SMM2, 28 Feb: Zambia, Africa's second-largest copper producer, will begin implementing a law forcing miners to transport 30 per cent of their goods by train, aimed at boosting the country's rail industry. Mining companies expressed concern about the capacity of the country's rail system to transport and accused the Government of not giving due consideration to the serious impact of rail transport on the copper industry.
The conflict between miners and the government is due to the backwardness of Zambia's railway system. At present, the country's rail network accounts for only 5 per cent of the market. The Zambian National Mining Guide issued by the Government shows that Zambia has a developed road network infrastructure. With up to 75 per cent coverage of primary and secondary roads, the country is one of the most developed road systems in low-income countries in Africa. It is only in rural areas of Zambia that road infrastructure is relatively backward.
Zambia's railway system, by contrast, is dwarfed by the road system. Rail networks are critical to the export economy of inland minerals. In Zambia, the most competitive transport goods are commodities that are not affected by time, such as copper mines. But at present, Zambia's low-density rail traffic is far from maintaining at least 2 million tons of copper output. The infrastructure of Zambian railways is also ageing and inefficient. Most Zambian miners and companies still choose road transport because it is more reliable and relatively cheap. Zambian miners will say on Monday that Zambia is not ready for rail transport to deal with large quantities of copper mines.
However, the Government believes that the development of the railway system is for the long-term development of Zambia's mining industry. A rail cooperation agreement has been signed between South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to allow copper-rich countries to increase exports through the southern port of Durban. Africa is currently actively promoting the implementation and development of this agreement, using the railway system to build a so-called "north-south corridor" to increase copper exports from various countries.
Zambia's finance minister has announced an investment of $120 million to improve Zambia's railway system to enable Zambian miners to connect the whole of South Africa and to gradually transition Zambia from reliance on road transport to rail transport. Transport Minister Mushimba also said the government is recommending the new policy, and the South African State Logistics Corporation will provide locomotives and trucks to Zambia Railways to support its capacity to handle bulk cargo.
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