Trade is better than aid for Africa. They say. In a journey through copper thieves and mine barons in the north of Zambia, Bram Vermeulen investigates the truth behind that slogan.
From a distance they look like ants, the hundreds of men digging holes in the rubble slopes of an old copper mine in Zambia. They are looking for copper ore in the walls of the enormous pit, without wearing helmets and without reinforcing the walls of their caves. Life-threatening, of course. But they find enough to live on. Is it legal, Bram asks. They laugh about it. No of course not. But the Chinese buyer does not really ask where they get their ore from. You just have to leave when the guards of the mine come.
How different is it in a huge copper mine in full operation. Huge machines drive off and on. Sirens sound regularly, followed by explosions. Here, 300,000 tons of stone are moved every day, and the copper ore from it yields a profit of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But it is a foreign company that raises that money. And if the productivity gets too low after about twenty years, the investors will move on.
From the air it is easy to see how far-reaching it all is. The mine takes big chores out of the country and turns huge plains into a kind of lunar landscape. But other changes are also visible. Houses, schools, a golf course. Prosperity, therefore, emphasizes a mine boss. Seven years ago this was still a dull provincial town, and now look!
A little further on the big changes are about to begin. There is a giant copper mine here, and for that an area of no less than four hundred square kilometers is expropriated. The new owners promise economic prosperity. Did not a city like Johannesburg also start out as a simple mine?
Naturally, people living in the area can not stay. They have worked the land for generations, but they can not show ownership documents. They have not been asked anything. They do get compensation for their houses, chickens and fruit trees, but not for the ground. "Everything under the ground is state property," says a representative of the mining company, "and that is what the state can rent out to us." Residents who do not want to leave are squatters who violate the law from that moment on. Even though they were born and lived there all their lives.
Those former residents are moved to neat new houses outside the area. With toilet, and bigger than the previous house, but without land to grow food. Some of them seem satisfied with that. Most do not. 'In Africa, land has sentimental value. You are no one without land, 'says one of them. "So you're destroying these people. They will not pass on anything to the next generation. "
Episode 6. Copper fever
For Africa, trade is better than aid, or so they say. On a journey to copper thieves and mine bosses, Bram Vermeulen investigates the truth behind the slogan.
Director: Doke Romeijn and Stefanie de Brouwer
© VPRO October 2014
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