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Schoolchildren in Zimbabwe drop out for lithium mines

by Staff reporter
10 Mar 2024 at 01:30hrs | Views
In August 2023, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa inaugurated a lithium processing plant in the eastern province of Manicaland, aiming to support operations at the expansive Sabi Star lithium mine. The mine, designed to yield 900,000 tonnes of ore annually, equivalent to 200,000 tonnes of lithium concentrate, is owned by the company overseeing its operations.

Mnangagwa commended the company for adding value to the mined materials before export, emphasizing how this strategy reduces Zimbabwe's dependence on imports and positions the country as a significant player in the lithium market. Lithium, a critical component in electric vehicle batteries, is pivotal in the global shift away from fossil fuels.

Constructed in 2022 by Power China, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, the Sabi Star mine covers 2,637 hectares and is operated by Max Mind Investments, the Zimbabwean subsidiary of Shenzhen Chengxin Lithium Group.

The establishment of the mine has provided employment opportunities, bringing relief to families from nearby villages such as Mukwasi and Togara, whose livelihoods predominantly rely on crop and animal farming, activities challenged by minimal rainfall during dry seasons.

However, there have been drawbacks. Many of the approximately 40 families relocated to accommodate the mine felt they were not adequately consulted or legally represented, as reported by the national newspaper, the Standard. Additionally, some students from Mavangwe and Mukwasi secondary schools have abandoned their education due to their families' financial struggles, opting instead to work at the mine.

This trend aligns with a broader national pattern of students leaving school to join mining operations, a decision often driven by poverty. Joshua, an 18-year-old from Majere village, exemplifies this situation. Unable to afford school fees, he left secondary school to work in the mine, earning around US$250 per month. Similar stories abound among young Zimbabweans, many of whom secured jobs during the mine's establishment, often in unskilled roles.

Efforts to prevent school dropouts include campaigns by Zimbabwe's Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, encouraging learners to prioritize education. However, the prevalence of unregulated mining, disregarding labor laws and age limits, exacerbates the issue. Frank Nyasha Mpahlo of Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust highlights the need for stricter regulation to curb underage labor in mining.

Max Mind Investments aims to introduce a scholarship program for underprivileged students to complete their studies, although details are not yet available. Nonetheless, for individuals like Joshua, who have found stability through mining, returning to school may seem impractical.

Without sustained government intervention to promote education, experts fear long-term repercussions, including increased social challenges and economic stagnation in mining communities. Nonetheless, schools remain open to welcoming back former students who choose to prioritize their education.

Source - newzimbabwe