OVER 2000 victims of water pollution in Chingola have won the case in which they sued Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), seeking the court to find the mining giant guilty of negligence.
This follows the judgment by the Supreme Court to uphold the decision of the Lusaka High Court which found KCM liable for negligence and awarded the victims K10 million.
In his judgment in chambers delivered yesterday by Master of Supreme Court Anastasia Phiri, Supreme Court Judge Munalula Lisimba said the matter has been referred to the deputy registrar for assessment of damages.
Judge Lisimba said the damages needed to be determined because it was not all the 2000 workers who were affected by water pollution.
This means that the K10 million awarded by the High Court to over 2000 claimants who had suffered illness and liver and kidney damage as a result of drinking the water was likely to reduce to nominal amounts since the claimants were only able to show 12 medical reports which they had been able to obtain at the time of the pollution incident.
Judge Lisimba said the victims succeeded in two grounds and partially succeeded in other two, thereby winning the case.
Speaking after the judgment James Nyasulu, a poultry farmer from Chingola and the lead claimant, said the court should have fully supported the High Court judgment.
“The court should have stood firm and fully supported the High Court judgment. Compensation should even be increased due to the damage done to our health and interest on the original award.
“The poison we drank violated our right to life, but the court is treating life as cheap. Citizens of this country cannot be treated as guinea pigs for investors,” he said.
In his judgment in 2011, Supreme Court judge Phillip Musonda, sitting as High Court judge, said he wanted to make an example of KCM for their “gross recklessness”.
“The courts have a duty to protect poor communities from the powerful and politically connected. I agree with the plaintiffs’ pleadings that KCM was shielded from criminal prosecution by political connections and financial influence, which put them beyond the pale of criminal justice,” he said.
However, Vedanta (KCM) subsequently challenged the High Court decision, claiming it was not responsible for the contamination.
While the judgment was being delivered in Lusaka some environmentalists and Zambians yesterday staged a solidarity protest at the Zambia High Commission in London. According to a press statement issued yesterday, the victims were calling for justice to be done after eight years of waiting for the verdict.
Foil Vedanta member and author of the report “Copper colonialism: Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia”, Samarendra Das, said the victims of water pollution were just one of many communities bearing the impact of Vedanta’s careless style of operation worldwide.
“This company has a pattern of abuse and lawlessness which has landed it in a series of court cases across India and Africa. It is time that the Zambian Government and the legal system stood up to Vedanta and held them to account for their actions,” he said.
In its appeal, KCM said the lower court erred in law and in fact when it ordered the company to pay damages to the respondents without making a finding on the ingredients of the victims claim of negligence.
It further said that the court erred in law and in fact in holding that some of the documents of the plaintiffs bundle of documents amounted to medical evidence that proved all of the respondents’ cases. The firm argued that the court erred in law and in fact when it held that KCM had disregarded environmental legislation, a finding not supported by the evidence.
It said the court misdirected itself in law and in fact when it made a uniform award of damages to all the 2000 plaintiffs on the basis of the unidentical testimony of six plaintiffS and without proof of each plaintiff’s extent of injury.