The Kabwe Mine
Zambia is a land-locked country located in central-southern Africa, south of the Democratic Republic of Congo and north of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. To the west of the country lies Angola with Malawi bordering the east (see map).
The country has an approximate population of 10 million of which 85% is rural. Zambia is a low income country with an annual GDP per capita less than US$ 400. Approximately 58% of the population are classified as living in extreme poverty. It is substantially dependent on subsistence agriculture and the economy is dominated by the mineral industry with more than 80% of its income earned in exports, which represents approximately 15% of national GDP.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s Zambia was regarded as the largest copper producer in the developing world and the third largest globally. During a period stretching from 1904 to 1994 it was Southern Africa’s principal lead-zinc producer, principally from the Kabwe Zinc and Lead Mine.
Kabwe Mine Context
Kabwe (formerly known as Broken Hill) is located 130 km north of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. It is the principal urban settlement, trading and retailing centre of Zambia’s Central Province with a population of approximately 180,000. It lies at the strategic intersection of the Great North Road linking the Copperbelt in the north with Lusaka in the south.
The Kabwe Mine site occupies approximately 3 km² and is situated south of Kabwe town and east of the great North Road. The mine’s high density townships of Chowa and Kasanda are located to the north-east and north-west of the mining area respectively.
The Kabwe Mine was discovered during 1902 and commenced operations in 1904, reaching full-scale production in 1906. It officially closed down on 3 June 1994 due to its operations becoming uneconomic at that time. The site was placed under care and maintenance by the national mining company The Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).
For 88 years of continuous operation until final closure in 1995, Kabwe was regarded as one of the famous mines in Africa and held a key position of national economic importance. During its life time the mine produced the following:
- Zinc (Zn) 1,800,000t
- Lead (Pb) 800,000t
- Vanadium Oxide (V2O) 7,816t
- Silver (Ag) 80,000kg
- Cadmium (Cd) 235,000kg
Over the years the complex expanded to include open cast and underground workings, mineral processing, smelting and refining facilities. By 1994, the Pb-Zn massive sulphide ore was exhausted but it was estimated that there was still between 1.1Mt and 1.6 Mt of Pb/Zn-rich silicate ore in situ. Importantly, the above-ground Dumps of mineral-rich tailings, slag and waste left onsite during the mining years are still in place.
Since mine closure, the local economy has declined rapidly with only modest diversification being developed. At the mine site area, currently only small scale mining and waste processing activities are being carried out. A large project conducted by the World Bank and the Nordic Development Fund commenced in 2005 for the environmental rehabilitation of the Kabwe Mine area and is still ongoing (see The Environment).
On closure of the operations in 1994, much of the site area and plant infrastructure was sold in discrete lots to private investors, with the overall responsibility for decommissioning and rehabilitation of the sites retained by ZCCM. In recent years, the ownership of the Kabwe complex has been rationalised with two principal owners of the resources who are insulated against past rehabilitation claims.
Recently the Kabwe deposits have presented renewed interest due to rising resource prices, advances in ore processing technology and the economic potential, not only of the zinc and lead mineralisation but also due to the presence of Gallium (Ga), Germanium (Ge), Indium (In) and rare earths (Lanthenide, Scandium and Yttrium) as trace elements which could have a major application in modern highly advanced technologies.
Infrastructure and Accessibility
The local infrastructure in Zambia is good, with transport facilities, electricity and modern social amenities readily available.
Access to the project is generally excellent, with a network of tarred roads maintained on regular basis. During the rainy season which peaks in January access could be restricted to areas with good roads. There are two international airports at Lusaka and Ndola which are easily accessible by multiple daily commercial flights from neighbouring countries.
Running across the Kabwe Mine site itself are railway sidings connecting to the main international East Africa railway with direct connections to Lusaka, South Africa and Indian Ocean ports.
Power is supplied directly to the mine from a dedicated hydroelectric 16MW power station independent of the national grid.
Past activities at the Kabwe Mine have left widespread pollution of the local area, including waterways. ZCCM have accepted full responsibility for past pollution and the need to rehabilitate the area. The environmental considerations are reviewed here.
BMR is insulated from any claims or actions arising from the past and is only responsible for ensuring that its own operations are conducted so as to avoid any further pollution in accordance with current Regulations.