Has a highly suspicious plan to develop an open-cast copper mine in the heart of Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park proved the undoing of the country’s former tourism minister Sylvia Masebo?
Masebo was fired by Zambia’s president, Michael Sata, last week and the official reason given is that she brought the president’s name into disrepute. This alleged act of disloyalty occurred during her testimony before a tribunal investigating her 2012 sacking of the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) board and cancellation of hunting concessions.
Masebo testified that she carried out the sweeping dismissal of ZAWA’s board and suspended hunting under orders from Sata and his deputy, Guy Scott, because of concern over high levels of corruption within the ZAWA leadership and irregularities in the awarding of the concessions.
Since her departure, sources close to Masebo have revealed that the former minister feels she was manipulated by several safari operators into believing there was a problem with the ZAWA board and said concessions. Amongst them is Yusuf Zumla of Eastern Safaris. Zumla is a business partner of Charles Davey, controversial father of Prince Harry’s former girlfriend Chelsy Davey, a hunting operator of note and confidant of Robert Mugabe.
Zumla and Davey own Anna Tree safari lodge in the Lower Zambezi National Park, which coincidentally is the location of the Kangaluwi Copper Project, which will place an open-cast copper mine in the heart of the park. It is Masebo’s very public opposition to the government’s green-lighting of this project which could have been the final straw leading to her unceremonious departure from Sata’s cabinet.
In September 2012 the government-run Zambian Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) rejected the environmental impact statement (EIS) submitted by Australian-based Zambezi Resources Ltd for the Kangaluwi project’s initial 25 year license, covering 245 sq km and creating an anticipated mining footprint of 12,5 sq km in the ecologically sensitive and hitherto protected Lower Zambezi National Park.
The park is one of Zambia’s leading tourism attractions and one of its most biodiverse, located on the Zambezi river opposite the Mana Pools World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe and part of the extended Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
But in January this year, land minister Harry Kalaba issued permits to Zambezi Resources and greenlighted the mine, even though its EIS had been rejected. The move was met with an international outcry and tourism operators in the Lower Zambezi, together with NGOs and concerned stakeholders, immediately launched a strong opposition to the mine, resulting in a High Court injunction preventing its go-ahead for the time being.
Masebo stood by her portfolio and the tourism community and publicly denounced the mine, questioning the manner in which Kalaba had overruled his own government agency.
On February 5, some two weeks after Kalaba signed off on the project, ZEMA issued Zambezi Resources with a formal letter stating that it had reviewed the EIS and had approved it. A visibly ill-at-ease Masebo subsequently refused to answer further questions on the subject.
Given the government’s rather obvious hand in proceedings, it is highly likely that the Kangaluwi copper project will proceed, in spite of the considerable tide of local and international opposition. Mining is big business, and big business can buy anything… And at the going rate, African governments are an absolute bargain.
It’s open to question whether Masebo was set-up for her very public fall, but one thing is certain – she did not go willingly and the fall-out has the potential to open yet more cans of worms.
Sharon Van Wyk specialises in conservation and tourism and the inter-relationships between the two and is the recipient of a Siemens Profile Award for science writing and a Kudu Award for environmental journalism. A former tour operator, she also served as chairperson of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association’s Gauteng chapter.