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Govt transparency critical on lithium mining proceeds



A CIVIL society organisation, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), has challenged Treasury to come clean on how much the country is making from lithium mined by Chinese-run Bikita Minerals, amid allegations of opaque operations, The NewsHawks has learnt.


In May, mining was suspended at the Sinomine Resource Group-run Bikita Minerals for a week after CNRG had raised a red flag amid allegations that more than 40 trucks were leaving the mine with lithium ore.

According to CNRG, the situation has intensified with over 42 trucks leaving the mine, while workers are operating 24 hours a day, raising questions on the destination of the lithium.

While Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on the exportation of unprocessed lithium, companies developing mines and processing plants have however been exempt, among them Sinomine and Chengxin Lithium Group.

The Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) has also been given the green light to export raw lithium to China.

“They are now operating at three shifts per day, the first one between 6AM-2PM, 2PM-10PM and 10PM to 6AM. They are harvesting like there is no tomorrow,” said Farai Maguwu, CNRG director.

“So, mining activity is happening there non-stop, and no one knows what Zimbabwe is getting from the mineral. In Latin America, they are locking down the mineral as they have understood that it is a transitional mineral that is highly on demand. So they are making policies to nationalise their lithium to ensure that government is in control.

“And then, in terms of exports, we were told that there are at least 42 trucks were leaving the area daily [in Bikita]. The problem is: What is Zimbabwe getting from this? The Chinese know that their operations may not go on forever, such that they are maximising the extraction.

“They have expanded the area where they have been doing open cast mining, ever since they took over last year. The volume of production was about 500-700 tonnes per day of the ore,” Maguwu told The NewsHawks.

Bikita Minerals spokesperson Collen Nikisi did not respond to questions sent to him via email.

Lithium has been touted to turn around the national economy. Latest statistics by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency show that the mining of metal ores was the main driver in the mining industry, accounting for 78.1% of mining value added.

These include gold, platinum group metals (PGMs), nickel, and lithium among others. Metal ores that recorded significant growth in 2022 were: gold 18%, PGMs and lithium 236%.

Despite lithium’s enormous contribution, mining has been trailing wholesale and retail trade as the top contributors to the national gross domestic product (GDP). Mining contributed 13.2%, falling behind wholesale and retail which contributed 18.7%. Agriculture comes third, contributing 12%, while manufacturing and finance and insurance have contributed 11.2% and 8.2% respectively.

While cabinet has approved the beneficiation policy, the country has not yet fully operationalised value addition and beneficiation programmes, leaving the mineral prone to smuggling.

The country has been losing lithium through porous borders. An investigation by The NewsHawks published in April exposed lithium smuggling from the Mudzi and Mutoko areas via Nyamapanda Border Post.

Another investigation by Zela in February revealed that foreign buyers are smuggling lithium ore, which is bought in bulk from artisanal miners.

For instance, during one of Zela’s visits to mining sites in Mberengwa, there were various buyers of lithium who were operating haulage trucks at night. In one incident, the investigative team observed a fleet of seven haulage trucks headed for Mberengwa around 7pm.

However, the following day, it was noted that only two trucks had been fully loaded overnight and left. It also emerged that the lithium miners sell their ore to buyers, who also drive at night to these remote areas for collection, according to the report.

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