Central African Copperbelt


The Central African Copperbelt is a world-class copper producing region located in Central Africa across the Republic of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Central African Copperbelt is situated within the Lufilian Arc and hosts one of the world’s largest metallogenic endowment of high-grade sedimentary rock hosted stratiform copper (“sedimentary copper”).

The Central African Copperbelt extends approximately 450 kilometers from the Zambian Copperbelt Province in the southeast through to the Congolese Copperbelt in the the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Copperbelt geology has also extended into the North-Western Province of Zambia where a few large scale economic concentrations of copper have been discovered (Source: Geology and ore deposits of the Central African Copperbelt, David W. Broughton).

Map of the Central African Copperbelt

Figure 1: Central African Copperbelt Geology
Figure 1: Map of the Central African Copperbelt

The Central African Copperbelt lies on the eastern Central African Plateau, with gently undulating terrain mostly between 900 and 1,500 metres in elevation and occasionally broken by isolated hills. The Kafue River, tributary to the Zambezi River, traverses the province in a generally southward direction, and swamps occur along the river and its numerous tributaries. Broad areas of the plateau are covered with an open mixture of shrubs, trees, and tall grasses (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).

Central African Copperbelt Geology: Lufilian Arc

The Lufilian Arc of Central Africa (also known as the Central African Copperbelt) is a zone of meta-sedimentary rocks of Neoproterozoic age that is known to host high-grade copper, cobalt, uranium, lead and zinc mineralisation.

The Lufilian Arc is located between the Congo and Kalahari cratons and defines a structure which is convex to the north, see Figure 1 (Source: Gondwana Research – Tectonic Evolution of the Lufilian Arc During Neoproterozoic Pan African Orogenesis).

Lufilian Arc Map
Figure 2: Lufilian Arc Location Map

The Lufilian Arc contains the 520 kilometres African copperbelt which runs in a north-westerly direction from Zambia into the Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The copper deposits are found in the older rocks of the Roan group. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo they are mostly held in dolomite hosts with high levels of cobalt. In Zambia they are in low-carbonate shale, sandstone and greywacke.

Historically the Central African Copperbelt ores have been more accessible and higher grade than ores from other locations. In addition, the mines mostly contain sulphide ores which are comparatively easy to concentrate and smelt, making for lower costs of production (Source: Daniel, Philip – Africanisation, Nationalisation, and Inequality: Mining Labour and the Copperbelt in Zambian Development. Laznicka, Peter – Giant Metallic Deposits: Future Sources of Industrial Metals).

List of mining companies operating within the Central African Copperbelt

Today there are many large mining companies that operate within the Central African Copperbelt:

There are also many exploration companies prospecting in the Central African Copperbelt:

List of State-Owned-Enterprises operating within the Central African Copperbelt

Due to the significant economic importance of the Central African Copperbelt both the Zambian and Democratic Republic of the Congo Governments have State-Owned Enterprises which hold ownership stakes in assets operating directly or indirectly with the Copperbelt to protect their national interests.

ZCCM Investments Holdings Plc (“ZCCM-IH”)is a copper-mining conglomerate that is majority-owned by the Government of Republic of Zambia. The Company’s principal role is to manage the Zambian Government’s stake in the mining sector. ZCCM-IH has a 10% shareholding in Mopani Copper Mines, 20.6% holding in Konkola Copper Mines, 20% holding in Kansanshi Mines plc, 10% holding in Chambeshi Metals plc and a 15% holding in CNMC Luanshya Copper Mines plc. ZCCM-IH has shareholdings and interests in other properties, for more information please visit the ZCCM-IH website.

Gécamines is a copper-mining conglomerate that is majority-owned by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gécamines main role is to manage the Democratic Republic of Congo Government’s stake in the mining sector. Gecamines is primarily engaged in the exploration, research, exploitation and production of mineral deposits including but not limited to copper, cobalt, tin, gold, uranium, zinc, among others.

List of Central African Copperbelt Deposits

The copper deposits in the Copperbelt on average have a copper grade content of approximately 2.05% per deposit.

Central African Copperbelt - Deposits
Figure 3: Central African Copperbelt – Deposits (Source: Company Reports)

Central African Copperbelt – Share of Global Copper Production

Over the last five years the Central African Copperbelt (Zambia and DRC) has accounted for approximately 10% of the global copper production.

