Batch flotation tests of a lead–zinc sulphide composite ore from the Rosh Pinah Mine have been carried out at pH 8.5 in the presence of copper cyanide complexes. These copper cyanide complexes are often found in the recycled water that is used in the milling and the lead flotation circuits. Flotation results have shown that cuprous cyanide complexes can activate sphalerite. In addition, the activation and subsequent flotation of sphalerite was greater when the composite was dry milled as compared to wet milling. Surface analysis of copper(I)-activated sphalerite samples was studied by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). XPS results showed the presence of copper species on the surface of sphalerite after activation with cuprous cyanide complexes. The copper species could be removed from the surface of sphalerite after treatment with sodium cyanide. This explains, amongst others reasons, the high cyanide requirement at Rosh Pinah Mine for the efficient depression of sphalerite in the lead flotation circuit.