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Background

The Katanga Region in DRC is rich in copper, cobalt and uranium deposits.

Situation

The province of Katanga (Democratic Republic of Congo) covers one fifth of the national territory and inhabited about 8 million civilians in 2003. Vast reserves of copper (Cu) and cobalt (Co) are found to the south of the province in sedimentary deposits of the Lufilian Belt, more specifically in the external fold and thrust zone of the belt. This Cu-Co ore rich zone is often called the copperbelt and is mainly located in south Katanga, but stretches along the borders with Zambia and Angola. The other designation of this zone is encountered under the name of the "Shaba Crescent" from the Swahili word “Shaba” meaning "copper".

Historical background

Copper in Katanga has been long known by Africans. Well before Europeans entered the area, the people were already prospecting the soil for copper extraction. At the time, the biggest mines showed 30 to 50 m in diameter and 7 to 8 m deep excavation pits. Some mines were exploited underground with small galleries of several meters long with timber-based props used to support the roof of mine shafts, set in place by the people excavating.

The first Europeans to enter were probably Portuguese merchants in search of copper and ivory in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Henry Stanley, the American-British journalist and explorer, made several expeditions to the area in the mid-19th century. The reports of his second journey captured the interest of King Leopold II of Belgium. The latter commissioned Stanley to make another mission, this time securing for Belgian interests much of what is the Congo now.

The money collected by the company allowed financial support of geological and geographical expeditions throughout Katanga lead by still famous engineers’ name: Jules Cornet, Lucien Bia, Émile Franqui, who contributed to survey the ore bodies of the area in the framework of the activities of “Comité Spécial du Katanga” (CSK, created in 1900).

European mining companies greatly expanded exploration and mining operations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Evolution

The Katanga Region in DRC is rich in copper, cobalt and uranium deposits.

First exploitation

The copperbelt hold 34 % of the world’s cobalt reserves and 10 % of the world’s copper reserves. Aside from copper and cobalt, the copperbelt also hold zinc, germanium, uranium (with Shinkolobwe, one of the richer uranium ore deposit of the world: grade at 15 % and large reserve) and silver-bearing minerals.

In the early twentieth century, mine exploitation take-off started through the combination of 3 main companies: the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) for the mine plants and by the B.C.K. (Chemin de fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga) for the ore transport and with the Forminère (Société Internationale Forestière et Minière du Congo).

The history of the industrial exploitation of the Katanga mines started with the first copper mine created in Etoile in 1910. It went on with the development of Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) 15 km eastern of the mine, close to the English railway line being constructed at the time and expecting to join Cape Town to Cairo. The processing of the ore is then insured by a transform plant for copper treatment and located in the SW vicinity of Elisabethville and close to the Lubumbashi river to cover its need of water.

Country industrialization and Uranium exploitation

In 1911, a railway line is built in Katanga. The dependency of the Katanga to Zambia (ex-Rhodesia) and South Africa for the conveyance of the ore lead to the creation of a second railway line going through Angola (Benguela) and reaching the Atlantic coast. A third line was opened towards the Congo river to Port Franqui. The ore exploitation really started with the accessibility to the railway allowing the transport of the ore over long distances.

In 1913, a copper mine is opened in Jadotville (now Likasi) and later on in 1925, Kipushi and Kolwezi started as mine exploitations.

Uranium, the radioactive element used to produce atomic bombs, was first mined in the western United States in 1871. In 1898, Marie Curie discovered radium in uranium. When a process for separating radium from uranium ore was perfected in 1913, uranium mining boomed.

In 1915, uranium is discovered in Shinkolobwe and its true extraction started in 1921. In 1940, 1.000 tons of uranium ore are purchased from the UMHK by Americans, and parts of which ended up in the confection of atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From 1944 onwards, uranium becomes a strategic metal and several thousands of tons of uranium are extracted from Shinkolobwe. The Shinkolobwe uranium mine ceased was closed in 1960, when Congo became independent.

After the independance

The DRC has lived through numerous political, social and diplomatic instabilities since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. However, mining was the one sector of the economy that did not suffer an obvious decline during the 1960–67 period of disruption and conflict. Output of some important minerals, notably copper, remained steady.

In 1965, Mobutu is in power in Congo. He supported the completion of transforming private companies into parastatal to operate and better control foreign-owned mining projects. In 1966, UMHK lost all its mining concessions, which were turned over to the state-owned Gécamines in 1971. In 1971 Mobutu changed the name of the country to Zaire. Eventually (1973), Mobutu called for the nationalization of business enterprises. This was a process that he called Zairization.

Most foreign exploration and development feasility activity came to an end in 1998, following the emergence of a new civil war. Negotiations on a 1999 cease-fire agreement continued into 2001, and the decrease in military conflict permitted to government to address a proposal for new foreign investment and mining laws.

Since end of 1990’s and beginning of 2000’s, negotiations with mainly Canadian and South-African junior mining companies resulted in a number of joint venture contracts that marked the start of Gécamines and Sodimico’ random dismantlement. Here is a non-exhaustive list of main companies, which took part in the programme of privatisation: Katanga Mining Limited, Forrest Group, Anvil Mining Limited, Rubicon Minerals, Nikanor, Adastra Minerals, Lundin Mining, Tenke Mining, First Quantum Minerals. In 2003, the Sodimico undertook also a joint venture with the firm « Générale Malta Forrest » and funding the « société Minière de Musoshi et Kinsenda » (MMK) in order to exploit the mining sites of Musoshi, Kinsenda et Lubembe.

Main mining sites in Katanga

The Katanga Region in DRC is rich in copper, cobalt and uranium deposits.

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