The Collum Coal Mine is located in Zambia's Southern Province in the district of Sinazongwe and has been in existence since around 2000. The company operating the mine is privately-owned and Chinese, run essentially by five brothers of the Xu family from China's Jiangxi Province.
Before clashes occurred between miners and mine owners in 2010 and 2012, the national Environmental Management Agency had been issuing several citations to Collum during the past decade for severe air and water sources pollution, affecting nearby communities. The Agency stated that Collum had paid the fines but refused to invest in more environmentally friendly techniques. Reports of labor difficulties and alleged beatings of workers by their local bosses were also made. Strikes had already occurred in 2006 and 2008. In 2009, an outbreak of cholera hit the mine and villagers complained in 2010 that coal effluents had been polluting rivers and lakes. Drinking water was declared unfit for consumption by visiting officials and sanitary conditions at the mines were criticized.
In October 2010, hundreds of miners gathered outside a shaft in order to protest for higher wages. Chinese supervisors were defending the mine shaft's gate with guns. The situation escalated when the supervisors started shooting, wounding at least 13 miners that had been protesting. Injured miners were later paid settlements reaching from 5,000 to 11,000 USD. Charges against the supervisors were then dropped by the government of Zambia. Collum had been blaming the miners' union for the 2010 violence. The tensions between local miners and the Chinese owners persisted and escalated once more when a protest took place in August 2012. During this turmoil, a Chinese mine manager was killed and twelve suspects among the miners where then taken into custody by Zambian police. The incidents had sparked criticism and bad publicity for Collum and many Chinese such as China's ambassador to Zambia tried to distance themselves from the mine and its operators. In February 2013, the government of Zambia seized the Collum mine, citing labor and safety violations and tax nonpayments. The Zambian government now owns and operates the mine itself until a “suitable investor” will be found.
The protests shed light on the safety, environmental and labor conditions at Chinese mines in Zambia. A 2011 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that those conditions, despite improvements, had been worse at Chinese mines than at other foreign-owned mines. Nevertheless, in April 2015, the Zambian government decided to grant the Chinese company the right to open the mine once again. “The government decided to give back the mine to the Chinese firm after assurance that necessary measures have been taken to improve the operations”, declared Amos Chanda, a spokesman for the Zambian presidency.