Fifty killed by blast at Zambian mine

Rescuers intensified a search for bodies on Thursday, a day after a blast at a Chinese-owned factory in a Zambian copper mine killed more than 50 people, fuelling charges that the owners had flouted basic safety norms and treated employees like “pigs”.

Mines Minister Kaunda Lembalemba said on Thursday that the toll from the tragedy was believed to be over 50, although the government and factory’s owners were at odds over the number of fatalities.

“I have given the owners of the factory 24 hours in which to produce the list of all their workers, whether dead or alive,” Lembalemba said.

The owners of Bilgrim, an explosives manufacturing company, have failed to provide details of the number of workers who were on duty when the accident happened.

“I am very upset with them. They can’t be treating human beings like pigs,” the Zambian minister said.

The explosion occurred around mid-morning on Wednesday at the factory at the Chambishi copper mine, about 300km north of Lusaka.

There has been wide condemnation of the accident by Zambians, who blame the Chinese owners for allegedly failing to follow basic safety regulations at the factory.

“It seems there was laxity on the part of management in terms of ensuring the safety of workers. We need an enquiry,” said Andrew Chewe, one of those who survived.

Scores of grieving family members ringed the plant on Thursday to identify the mutilated bodies, said a local journalist on the scene.

“Most of the relatives are waiting outside the gate of the factory,” said Brian Malama, a photographer with the state-run Zambia Daily Mail.

Two workers who survived the accident have been admitted to the Chinese-run Sino-Zam hospital in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province and their condition has been described as stable, Lembalemba said.

The government has appealed to Zambians whose relatives are missing in the Copperbelt area to immediately inform authorities.

“We want every workers to be identified because we have discovered that the management of the factory was not keeping records of those employed as casual workers on daily basis,” Lembalemba said.

President Levy Mwanawasa expressed shock over the accident and ordered the mines minister to immediately open an investigation.

“I would have loved to go and check for myself what has happened.
I’m extremely grieved at the loss of so many lives,” he said in Lusaka late on Wednesday.

Copper mining generates about 60% of foreign earnings in this poor Southern African country, which has been struggling since the 1970s following a drop in copper prices.

Chinese and Indian investors have moved in over the past years to buy major stakes in the mines.

A former British colony, Zambia is one of the world’s poorest countries with close to 64% of its 10-million inhabitants living on less than one dollar a day. - Sapa-AFP

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