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A trip to Mufulira

The markings stencilled on the 500 kgs net drum standing at Gate 1 of Mopani’s Mufulira mine and smelter complex was quite clear: ‘Seven billion dreams, one planet. Consume with care’.

I started travelling to Mufulira in the Copperbelt when I found that schools near my home in Somerset had been twinning and travelling since the 1990s. This trip I was accompanied by Guy Darby of Darton Commodities (also Chairman of the MMTA 2009-12) to follow up on projects supported by MMTA members.

With Guy Darby at Kasumbalesa on the Zambia/Congo border

No trip to Mufulira, though, would be complete without a visit down the mine to bring home the reason for this town’s existence – that is, 1507 metres down, a descent to the face where various grades of chalcopyrite, bornite and malachite are mined. Commissioned by the British in 1932, and about equal in depth to KCMs Konkola Deep, these are the deepest copper mines in Africa. But, having developed irregularly and incrementally over the years to chase the ore, Mopani’s aim is to increase efficiency via a new vertical shaft which will ultimately run to 2000 metres.

Guy and I have two main aims. The first is to view progress on the water project at Kamuchanga District Hospital on the outskirts of Mufulira, and the second is to meet the MMTA electives, doing a months work in Ronald Ross General Hospital.

A few year’s ago, MMTA members funded water tanks, a) to bring supply to a new government funded and b) to bring supply into the hospital. On arrival, we see hospital bedlinen, blankets and medical apparel safely washing, spinning, and drying (a change from only a few years ago when washing was provided by a ramshackle motorised washing cylinder that had left its factory in Uxbridge in the 1950s). Although the laundry is a success, the supply of water to the rest of the hospital is poor because movement of water around the hospital is held up until pipes are renewed. During our stay, our group meets with the Mulenga Water Company and a representative from the Ministry of Health to plot the way forward. On this same visit, we are also heartened to see that the anaesthetic machine supplied with MMTA members’ funds is in operation with surgeons about to scrub up. Before this donation, the hospital had no means to carry out urgent Caesarean sections for late showing pregnancies.

As for the elective programme, our MMTA sponsored medical electives from the UK are Josh Hulman and Helen Wanstall. A few years ago, I was contacted by a GP from Chester, Dr Robin Gleek, who had completed his overseas elective in Mufulira in the 1970s and wanted to return to the town. I was able to introduce him to the Acting District Health Officer, Dr Charles Chiponda and, as as a result of his visit, together with Robin, we have developed a scheme to fund 2-3 medical doctors per year to visit Zambia to complete their NHS training.

The young doctors from the UK are allocated to the main general hospital in town called Ronald Ross – so named after the renowned British medical doctor who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the transmission of malaria.  Their purpose is to gain experience of medical practice in a developing country, while the locals gain assistance and valuable interaction with UK practices. Our first elective was David Clayton from Glasgow and I am on a mission to deliver two Littman stethoscopes and two sphygmomanometers bought by him, one set of which is to be delivered into the hands of the supervisor during his stay in 2016 and the other to the senior doctor. Guy and I hand these to Dr Tshula Tumba and Dr Matabile.

David Clayton with Dr Thumba at Ronald Ross General Hospital 2016

Lack of government funding means there are shortages of incubators, life-support equipment, cleaning fluids for sterilization of mattresses, some vital medicines (the hospital has only three phials of morphine), hospital furniture, anti-biotics, and quinine (the lack of which would surely make Ronald Ross turn in his grave). Meantime, our young medics are seeing cases of pneumoconiosis (the miners’ pulmonary disease), AIDS, TB and malaria. Our young doctors' role is clerking (booking in patients and making assessments) and learning to make diagnoses under supervision but without the benefit of the extensive testing equipment that we might take for granted in the UK.

In this short piece, I am unable to give more than a passing reference to the many aspects of Mufulira that we were able to see but I hope I have been able to communicate some of the positives that have come from the MMTAs relationship with this town, which is a symbol for all mining communities around the world who feed us with the metals in which we trade. If you would like to be involved in any aspect of this work or would like to talk to someone about ways in which you can specifically help and assist, or indeed visit Mufulira, please feel free to contact me at, Guy Darby at or Freya Kerwin ( I thank all members whose donations have achieved so much and also thank Mopani for the mine visit.


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