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Uranium mining in Malawi: the case of Kayelekera

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Matildah M. Mkandawire − Citizens for Justice, Malawi

Various mining companies have invested in sub-Saharan Africa despite − or perhaps because of − inadequate governance standards.

This is the case in Malawi, where mining is guided by the Environmental Management Act of 1996, the Mines and Minerals Act of 1981, the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act of 1983 and the Explosives Act of 1968.

Kayelekera is located in northern Malawi, 52 km west of Karonga. The mine is owned 100% by Paladin (Africa) Limited (PAL), a subsidiary of Paladin Australia. In July 2009, Paladin issued 15% of equity in PAL to the Government of Malawi under the terms of the Development Agreement signed between PAL and the Government in February 2007.

Due to the low uranium price, Paladin announced in February 2014 that processing would cease at Kayelekera and that the site would be placed under care and maintenance. Following a period of reagent run-down, processing was completed in early May 2014. It is expected that production will recommence once the uranium price provides a sufficient incentive (circa US$75/lb) and grid power supply is available on-site to replace the existing diesel generators with low cost hydroelectricity.

As Citizens for Justice, we have worked closely with the community in the Kayelekera area regarding the effects that mining has on their environment, their health, social lives and on their human rights. We want to know how the company intends to manage the tailings as 85% of the original radioactivity is contained in these. Malawi is a densely populated country and any mismanagement could affect a large number of lives. Recently Paladin has had new major shareholders and we seek more clarity on the level of responsibility transfer that has taken place. Do they still maintain the same standards of closure, what is the bond attached to reclamation and who controls the bond? We also want to know which bank holds the money and how much it is.

We insist on this because we have seen the lack of cooperation of Paladin to work with the local communities in their failure to stick to the agreements that were signed for in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Kayelekera community.

In August this year, Citizens for Justice and Action Aid Malawi, with support from the Tilitonse Fund, organized an interface meeting with the local communities, government representatives at district level and PAL representatives. The aim of this meeting was to discuss the concerns of the community regarding the failure of Paladin to stick to the agreements in the MOU. Paladin cancelled with us at the 11th hour claiming they needed a formal letter of invitation and not the one they got from the community.

The meeting had to go ahead without them although this left the community furious as the issues they wanted to raise were key to their health and sanitation, environmental health and social well-being. The lack of clean water, and the delay in providing educational and health facilities as agreed, spoke volumes of the company's lack of responsibility for the community it operates in.

Matildah Mkandawire is a project coordinator with Citizens for Justice, heading the Business and Human Rights project and supporting the Responsive Mining and Governance Project that CFJ is implementing with Action Aid Malawi.