Nchanga Copper Mine, Zambia

Zambia is Africa’s largest producer of copper and is the 8th largest copper producer worldwide[1]. The Nchanga Copper Mine, is located in the copperbelt region of Zambia near the town of Chingola. The rural residents of Chingola have experienced a disproportionate level of costs from the Nchanga Copper mine with little access to the wealth created by the mine. Marginalized as citizens of Zambia, as well as by being poor and rural, those living near the Nchanga Copper Mine are victims of environmental injustice.

Smelter plant at the Nchanga copper mine (Waldo Swiegers 2016)

Nchanga Mine Contexts

Energy Contexts

Copper is an essential material for the energy industry, especially the electricity industry. Copper mediates how people consume energy. The generation of electricity and its transport is largely reliant on the use of copper[2]. As an important site of copper production in Zambia, the Nchanga Copper Mine is a participant in this energy system influenced by and economic and political decisions on international scales.

Political and Economic Context

From its independence in 1964, Zambia’s economy has been deeply intertwined with the fortune of the mining sector. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, copper mining accounted for more than 80% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, over 50% of government revenue and at least 20% of total formal sector employment [3].

Copper prices are highly variable. Zambia’s reliance on a natural resource like copper made it prone to ‘Dutch disease[4]. Copper prices dropped in the 1970’s and with a pattern seen in other countries dependent on natural resources (Netherlands Oil 1960s, Oil boom in Nigeria and other post-colonial African states in the 1990s) its economy tumbled.

Economic crisis begot political and institutional changes in Zambia [5]. As a political, economic, and cultural force mining maintained a privileged position. Beginning in the 1990’s Zambian mines were privatized and sold, leading to the transnational company ownership seen today [6].


Miner walking through Nchanga copper mine (Waldo Swiegers 2016)


Environmental Injustices

Winners: Vedanta Resources

Wealth Generation

The Nchanga Copper Mine is owned by the Konkola Copper Mines Company (KCM) which is held by natural resource giant Vedanta Resources[7]. KCM is one of the most productive and successful mining enterprises in Zambia[8].

// Copper Mine Performance[9]

Losers: The Local Community


Copper production has generated great wealth for Vedanta Resources and KCM. But the wealth and benefits generated from copper mining have not been distributed to local residents. 34.3% of residents near the Nchanga Copper Mine live in poverty and 18.3% of the population is considered extremely poor[10].

The wealth of the copper mines clearly does not translate into increased revenue and development potential for either the Zambian state or the local community [11].//

Vedanta Resources Salary[12] [13]


The Kafue River is an important source of water for the communities around the Nchanga Mine. The Nchanga Copper Mine was identified as one of the most significant contributors to pollution in the Kafue River[14]Studies have shown that there are elevated levels of sulfuric acid and other toxic chemicals in the river[16]. The result of the pollution in the river has led to an environmental and health crisis in surrounding areas. Residents have reported becoming ill from drinking and using the polluted waters.

// Statement[15]


‘Farmer Langsu Mumbelunga in his polluted field near the Mushishima stream, Zambia’ (John Vidal 2015)

Analysis [How Did This Happen?]

  1. Dependence on Copper
  2. Colonial History
  3. Creation of Local Vulnerabilities

1.Dependence on Copper (Why Use Copper?)

The copper from the Nchanga mine is primarily used to produce electrical wiring, essential for the electrical industry[17]. It seems almost inevitable that a place with high-grade copper would become a site for a mine. But why do we use copper? Why is copper so essential for the energy industry, why not another mineral?

While copper seems like the inevitable choice for wiring today, other minerals are more efficient and other minerals are cheaper though less efficient[18]. Copper’s adoption as the main component of electrical wiring has to do with its favorable conductivity, but also the social, cultural, economic, and political factors separate from its material reality. The concept of technological momentum implies that copper has become ingrained in technology but also culture and society making it hard to see other possible choices for electricity systems [19].

It’s too simple to say that if copper were not used for wiring there would be no environmental justice issues in the community of Chingola. However, the technological momentum has helped create and to sustain the environmental injustices occurring near the Nchanga mine.

