BME has been building its business in Zambia since 1999, and the results are now showing clearly: the country has become the company’s second-most important market behind its home-turf in South Africa, where it is a major player in the opencast segment.
“Our starting point in Zambia was a contract we won at Konkola Copper Mines, both for underground operations and the Nchanga open pit,” said Ralf Hennecke, general manager international marketing at BME. “Since then we have created a local footprint for our operations – which we continue to expand – and are making an increasing contribution to Zambia’s mining sector, economy, skills and communities.”
Within a few years, the company was supplying blasting products and services to the Kansanshi mine in the Solwezi area – a project that would grow substantially into one of the country’s most important operations. BME is currently expanding its own infrastructure at this site, enlarging their fleet of trucks and pumping units, taking on new staff, and doubling the capacity of the emulsion plant.
“We now have 37 customers in Zambia,” said Hennecke. “Some are large copper mines, and others are smaller operations in quarrying, cement, emeralds, coal and nickel.”
Johann Kotze, international business manager at BME, emphasised the importance of keeping the support function up to speed with the pace of BME’s market expansion.
“In line with our growing Zambian footprint, we have an administration head office in Chingola – which we are currently expanding – and depots in Lusaka, Kafue and Ndola. It is also been vital to attract and build the skills to run these offices well, not just with good financial and administration people, but with experts in fields like human resources, safety and health.”
BME now employs over 130 people in Zambia, said Hennecke, and there are very few expatriates among them.
“We regard it as part of our duty as responsible corporate citizens to upgrade the skills of local staff to deliver world-class services to our customers,” he said. “For this reason, we put our people through regular development programmes to ensure that they make the best possible contribution to the economy.”
He said they are even going a step further, by planning a training centre that will focus on key technical and other skills vital to the mining sector and blasting functions in particular.
“The skills that we develop in Zambia are essential to building a valuable and sustainable business there,” said Kotze, “but it will also be important in supporting our expansion into neighbouring countries. We are already active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is just across the border, and there are significant opportunities there.”
The company is also engaged with the University of the Copperbelt at Kitwe as part of its corporate social responsibility drive to improve skills and employability of local learners.
“We have worked with the University to refurbish lecture rooms for the engineering department and fitted them with computer hardware,” said Hennecke, “and are currently evaluating the success of this project to date with a view to expanding it further.”
In an effort to strengthen skills in the sector BME aims to replicate – albeit on a smaller scale – the highly successful annual blasting conference that it hosts for the mining industry in South Africa.
“We have already organised a well-attended explosives technology conference in Chingola this year, as well as an opencast-focused seminar in Solwezi,” he said. “The event is able to share expertise among the national community of practitioners and authorities. We plan to develop this conference into a forum to which we will invite international speakers, where customers can present papers on their experiences, and where government officials can talk about issues like law and compliance.”
The company has also been involved for some years with the community around its administrative hub in Chingola, where it has built a school for 150 local children and funds the costs of teachers, school lunches, stationery and other items.
“This is an ongoing project for us,” said Hennecke, “and is just another way that we want to give back to the community that hosts us. By getting involved in education at its earliest stages, we hope to help build the skills and abilities that will feed the development of the Zambian economy into the future.”