroom ratios were now over 100 students per teacher.

Overcrowded classroom in Kalumbila. (Image: supplied)

Indeed, O’Callaghan says there is little evidence that the royalties raised from the copper fields was commensurately spent on the swiftly growing population of the Northwest, despite its desperate need for services.

Tambatamba is now the member for Kasempa in Zambia’s National Assembly. By coincidence, the day Inq speaks to her, she is working on legislation to regulate the division of mining royalties between local and main governments. “I don’t know how much you know about our part of the world, but governments can very easily sit out and leave it to somebody else to take on their responsibility. So it’s very easy for government, for politicians like myself to say ‘oh yes yes yes; you need a school? Well the mine should really do something about that given they’re taking our resources’.”

Tambatamba is proud of much of the work she did with Equinox, and speaks warmly of her Australian colleagues — “I must say, I think Equinox did a pretty good job of corporate social responsibility” — but she told Inq there were huge expectations of the transformative effect the mine would have on local communities.

“My grandparents had worked in exploration camps in Lumwana back in the 1960s. It had been promised for a long time, so people were very excited at the prospect of the mine. This was a very very rural community, with very very poor infrastructure. They placed their expectations on the mine — government was far removed but the mine [was] there, and immediate.”

Asked whether, on balance, mining has been good or bad for the Northwest province, Tambatamba laughed. “Well, we know there are a lot of environmental negatives by the very nature of mining, and of course migration, people coming in from all over the country and all over the world. It has an impact on people’s culture … and they’re never the same.”

At the same time, she said, there have been undoubted benefits — the mine has led to a “zeal for education” as people sought to improve their employability, and that royalties from the mine paid for improved health services (“things that never came from government”). “The people of Lumwana,” she concluded, “gave away as much as they took”.

Peter Fray

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