Centre for Environment Justice (CEJ) has learnt that 35 people that work for a manganese processing plant in Serenje District shake continuously after developing a strange illness.
The victims are patiently waiting for a detailed medical report.
CEJ Executive Director Maggie Mwape has since urged Workers Compensation Fund Control Board to respond immediately for compliance checks and negotiate for fair compensation.
She was speaking after visiting victims in Serenje District, Central Province, where CEJ is running a three-year project dubbed Resilient Initiative for Sustainable Environment – RISE project.
Ms Mwape was concerned that the condition is suspected to have emerged from a toxic chemical used to enhance manganese grade of which constant exposure to manganese could have caused neurological degenerative condition.
The CEJ Executive Director indicated that victims complained to her that the condition was also affecting the nervous system resulting in erectile disfunction.
Ms Mwape called for an evacuation abroad for specialized treatment of the victims.
“Workers get paid K1,700 with majority working as casual workers receiving K5 as over-time per hour,” she said.
Ms Mwape demanded for improved health and safety in processing plants in Serenje to save lives as workers were not receiving milk, personal protective equipment and did not get full salary payment while nursing a wound when injured at work.
“We demand that the Ministry of Health conducts urgent official tests on the victims and provide them with full detailed medical report on the condition,” she said.
Ms Mwape urged the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment to give a position on the said chemicals allegedly bought in Kabwe for use in Serenje which were not good for human health and the environment.
“Zambia Environmental Management Agency – ZEMA should go on the ground in Serenje to assess the situation than waiting for periodic reviews when the atmospheric conditions clearly show that most investors are irresponsible emitters,” she said.
The CEJ Executive Director challenged the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Development to give an official statement on the manganese processing investors in Serenje.
“Without a doubt, we need mining investors, create a balance for the economy, environment and employment. But I must emphasise that we need responsible investors who shall respect the laws and regulations of the land, do not exploit our people and uphold human rights principles,” she said.
Ms Mwape wondered if the Foreign Missions accredited to Zambia were aware about the environmental and human rights violations happening in Serenje.
“We want to question the High Commissioner of India to Zambia and the Ambassador of China to Zambia on whether they are aware of the irresponsible behaviour by some of their nationals and how they are damaging the reputation of their countries because such countries have good investors but some of those in Serenje cannot be entertained,” she said.
The CEJ Executive Director urged Government to strengthen due diligence to audit the background of investors through security wings because some of those operating in Serenje were shut down in their own countries for violating environmental laws, human rights and health.
“We demand for action on bad investment practices especially on the levels of pollution and damage to the environment coupled by the loss of inhabitants including human beings as seen in Serenje,” she said.
Ms Mwape urged the leadership in Serenje to unite as they handle the politically charged and tense processes adding that it was high time that those holding political positions became more responsible.
“We cannot have over 15 mineral processing plants without a single union to represent the interests of the workers and therefore, we call upon relevant stakeholders to go and register workers for union membership,” she said.
One of the victims whose identity has been withheld for fear of possible victimization informed CEJ that the condition is not curable adding that fair compensation would be ideal.