Zambian President Michael Sata.  Picture: REUTERS
Zambian President Michael Sata. Picture: REUTERS

LUSAKA — Zambia has revoked the work permit of the CEO of Konkola Copper Mines, owned by London-listed Vedanta Resources, as a row over job cuts deepens between the government and the country’s biggest private-sector employer.

Konkola, which is also the biggest foreign investor in Africa’s largest copper producer, said earlier this month it planned to cut more than 1,500 jobs by March as it begins to mechanise operations.

Since then, the government and Konkola have engaged in a public row, with President Michael Sata threatening last week to revoke the company’s mining licence.

Moses Suwali, an interior ministry spokesman, said on Monday the government had now decided to revoke the visa of Konkola CEO Kishore Kumar.

"His work permit has been revoked and this means he cannot work in Zambia," Mr Suwali said. "He went ahead to fire 76 workers and left the country when he was supposed to meet government officials to discuss the planned retrenchments."

Vedanta, an Indian oil and gas and mining conglomerate, bought Konkola a decade ago after the exit from Zambia of previous owners Anglo American.

But the business — part of a push beyond India and an attempt to boost copper exposure — has repeatedly disappointed, with margins lagging more lucrative Vedanta divisions such as zinc, or its oil and gas operations.

The Konkola dispute is one of several tarnishing the image of Zambia as one of frontier Africa’s most promising investment destinations.

The government last month threatened to shut Shoprite stores after the South African company fired 3,000 workers who went on strike over pay. Shoprite, Africa’s biggest retailer, subsequently backtracked on the sackings.