2. Colonial History (Why Zambia for Copper Mining?)

Historical political and economic processes, such as colonialism and resource extraction in Zambia, established economic, political, and most importantly cultural legacies cementing mining as the backbone of Zambia. A systematic unevenness of economic and social development occurred as Zambian material wealth was turned into infrastructure and social wealth for the English [20].

By the time of Zambia’s independence in 1964, an established culture of extractive space was entrenched throughout the country. Mining infrastructure and extraction existed physically within the country as well as the cultural branding that the source of wealth in Zambia was its resources (copper), contributing to the current reliance on mining and production of environmental injustices.

3. Creation of Local Vulnerabilities

The privatization of the copper mines, including the Nchanga copper mine, was a vulnerability multiplier for rural households. The state owned mining company ZCCM in the past had provided almost everything that held society together in the copperbelt and Chingola: jobs, healthcare, schools, housing, and other social services [21]. When the mines were privatized and eventually sold, the responsibility for these social services fell upon a country with high corruption and poor policy effectiveness[22].

The push from national political and economic pressure as well as international pressure from organizations like the WorldBank and the IMF to liberalize the economy wiped out the safety net for the residents of Chingola. The residents of Chingola have been left with a degraded environment, no social safety net, and an environmental injustice.


The Nchanga Copper Mine produces copper not because it is necessarily the best place to do so but because of a historical association of the country as a source of material wealth and the political and economic decisions of the Zambian government. Similar to the aspects of copper production at Nchanga Copper Mine, the environmental justice issue of contaminated water for rural populations is not a given reality of the mine or the mining process itself.

When analyzed geographically the vulnerabilities of the rural population and the creation of environmental injustice are produced by the sociotechnical adoption of copper for energy systems and the political economical decisions of Zambia and transnational companies.



[1] Zambia Development Agency. (n.d.). Mining Sector. Retrieved on March 29, 2016, from

[2] Copper Development Association Inc. (n.d.). Copper Wire Systems. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from

[3] Simutanyi, N. (2008). Copper Mining in Zambia The developmental legacy of privatisation (Publication No. 165). Brooklyn Square, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies. Retrieved on March 28, 2016, from

[4] Ebrahimzadeh, C. (2012, March 28). Finance & Development. Retrieved April 21, 2016, from

[5] Chileshe, M. (2015). Economic shocks, poverty and household food insecurity in urban Zambia: An ethnographic account of Chingola (Unpublished master’s thesis). Thesis / Dissertation ETD: 63.

[6] Chileshe (2015).

[7] Konkola Copper Mines Plc (n.d.). Company Overview Konkola Copper Mines Plc. Retrieved onMarch 4, 2016 from overview/#sthash.pH7VWM5T.dpuf.

[8] Vedanta. (2015).Vedanta Annual Report and Accounts 2014. Retrieved on April 21, 2016 from

[9] Vedanta. (2015).

[10] United Nations Development Programme. (2013). Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Provincial Profile Copperbelt Province (Rep.). Retrieved March 3, 2016 from

[11] Dymond, A. (2007). Undermining development? Copper mining in Zambia.London: Action for Southern Africa: 1-28. Retrieved on March from…/Undermining%20development%20report.pdf

[12] Dymond (2007).

[13] Vedanta Resources Salary. (2016, March 22). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from

[14] Lindahl, J. (2014). Environmental impacts of mining in Zambia. Towards better environmental management and sustainable exploitation of mineral resources. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from

[15] Vidal, J. (2015). Zambian villagers take mining giant Vedanta to court in UK over toxic leaks. The Guardian. Retrieved March 03, 2016, from

[16] Lindahl, J. (2014). Environmental impacts of mining in Zambia. Towards better environmental management and sustainable exploitation of mineral resources. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from

[17] Konkola Copper Mines Plc (n.d.)

[18] Edison Tech Center. (n.d.). Wires. Retrieved on March 01, 2016, from

[19] Nye, D.E. (2001). Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies. The MIT Press: ‘Cambridge, MA.

[20] Kabemba, C. (2014, March 2). Undermining Africa’s wealth. Retrieved from

[21] Chileshe (2015).

[22] Thurlow, J., and Wobst, P. (n.d.). The Road to Pro-Poor Growth in Zambia: Past Lessons and Future Challenges [Rep]. In International Food Policy Research Institute. Retrieved on March 28, 2016 from    1115051237044/oppgzambia11.pdf.




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