Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


Copper and Zinc

Zaire has traditionally been the world's fifth largest copper producer after Chile, the United States, Canada, and Zambia, accounting for about 8 percent of world copper production. Most copper (90 percent) is mined by the giant parastatal Gécamines in Shaba Region. Shaba's ores are rich in copper--from 4 percent to 6 percent, or twice the Zambian average concentration. Some mines produce ore with copper content as high as 15 percent. In comparison, United States producers have been working ores with less than 1 percent copper. Mining officials estimated in the late 1980s that known reserves would last for another forty years at a production rate of approximately 500,000 tons annually, about 6 percent of world production.

Copper production began to fall in 1988, however. Competition from substitute materials as well as from lower-cost copper producers elsewhere in the world (such as Chile), strikes, and technical problems, including a cave-in in September 1990, all contributed to the downturn. In the early 1990s, copper mining, although once the mainstay of the economy, had virtually collapsed following years of neglect by Gécamines and as a result of the prevailing economic chaos. Actual production of copper ore was 465,000 tons in 1988, declining to 440,600 tons in 1989, then 355,500 tons in 1990. Production was 291,500 tons in 1991, and 146,000 tons in 1992. Estimates for 1993 indicated a very low production figure of 80,000 tons.

About 80 percent of Zaire's copper has traditionally been sold to Western Europe. A substantial share of the country's production is shipped to Belgium for final processing by the subsidiary of the General Holding Company of Belgium (Société Générale de Belgique-- SGB).

Another copper-mining company, Industrial and Mining Development Company (Société de Développement Industriel et Minier de Zaïre--Sodimiza) was founded in 1969 and was owned briefly by Japanese interests before being taken over by the Zairian government. The Canadian firm Philip Barrat Kaiser held a management contract until April 1987 when the government decided to merge Sodimiza with Gécamines. Sodimiza had produced between 6 percent and 10 percent of Zaire's annual copper output.

Zinc is produced as a byproduct of copper from a single mine near Lubumbashi. Copper output from this mine has steadily decreased. Because zinc reserves there are substantial, the mine is expected to produce primarily zinc by the mid-1990s. Zinc production totaled 64,000 tons in 1985 but had fallen to 38,200 tons by 1990. Production in 1992 was estimated to be only 18,350 tons.

Data as of December 1993