Rioters tried to set fire to a copper plant owned by Glencore’s Zambian subsidiary amid violent clashes that have stunned the FTSE 100 commodities giant.
Mopani Copper Mines came under attack from up to 70 rioters throwing rocks, amid rumours that sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the plant had put seven people in hospital.
Twenty rioters then broke through Mopani’s security fence and tried to set fire to an electricity circuit board using matches and newspapers.
Clashes: A copper plant owned by Glencore’s Zambian subsidiary came under attack
Witnesses said Mopani’s private security managed to push the rioters outside the plant and put the fire out, before police arrived and put an end to the disturbance using tear gas.
Mopani’s relationship with local communities has sometimes proved fractious due to anger over sulphur dioxide pollution, blamed for killing plant life, damaging houses and causing ill health.
But the installation of an acid plant, which captures 97 per cent of sulphur emissions, was expected to put an end to a problem that has lasted 70 years, 14 of them under Glencore ownership.
‘There was a leak in the damper valve and immediately it was identified, the plant was shut down,’ said Mopani Copper Mines chief executive Danny Callow.
‘For 70 years, the plant has spewed out SO2 and over the course of the last 14 years [under Glencore ownership] sulphur capture has gone from 50 per cent to 97 per cent. ‘What escaped in that short period was minimal compared to four or five months previously.’
Mopani has now added new equipment that will shut the plant down temporarily if emissions rise above a certain threshold.
Callow said an official from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency had investigated the incident and deemed Mopani’s handling of it satisfactory.
‘According to our records and following discussions with local government, there is no evidence that anybody was hospitalised,’ added Callow. ‘Clinic and hospital records do not substantiate that anybody was hospitalised.’
Local politicians in Mufulira are understood to have blamed unidentified agents provocateurs for stirring up anti-Mopani sentiment in the normally peaceful area.
The incident comes amid uncertainty over the health of Zambia’s president Michael Sata, who has not been seen in public for some time.