Battle lines drawn over chrome claims

Ishemunyoro Chingwere Business Reporter
ON Saturday July 1, 2017 the Zimbabwe Mining and Smelting Company (Zimasco), the country’s biggest ferrochrome producer, will officially surrender 22 700 hectares of chrome-rich claims to Government, but far from bringing cheer sabres are rattling and bows are bent.

While in principle Government has pledged to hand over the claims to small-scale miners who have been exploiting them in tributary arrangements with Zimasco for years, it has since emerged that some bureaucrats in the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development are imposing their own handpicked beneficiaries.

New miners have started moving in on claims in Shurugwi, Zvishavane and Mberengwa in the Midlands province.

They are giving seating tenants up to July 1 to move out.

Farmers located in areas where the mineral can be exploited are also not being spared.

But the “old” miners are not budging.

Mr Lawrence Mubhobho, who has been mining chrome for the past 15 years, told The Sunday Mail Business that individuals that are angling to take over their claims are name-dropping senior politicians in order force them out.

“We have been mining here for a long time, some for as long as 15 years, only to be kicked out now,” he said.

“We have been threatened by people who have been coming here ever since they heard that Zimasco had ceded claims saying we should leave this place by July 1 or face serious consequences.

“These people use senior Government officials’ names and our appeal to Government is it should come out clean and tell us the official position.”

Likewise, A1 farmers resettled at Reva 36 in Mberengwa District said last week they have been told to pave way for miners by July 1.

Mr Isaac Chivendera, chairman of a lobby group for small-scale miners – the Confederation of Zimbabwe Small Scale Miners Association – said Government should sort out the mess.

“These people who are now coming into the sector are just there to disrupt this industry,” said Mr Chivendera.

“Where were they all this while when we toiled lobbying Government to get these claims? We appeal to the responsible minister to stamp his authority and kick out these disruptors off our claims.

“It is also important that Government come out strongly, state its position so that there are no inconsistences in national policy.

“Government has been making it clear ever since we started fighting for these claims that we, as former Zimasco tributary miners, will have the right to first refusal once these claims have been released,” he added.

In 2015, Government directed Zimasco and ZimAlloys, which held more than 80 percent of the country’s chrome resources then, to cede 50 percent of their claims.

The two companies also relied heavily on tributary arrangements through which they could get ore for processing.

Initially, Government identified new smelters (largely Chinese investors), medium-scale beneficiation plants and small-scale miners who were already working on the claims as designate beneficiaries.

Tense engagements

The Sunday Mail Business gathers that there have been closed-door engagements between former Zimasco tributaries and Government officials amid revelations that the latter will no longer give the former the right to first refusal as promised earlier.

Minutes of a February 21, 2007 meeting held between Deputy Minister Mines and Mining Development Engineer Fred Moyo and miners’ representatives – the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Small Scale Miners Association – point to a potential showdown in the highly-contested sector.

Mr Freddie Ncube represented ZMF at the meeting, while Mr Antony Msipa led delegates from the Association.

The miners’ representatives told Eng Moyo: “Unfortunately we are being left out in the very programme we worked so hard to initiate.

“ . . . when we visited the PMD’s (Provincial Mining Director) office in Gweru, the officials told us that they have been instructed to serve on a first come first serve basis and that they do not recognise Zimasco Tributaries.”

Letters have also been lodged to Mines Minister Mr Walter Chidhakwa.

In a letter dated April 5, 2017 addressed to Minister Chidhakwa, ZMF indicated that it was being betrayed.

“We would like to register our extreme disappointment with the way the issue of Zimasco ceded claims is being handled,” wrote ZMF.

“Much to the contrary it appears the ministry has decided to displace the sitting tenant who should have been given the first right to refusal. Sitting tenants have been mining these claims for over 10 years. Many of our members are heavily indebted to financial institutions and now run the risk of facing civil imprisonment.

“We have on numerous occasions discussed this issue with you in person and your predecessors and you have assured us that the first refusal will be afforded to the sitting tributary / contractor and now we wonder what happened (to that promise).”

Efforts to get a comment from the mines ministry were futile at the time of going to print.

Minister Chidhakwa’s mobile phone was unreachable, while Engineer Moyo said the matter was administrative.

However, permanent secretary Mr Munesu Monodawafa referred questions back to Eng Moyo.

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