The Sunday Mail
Ishemunyoro Chingwere in Zvishavane
THE sleepy town of Zvishavane is slowly coming back to life following the commissioning of recovery work on at least 308 000 tonnes dumpsites at giant asbestos mining company, Shabanie Mine that has the potential to save the country millions of dollars in fibre imports.
Shabanie Mine, together with its sister subsidiary mine – Gaths, which used to produce a total of 150 000 tonnes of chrysotile fibre per annum, closed its operations in 2007 due to a myriad of challenges. Demand, especially for the silky ore reserves, was however still very high with 200 000 tonnes on the order book at the time of closure.
With the new administration led by President Mnangagwa stressing the need for mining to drive the country’s economic recovery, efforts to reopen the mine have been escalated with the first phase being the utilisation of the fibre rich dump sites. Working closely with the team at the holding company, Shabanie Mashava Mine, the Mines and Mining Development Minister Mr Winston Chitando has hit the ground running with his vision for the extractive industry being driven by increased capacity utilisation, ability to raise capital and a commitment to exploration. According to Mr Chitando, these three areas, coupled with policy clarity and consistency, will see Zimbabwe becoming the preferred destination for mining investment.
With work having already commenced, Shabanie Mashava Mine has embarked on a recruitment exercise that has seen the company employing an additional 150 employees, bringing the total number of employees to over 220. This development has brought relief and smiles on the faces of the residents of this town, who had given up ever seeing the mining giant resuming operations.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail Business in Zvishavane on Thursday, Shabanie Mashava Mines (Pvt) Ltd Group Chief Executive Officer Mr Chirandu Dhlembeu confirmed that indeed the recovery work had resumed adding that the company now has a clear road-map that it has to follow for the mine to return to full operation.
Mr Dhlembeu said the mine needs $74 million to recapitalise and bring back the mine to full operation which has the potential to realise close to $1 billion in revenue over the next 12 years.
In the meantime, with a capital requirement of $1,2 million, the mine is exploiting the already-on-surface dump which cuts the production cost by close to 87, 5 percent compared to the costs incurred if the fibre was to be retrieved from underground. The dump itself is a product of a glut of fibre of the 1970s where only the top quality fibre was being cherry picked for the market with the rest being thrown away.
“At the moment, starting this month, Shabanie Mine is producing from the existing asbestos dumps which have a life of plus three years,” said company Chief Executive Mr Dhlembeu.
“Dumps are a low hanging fruit and working with the market which is into the manufacturing of asbestos products, we have managed to prove that the fibre which had gone to waste because of depleted plant machinery is being brought back for recovery.
“The impact of this production is that we will save the country US$3 million which amount was being used to import fibre from countries like Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil because what we are producing is sufficient to meet, 100 percent, local demand.
“The additional employment this has generated is 150 and this small number is because we have cut out the employment requirement for doing underground (mining) because the resource is already on the surface,” he said.
The road map
The need to resume underground mining at Shabanie Mine is compelling, but having gone bust for years, there is an arduous road to be walked before actual mining can resume.
Feasibility studies have shown that the mine needs to dewater its two mining shafts, a process that can take up to nine months before access to the mining areas can be obtained where equipment also needs to be repaired at a total cost of $74 million.
The biggest cost centre in this is power for dewatering. Zimbabwe has arguably the most expensive power in the region and industry expects have consistently argued that the cost of power is one of the major drawbacks inhibiting local industrial growth.
“We have the infrastructure, we have the resource, the skills are there; what is required is capital,” said Mr Dhlembeu.
There has been confusion in the market on the continued use of asbestos as it is said to have side effects. As a result, there has been a global lobby against the fibre and some asbestos mines in countries like Canada have shut down.
The lobby is however on a particular type of asbestos which is not what is available in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe hosts the serpentine or white fibre which causes no health hazards as opposed to the highly risky amphibole group found in other parts of the world.
At the time of its closure Shabanie had 200 000 tonnes on the order book and a Ministry of Mines and Mining Development trip to India last year confirmed demand for the Zimbabwean fibre while a couple of international enquiries have been coming after word went out that the Mine was being resuscitated.
“The question (for the uninitiated) is where do we put all this produce when the local market can only take a maximum of 10 000 tonnes per year and the answer is export market,” said Mr Dhlembeu.
“Once we are at full capacity, we will be looking at just about five percent of produce into the local market, and what this means is the mine has very high capacity to generate foreign currency.
“The market is still buoyant and this was confirmed by MMCZ (Minerals Marketing Commission of Zimbabwe) and ourselves,” said Mr Dhlembeu.