By Business Reporter
Twenty-five years ago this month, the company that would grow to become Zambia’s largest copper miner – First Quantum Minerals (FQM) – was born.
It was during the privatisation era of the 1990s that the FQM CEO and Chairman Philip Pascall and local businessman Lamaswala Kwalela came up with the idea to set up a mine, after the duo’s initial plan to venture into agriculture and animal ranching failed to come to fruition.
From humble beginnings processing the tailing dumps of copper ore at Bwana Mkubwa in Ndola, the company has now grown into a global metals and mining company producing mainly copper, gold and zinc from operations in Zambia, Spain, Mauritania, Australia, Finland, Turkey, Panama, Argentina and Peru.
FQM operates two mines in Zambia: Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi, of which ZCCM-IH owns a 20 percent stake, and Sentinel Mine at Kalumbila about 150km north-west of Solwezi.
Both mines mainly produce copper and are in North-Western Province.
Since its inception, First Quantum Minerals has created over 19,000 jobs in Zambia and injected over US$7.5 billion into the local economy.
“Through our skills development and knowledge transfer programmes, we have discovered, and nurtured local talent thereby contributing to the development of skilled labour in Zambia’s mining sector,” said FQM’s Country Manager General Kingsley Chinkuli.
“This has enabled us to successfully run complex operations at both our mines using some of the world’s largest and technically advanced machinery.”
Kansanshi employs more than 9,500 people, primarily Zambians, and uses state-of-the-art processing technology with world-class efficiency to extract copper from three different ore types, with world-class efficiency.
In 2010 First Quantum Minerals bought the mining concession in Kalumbila. Construction on the new mine – Sentinel – started in 2012 and would go on for another four years.
Sentinel Mine represents an investment of more than US$2.1 billion – Zambia’s largest infrastructure investment since the Kariba Dam was constructed in 1959.
The firm’s 6,000 employees excavate, transport and process over 55 million tonnes of low-grade ore to produce up to 300,000 tonnes of copper per annum.
The operation is based on sophisticated technology that includes the world’s largest semi-mobile rope shovel.
General Chinkuli noted that beyond the mine’s impressive scale, FQM placed great importance on the welfare of its workforce and the community in which it operates.
“First Quantum Minerals is not only concerned with mineral production. We care for our employees’ wellbeing and the sustainability of the communities around our mines,” he said.
“Our sustainability spending exceeds US$100 million – delivering tangible social improvement to thousands of Zambians.”
“This intervention has mainly centred on improving access to quality health care by building health posts, sponsoring HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention programmes as well as agricultural improvement initiatives, community infrastructure development, gender equality programmes and wildlife protection.”
The mine has also constructed classroom blocks and is funding a scholarship programme to enable gifted pupils from low-income households access quality education.
FQM is also Zambia’s largest taxpayer with contributions to the national treasury exceeding US$5.6 billion while dividends paid to ZCCM-IH – government’s main investment vehicle – amount to more than US$245 million to 2020.
In 2019, over half of government revenue collected from Zambia’s extractive industry came from FQM.
“Central to long-term private sector investment is finding equitable benefits between investors, government, and communities,” explained General Chinkuli.
“To arrive at this equilibrium requires close and constant dialogue between all stakeholders. As with any good marriage, consistent communication and mutual understanding is key to a lasting relationship,” he said.