Small-scale chrome producers stuck with tonnes of ore

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BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

ZIMBABWE’S small-scale chrome miners are stuck with tonnes of ore which they are failing to sell to the international markets following the closure of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

In its latest mining sector and communities situational report, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) said small-scale chrome producers were facing challenges to access markets for their chrome.

“The Chinese are the main buyers of chrome in Zimbabwe. As a result of the pandemic, borders have been closed and no buyers have been able to buy the chrome. This has left chrome small-scale miners stuck with the ore which can be easily stolen by criminals in the sector,” read part of the report.

“Chrome prices are at relatively low levels and it is difficult to see how chrome producers will benefit. Many ferrochrome producers and international markets suspended operations.”
In Zimbabwe, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe controls the prices of all minerals mined in the country.

Chrome is one of Zimbabwe’s main exports after gold, platinum group metals and diamonds.

Zimbabwe has the world’s second largest known chrome ore deposits, with about 900 million tonnes of untapped ore against total world reserves estimated to be 7,5 billion tonnes.
Only South Africa has more chrome ore reserves than Zimbabwe.

Zela said although the mining industry was given a reprieve at the start of the COVID-19-induced national lockdown to continue operating upon meeting certain conditions, the chrome sector had already been experiencing operational challenges way before the deadly global pandemic struck.

Chrome producers suffered another blow after its stainless steel-making markets in Europe and Asia scaled down operations.

At the end of March this year, Zimasco, one of the country’s largest chrome producers, temporarily halted its smelting and related mining operations in response to weak global demand and resultant low prices for ferrochrome, which made continued production unviable.