Zambians who collect their water from the Kafue River on the Copperbelt used it to cook, clean, drink and irrigate their farms. Until now.
Villagers say their streams have become “rivers of acid.” Copper mines dumping toxic chemicals in the area poisoned their water and destroyed their farmlands. With Zambia’s biggest copper mine, Vedanta Resources Plc, refusing to take action, they’ve turned to the UK courts with their complaints.
The law firm Leigh Day filed suit last month at the London High Court on behalf of 1,800 villagers. The mining company has until Oct. 1 to file a response.
“Since 2004, Vedanta Resources mining operations have been spilling sulfuric acid and other toxic chemicals where the communities live and farm,” the lawyers wrote in a statement.
“These communities have been suffering greatly for the last ten years with nothing being done to assist them or to stop the pollution,” said senior partner Martyn Day.
Vedanta Resources holds a 79.4 percent stake in Zambia’s Konkola Mines, the largest copper mine in the region. Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM) is also one of Africa’s largest integrated copper producers. KCM is Zambia’s largest private sector employer.
A Vedanta spokesman, responding to the charges filed, said: “All Vedanta’s operating subsidiaries take the health of their employees, the wellbeing of surrounding communities and the environment very seriously. Our subsidiaries are committed to ensuring they operate in a safe and sustainable way.”
Konkola Copper Mines is no stranger to lawsuits. In a landmark judgment in 2011, the Lusaka High Court ordered Konkola to pay $2 million to 2,000 Chingola residents on Zambia’s Copperbelt who suffered liver and kidney damage from chemicals in the Mushishima river.
In his ruling, the judge said Zambians “should not be dehumanized by greed and crude capitalism which put profit above human life.” The company appealed the decision which was finally reheard in 2014.
Activists with the group “Foil Vedanta” said a new judgment in 2015 upholding the 2011 ruling delivered some justice to the victims after eight long years wait. But a new assessment of the medical records from the time of the poisoning must be made, which is likely to reduce the award.
James Nyasulu, a poultry farmer from Chingola and the lead claimant in the case, responded bitterly:
“The poison we drank violated our right to life, but the court is treating life as cheap. Citizens of this country cannot be treated as guinea pigs for investors… Compensation should even be increased due to the damage done to our health and interest on the original award,” said Nyasulu.
Samarendra Das, Foil Vedanta member and author of the report “Copper Colonialism: Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia” said: “The victims of KCM’s water pollution are just one of many communities bearing the impact of Vedanta’s careless style of operation worldwide. This company has a pattern of abuse and lawlessness which has landed it in a series of court cases across India and Africa. It is time that the Zambian government and the legal system stood up to Vedanta and held them to account for their actions.”