Central African Copperbelt - Share of Global Copper Production
Figure 4: Central African Copperbelt – Share of Global Copper Production

Why the Central African Copperbelt is important

The prosperity of the Copperbelt has a great influence over Zambia and the DRC as it directly impacts the Zambian mining towns of Ndola, Kitwe, Chingola, Luanshya and Mufulira and the DRC’s mining city of Lubumbashi. Not only does the Copperbelt provide tax and royalty compensation to the local governments but it also creates job placement opportunities and development of communities for the locals.

During the past decade Zambia’s economy has shown impressive growth averaging above 7% per annum. Growth was driven by investments in the mining sector with spill over effects into construction, transport, communications, wholesale and retail. Growth was furthermore facilitated by favourable copper prices, underpinned by demand from China, and increasing trade with neighbouring countries (Source: World Bank).

Economic turmoil in the global economy caused by the slowdown and economic transition in China has had limited effects on the Zambian economy, however since the price of copper prices has fallen to its lowest level since August 2009, the economic transition has had direct spillover effects, especially to the mineral-rich Sub-Saharan African countries such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Source: World Bank).

The Historical Role of Copperbelt Mining in Zambia

Historically the mines in Zambia were owned and managed by two private companies, the Roan Selection Trust and the Anglo-American Corporation. After the first discovery and commercialisation of the Roan Antelope Copper Mine (now Luanshya) in 1928, the country flourished in wealth.

After Zambia won its political independence in 1964 the incoming consensus was that the two companies that owned the mines had invested little new capital. The Zambian Government responded in 1969 by nationalisation of the mines. All rights of ownership of minerals as well as exclusive prospecting and mining licenses reverted to the state. The mining companies were forced to give 51% of shares in all existing mines to the State. The two nationalised companies were combined in 1982 to form Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).

Nationalisation of the mines increased the social welfare of Zambia, improving the country in many ways, however later on the advancements slowed when the price of copper collapsed after the first oil crisis in 1974, forcing Zambia to borrow in order to maintain social provision. After the second oil crisis in 1979, interest rates shot up and Zambia was thrown into a severe debt crisis.

For twenty years the economy collapsed at an internationally unprecedented rate as copper prices continued to fall relative to the price of imports. Between 1974 and 1994, per capita income declined by 50%, leaving Zambia the 25th poorest country in the world.

With little investment in exploration and drilling, and a lack of spares in equipment and machinery, no new mines were opened after 1979. The ore bodies within the existing mines were found deeper and deeper and the cost of production went up. ZCCM production collapsed from a high of 750,000 tonnes in 1973 to 257,000 tonnes in 2000 (Source: Zambia Copper Mines by Lungu Fraser). By the end of 1999, privatisation of the copper mines in Zambia resulted in a total of 8,329 employees being retrenched, leading to the disruption of nearly 42,000 livelihoods.

In Zambia the contribution of mining to GDP fell from 32.9 per cent in 1973 to about 7.7 per cent in 2003, a decline of nearly 77 per cent even after the privatization of ZCCM was largely complete. From the start of the privatisation process until 2004, US$1.4 billion was invested in the mining sector. Even this large amount only managed to restore copper production to 400,000 tonnes in 2004, just over half of the historical peak tonnage. In 2015, Zambian copper production has since rebounded and increased to an annual output of 600,000 tonnes (Source: Nationalization and Mining: Lessons from Zambia by D. Limpitlaw).

Zambia Copper Production History

Zambia Copper Production History
Figure 5: Zambia Copper Production History

In the early 2000’s copper mine privatisation claimed to hold the key to turning the economy around in the medium term. Firstly, it was said, taking responsibility for what had become a loss-making industry out of Government hands would reduce the burden on the Zambian state. Secondly, if reinvestment could make the industry profitable again, it was hoped that new taxes would flow into the state, and that the companies would train the Zambian workforce up to international standards, and new linkages would be made to local firms.

The clearest impact of privatisation is that it places ownership of the copper mines in private hands, rather than being in the control of Government, and in Zambia’s case, because there are few if any Zambian companies with enough wealth to buy a copper mine, it places ownership in the hands of foreign firms rather than Zambian nationals. This makes it likely that profits from mining leave the country without having any positive impact on the Zambian economy, and, rather than being re-invested in building up the national economy, will be placed in banks or re-invested in companies outside the country (Source: For whom the wind falls, winners & losers in the privatisation of Zambia’s copper mines by Alastair Fraser & John Lungu).

