Processing machinery first before contract

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ANOTHER aspect of the new dispensation in the country which has to be pursued vigorously is that of beneficiation and value addition.
We have to process our minerals and stop exporting them raw.
This is especially so after the enthusiasm exuded at the just-ended historic Zimbabwe Mining Investment Conference held in Harare this week.
For the past five years or so, the call for us to process our own minerals has been ‘full of sound and fury’ and nothing else.
Regrettably there hasn’t been much to show for it.
In this edition, we carry a disheartening story about lithium mining at Bikita Minerals
Bikita Minerals does not have the processing machinery to extract the material capable of making lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles.
Yet it is the lithium carbonate, lithium chloride and lithium fluoride which make this mineral tick.
These are the lithium products obtained through processing that have triggered the current lithium craze.
This mineral, the Minister of Mines and Mining Development aptly referred to as ‘the new kid on the block’.
And it looks like it won’t be very long before Electric Vehicles powered by lithium batteries eventually replace diesel or petrol-powered vehicles notorious for pollution through their emissions.
But though we are endowed with vast deposits of lithium, we shall remain confined to items like ceramics, kitchenware and glasses that are made from cheap lithium ore concentrate.
For the more valuable products, we export this raw to Europe, North America and Asia.
This is how Africa was underdeveloped.
It is indeed sad to note that unprocessed lithium is sold for as little as about US$140 a tonne while the processed bi-products can fetch as much as US$23 000 a tonne.
A difference too ghastly to imagine.
And yet it is real.
Thus, though lithium has been mined for years and exported in its raw form, its contribution to the economy has been negligible.
Though Zimbabwean lithium is expected to soon gobble up to about 20 percent of the world’s market share, it is unfortunate that we might still be expected to look for foreign currency to buy lithium batteries for smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles.
This is beside the local jobs which are ‘exported’ with the raw lithium.
We were almost tempted to ululate when we heard an Australian company to run Arcadia Mine, not far from Harare, had ambitious designs for the mine.
However, we soon were frozen in our tracks when we learnt that the company which has been operating in this country, intermittently though, for the past 50 years only intends to produce battery grade lithium at a later stage.
But why?
After all, Prospect Resources is an Australian company, from a country which is a world top producer of lithium.
It’s a company at home with the beneficiation processes, but probably fully appreciates the advantage of having Zimbabwean lithium processed in Australia for a while.
We therefore believe it should be a prerequisite for any mining company that intends doing business with Zimbabwe to bring with it processing machinery.
Our own established platinum companies have been dilly-dallying since Government’s appeal to them to build their own refineries.
That is why we are tempted to support the ‘stick and carrot’ approach by the Government.
A punitive platinum levy on raw platinum exports for failure to build beneficiation facilities should nudge these companies to act.
Relaxation on a sliding scale for those attempting to comply should act as a catalyst to speed compliance.
Efforts to value-add should cut across all minerals since now we know.
Never again should we be caught napping like what Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers did to our diamonds long after the colonial wizard had died.
Now under the Oppenheimer family, the multi-national company is accused of looting billions worth of diamonds out of the country.
On the pretext of prospecting, the world’s largest diamond company mined and exported Marange diamonds for over 10 years.
Mind you during this time, the host country got nothing from the 13 years of ‘exploration’ as they eventually claimed that they had found no gems at all.
Given a chance, these multi-nationals can strip the country naked without any feeling of remorse – let alone the obligatory beneficiation.

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