Economic development through mining


ARCHAEOLOGICAL studies have shown that man has been a wondering hunter and food gatherer in Africa for about
500 000 years, and during the greater part of this nomadic period, his use of minerals has been restricted to the making of stone weapons and tools such as the stone hand axe.
Suitable stones were found everywhere; when man needed a tool, he simply made it.
His skill in using rocks for tools is the one criterion that enables us to distinguish early Stone Age man from other primates.
It was not until about 50 000 years ago that man learnt to use fire.
During the Middle Stone Ages, 20 000 years later, suitable materials for basket-making and pottery and brick-making were also discovered in southern Africa which soon spread to Egypt, that involved the use of a widely distributed group of minerals — the clays. In this use of minerals the sub-Saharan African man was most likely to be leading the world at the time.
In pre-dynastic Zimbabwe, metals were being mined and manufactured into many kinds of tools – hoes, axes, awls, drills, chisels, saws, adzes, knives and needles.
In fact, from about 2000 BC, Zimbabweans showed an advanced, practical knowledge of the geology of the country.
As people became more sedentary, larger social groups were formed and knowledge and experiences were pooled to discover new skills, which required new tools and materials, thus an increasingly wide range of minerals began to be used.
This marked the beginning of the ‘humhizha’ schools of tool and weapon industry for hunting, industry and the arts in Zimbabwe.
The accurately dressed granite and a large variety of other durable stones were used in architecture and statuary as is evidenced by the Great Zimbabwe.
During this period, a burgeoning trade in minerals also became well-established.
These early discoveries in the use of minerals went hand-in-hand with great improvements in physical science, food production and in building construction.
During the 9th to 12th dynasties of Munhumutapa, metal was smelted, giving evidence of a metal-smelting process.
This period also witnessed the arrival of Arab and Indian traders who voyaged down the East coast to trade for gold, iron goods and other commodities.
The metal for their tools was smelted from ores which were readily found in lateritic soils, and the remains of the smelters that produce the iron ore are found by the hundreds throughout Zimbabwe; evidencing ‘industrial beneficiation’ as a part of the indigenous way of thinking and commercial enterprise.
The consequent growth of commerce encouraged the establishment of a miner’s guild in imperial Munhumutapa governance and ensured a specialisation in the various industries such as metallurgy, in which many skilled artisans were engaged to specialise in producing metals for barter.
There were no further major developments in the mineral industry.
The arrival of Western settlers in the southern part of the continent brought a new awareness of the value of minerals and new techniques for the discovery and exploitation of mineral deposits; derived from their knowledge in the use of minerals that brought about the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
The proliferation of ancient mine workings gives evidence of extensive mining in Zimbabwe prior to the white settlers in the late 19th Century.
The first written document on mining in Zimbabwe was made by 10th Century Arab geographers. Portuguese records from the 16th Century show that Portuguese traders also obtained gold from Munhumutapa.
Apart from land, the search for gold was a primary reason for colonisation in 1890.
Indeed, within 24 hours of the disbandment of the Pioneer Column the white interlopers were already all over the country prospecting for gold.
Jumbo Mine, situated 40km north of Harare, registered in October 1890, was one of the earliest gold mines.
It was farcically named after ‘Jumbo’, the largest elephant kept at the London Zoo at the time, as an indication of the size of the gold reef found.
By the early 20th Century, as a result of the new discoveries and subsequent industrial developments, Africa, and indeed Zimbabwe, produced almost all of the diamonds, more than half of the gold and cobalt, approximately one-third of the platinum, manganese and chrome and one-quarter of the copper and phosphate in the Western world
Africa also produced important quantities of asbestos, uranium, tin, tantalum, niobium, beryllium and lithium which is mined at Bikita Minerals in Masvingo, for which Zimbabwe is ranked as the fourth largest producer in the world after the US.
Among other, but less abundant minerals mined at Bikita Minerals are amblygonite, tantalite, petalite and other lithium mineral deposits.
Modern mining in Zimbabwe began in 1892, when gold was first mined and minted in the Masvingo area.
By 1894, Zimbabwe was producing 30 minerals and metals including gold, asbestos, chromium, copper and coal.
Iron, the key metal of industry, and coal are the chief minerals on which industries depend.
By the early 20th Century, the bulk of the world’s supply of iron was produced in blast furnaces, using coal in the form of coke as fuel in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the only significant producers of iron in Africa.
Approximately 80 percent of the total value of minerals produced in Zimbabwe is exported.
By the mid-1980s, the large quantities of chrome and asbestos produced in Zimbabwe made it a world-class producer.
The serpentine mineral Chrysotile asbestos is notably different from amphibole or blue asbestos
Towards the end of the 20th Century, while China’s output was unknown, the gold output in Zimbabwe, which averaged between 11 and 14 tonnes per annum, established Zimbabwe as the 12th largest gold producer in the world.
A world mining survey carried out in 1973 established that: “Some of the world’s finest deposits of chrome, asbestos, iron, platinum, gold and lithium ores exist in Zimbabwe alongside other minerals of industrial importance, namely; nickel, copper, coal, tin, limestone, pyrites and precious gem stone.”
By 1984 the mining sector in Zimbabwe, although responsible for only six percent of GDP, earned over US$340 million in foreign currency, which at that time was 26 percent of Zimbabwe’s entire foreign currency earnings.
Zimbabwe’s mineral resources are important factors for the country’s industrial and economic self-sufficiency.
Will the future economic development in years to come still depend on the export of our minerals to industrialised countries overseas?
The economic mineralisation is an important aspect of Zimbabwe’s geological history.
There is nothing new about beneficiation; it is in fact, a traditional Zimbabwean indigenous concept of wealth generation through artistry and industry created from the mineral ores excavated from the soils of our motherland.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
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