In the early 2000’s the Zambian Government auctioned off its copper assets of ZCCM-IH and since then global mining powerhouses such as Glencore plc, Vale SA, First Quantum Minerals Ltd, Vedanta Resources plc, Freeport, China Nonferrous Metals Group have acquired the mines. Since privatisation and liberalisation of the industry, the copper production has increased from 400,000 tonnes in copper in 2004 to 600,000 tonnes in 2015 and Zambia now competes on an international stage.

ZCCM asset transition
Figure 6: ZCCM asset transition

The Historical Role of Copperbelt Mining in DRC

Commercial copper mining operations began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s portion of the Central African Copperbelt during the 1920’s. Traditionally it has accounted for the majority of the country’s copper output. Although copper production started early in the 20th Century, it was not until the period between 1970 and 1988 that copper production was constant, averaging around 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes per annum. However copper production later decreased to around 50,000 tonnes per annum between the years 1992 to 2001. Since then however, copper production has steadily grown, reaching an annual output of 990,000 tonnes in 2015.

List of Central African Copperbelt Deposits:

Owner Deposit Name Mineral Resource (Mt) Cu Grade (%) Contained Cu (Mt)
First Quantum Minerals Ltd Sentinel 1,033.0 0.53% 5.47
Ivanhoe Mines and Zijin Mining Kamoa 739.0 2.67% 19.73
First Quantum Minerals Ltd Kansanshi 682.0 0.84% 5.73
Katanga Mining Limited Kamoto-KOV-Musonie-Mupine 416.0 4.49% 18.68
CNMC Baluba, Muliashi, Luanshya 404.7 2.55% 10.32
Katanga Mining Limited DIMA 280.4 2.79% 7.82
Barrick Gold Corporation Lumwana 258.0 0.58% 1.50
Mopani Copper Mines plc Mopani Copper Mines 249.0 2.04% 5.08
CNMC Chambishi Southeast 177.0 2.13% 3.77
Konkola Copper Mines Plc Konkola, Nchanga, Nampundwe 164.3 1.92% 3.15
China Molybdenum Co Ltd Tenke Fungurume 144.3 2.60% 3.75
CNMC Chambishi Main and West 116.0 2.53% 2.93
Caledonia Mining Corporation Nama Copper Project 64.0 0.04% 0.02
ARM Copper Lubambe Copper Project 57.4 2.42% 1.39
MMG Ltd Kinsevere 50.2 4.09% 2.05
Tiger Resources Ltd Kipoi 47.4 1.31% 0.62
Konkola Copper Mines Plc Mimbula 46.9 1.20% 0.56
Zambezi Resources Ltd Kangaluwi 46.0 0.67% 0.31
Metorex Mining Ltd Ruashi 45.8 2.81% 1.29
African Eagle Mines plc Ndola East 40.0 0.76% 0.30
Metorex Mining Ltd Dilala East 38.2 2.92% 1.12
Metorex Mining Ltd Kinsenda 35.0 5.50% 1.93
Intrepid Mines Ltd Kitumba 31.5 2.04% 0.64
African Eagle Mines plc Mokambo South 20.9 1.64% 0.34
African Eagle Mines plc Mkushi 18.5 0.83% 0.15
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd Kipushi 16.9 2.32% 0.39
Ortac Resources Ltd Zamsort licenses 16.6 0.94% 0.16
China Nonferrous Kabwe Ming Co. Kabwe West 15.5 1.39% 0.22
Teal Exploration and Mining Inc Pitanda 15.0 1.70% 0.26
Sino Hydro Mwambashi 14.2 1.78% 0.25
Mopani Copper Mines plc Mufulira 8.4 1.61% 0.14
Konkola Copper Mines Plc Kananga 8.1 1.80% 0.15
Macrolink Group Mwerkera 7.1 1.53% 0.11
Teal Exploration and Mining Inc Pitanda South 7.0 1.58% 0.11
Zambezi Resources Ltd Cheowa Cu-Au 6.5 1.10% 0.07
Metorex Mining Ltd Chibuluma 5.7 3.58% 0.20
Nubian Resources Ltd. Mutundu North 4.3 1.44% 0.62
African Eagle Mines plc Mokambo North 3.8 1.70% 0.06
Roan Consolidated Mines Kalengwa 1.6 6.45% 0.10
African Eagle Mines plc Sasare Eagle Eye 1.4 1.20% 0.02
Avg. Copper Grade   2.05%
Note: Copper content is based from Mineral Resource Estimates (M&I+I)
Some deposits may not be JORC or NI 43-101 Compliant
Typically Mineral Reserve Estimates have a higher copper grade
Results may be skewed and not account for economies of scale.
Disclaimer: Data to be verified**

Source: Company Reports

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