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Zimbabwe losing control over lithium - Report

by Staff reporter
29 Apr 2023 at 14:32hrs | Views
ZIMBABBWE's lithium is being smuggled at far worse rates than previously estimated, a new report said this week, blaming foreign cartels.

In a report titled ‘implications of the lithium mining rush in Zimbabwe: analysis of legal Developments', resources campaigner, Zimbabwe Environmental law association (Zela) said most of the damage had been inflicted due to lithium claims' location near porous borders.

Lithium has been Zimbabwe's biggest discovery in the past five years and multinationals have been pouring millions of United States dollars to exploit the resource, a crucial input into the production of electric car batteries in advanced economies.

Some reports say up to US$650 million has been injected into Zimbabwe's lithium mining sub-sector in the past two years, as global giants troop to prepare facilities for mining and processing the mineral.

Government has also been tightening screws on exports to encourage local beneficiation of lithium.

In December, the ministry of mines and mining Development banned the exportation of raw lithium, in line with the beneficiation policy. The ban was effected through Statutory instrument (Si) 213 of 2022 gazette titled Base minerals Export Control (Unbeneficiated lithium Bearing ores) order, 2022.

But in its report, Zela said lithium was still illegally finding its way out of Zimbabwe.

"Most players in the sector sell it unprocessed and as a raw material," Zela said this week.

"From a marketing and trade perspective, it is alleged that the key players in the trading of unprocessed lithium include the Chinese, Indians, South africans and mozambicans," the report noted.

"These players are allegedly fuelling the illicit trade and smuggling of lithium, draining the country's fiscal potential from lithium production.

"The location of some lithium reserves near land borders, in areas such as Mutoko, makes it highly prone to illicit financial flows," part of the report reads.

It also revealed that despite the recent legal developments, which resulted in the ban on exports, the country had not yet operationalised its value addition and beneficiation programmes.

However, prospect lithium Zimbabwe, the first firm to build a US$275 million processing facility in Zimbabwe, said last week it had begun processing at its Goromonzi operation, and exports had started.

Zela said artisanal miners in places like Sandawana in Mberengwa, were using unsafe mining methods, creating a platform for mine accidents.

"The artisanal miners were not using safe methods of mining and there may be risk of fatal mine accidents. at Sandawana, the miners were only targeting outcrops, which are easy to mine," the report states.

"Therefore, most of them were employing shallow opencast mining methods to extract the near-surface outcrops. a few were employing shallow unsupported underground mining methods."

Miners interviewed by Zela said at one point, a pit collapsed, injuring people.

The report said lithium was being sold at between US$100 to US$150 per tonne.

It said some foreign buyers were not weighing consignments when paying.

"This raises a high possibility of miners being short-changed because they lack knowledge of the value of lithium and buyers have bargaining power," reads the report.

Zela also stated that although government was pursuing its value addition strategy, capacity for value addition and beneficiation had not been developed. lithium is a critical raw material for battery production. its price has gone up by 1 100% in the past two years alone. according to the report, the global demand for lithium has grown significantly over recent years and is expected to continue increasing.

Although the country has been mining lithium since 1950 through Bikita lithium minerals, Zimbabwe in recent years has experienced an increased interest in lithium mining activities.

Source - The Independent