Youth in mining need massive support

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By Vince Musewe
LAST time, I wrote on how we can empower youth in agriculture, this week I want to touch on the issue of youth in mining.

Our underlying philosophy must be that youth are an asset and not a liability and we have to do everything we can to nurture their talents, skills and gifts for the future.

In fact, for me true leadership is all about creating the necessary space for others, especially our youth, to shine so that they may live to their potential in this lifetime to the benefit of all.

The developing world, particularly Africa, is awash with natural resources including unparalleled mineral endowments, yet Africa is considered the poorest continent on earth.

These resources have been exploited over many centuries and exported abroad either fairly or unfairly in their raw form, a trend which has continued to this day.

Fortunately, the need to address this paradox of poverty amid plenty is now being taken seriously in many developing countries, particularly in Africa.

Many African countries have crafted new laws to govern resource exploitation among other issues, remove colonial barriers to equitable resource access by indigenous populations.

In particular, many African countries have enacted or are enacting “mining codes” to align their mining policies to domestic needs.

Zimbabwe has a diverse and well-developed minerals sector, however, the successful implementation of the country’s development agenda must be anchored not only on the judicious exploitation of Zimbabwe’s resources, but also on increasing productivity; ensuring adequate capitalisation; ensuring inclusivity especially of youth and women; facilitating the transfer of technical and management skills, transparency, creating a regulated environment and avoidance of environmental degradation.

Above all, it must create inclusive economic growth and our youths must play a more meaningful role in that process.

We must begin to see conscious efforts to increase the sector’s contribution to mineral output; improve transparency; inculcate a culture of safe and responsible mining; reduce the use of hazardous substances and environmental degradation while fostering development of communities within the mining areas.

Zimbabwe small-scale miners continue to contribute significantly to mineral output, however, generally, their activities are associated with informal, unregulated, under-capitalised, under-equipped and labour-intensive operations where technical and management skills are lacking.

Small-scale miners are also believed to be producing limited amounts of minerals from uncertain reserves. A large percentage of these miners are youths.

They also lack financial resources with no access to bank loans. Very often, the mining operations are done haphazardly with severe consequences to the environment, the surrounding, and even distant, communities, and to the miners themselves.

Inadequate equipment, such as drilling and pumping machines also leads miners to abandon their deposits prematurely, once hard rock or water is encountered.

Without financial resources and technical and management skills, miners cannot conduct systematic exploration of the mining areas to allow long-term planning and adequate mining development.

Youths are, therefore, a large part of small-scale miners and it is critical that the participation of youth in mining becomes one of the key drivers of future growth.

The National Development Strategy 2021-25 (NDS1) deals quite comprehensively with mineral beneficiation and value chains but has no specific focus on how to ensure that youth participate in these opportunities.

There is, therefore, need for a more detailed approach to youth in mining which, in my opinion, should be done at provincial level to ensure inclusivity and effective devolution.

It is critical that small-scale mining activity is not characterised by minimal use of machinery or technology; operation without legal mining title or valid contract with the title holder; low productivity; inadequate safety measures, healthcare and environmental protection; high seasonality linked to economic insecurity.

Added to this is the fact that inadequate geological knowledge and mine planning skills and safety have resulted in mining activities being chaotic and environmentally damaging.

A lot of small-cale miners have no financial capacity to mechanise mining operations due to lack of viable business plans and collateral security required to access bank loans

Deliberate youth inclusion strategies are very necessary if we are to create inclusive economic growth. These must include;

  • Facilitating access to government loan facilities by youths in mining sector
  • Reserving a percentage of  mining claims/licences/rights for youth
  • Establishment of district support centres to provide regional registration and purchasing and training services to youth in the mining sector.
  • Provision of concessionary loan facilities primarily for equipment purchase.
  • Establishment of mercury free milling centres
  • Some level of exploration must be done to improve mining output
  • Ensuring that youths are part and parcel of the mining sector value chain developments.

In pursuance of the above it is critical that we have provincial mining resource development blue prints which are driven at provincial level.

Each province must know what resource reserves lie under its ground and what actions are going to be taken to bring our youth to the table.

Added to the above our youths must organise themselves around economic opportunities and not politics. Youth empowerment forums in each province can be platforms which must be fully supported by government.

“Countries that are more politically inclusive are likely to enjoy better natural resource management and developmental outcomes. Countries where a greater proportion of society has a voice in policymaking and where decisions are made on the basis of public good provision to the many, rather than private spoils to the few, are more likely to benefit from welfare-enhancing policies that share developmental riches across social, political and economic groups in a sustainable fashion,” so says the book titled Rents to RichesThe Political Economy of Natural Resource–Led Development.

The book, authored by several experts in the subject matter, looks at the political economy of the “resource curse” prevalent in resource rich but poor countries, a pervasive phenomenon especially in Africa.

It presents an analytical framework for evaluating a country’s political economy and institutional environment as it relates to natural resource management and offers some prescriptions across the natural resource value chain.

Zimbabwe is, indeed, faced with a challenge to transform and maximise the development of its extractives sector for the inclusive welfare of its citizens while stemming out serious leakages and ensuring that there is tangible socio economic impact from revenues generated.

We must, however, appreciate that transformative economic or mining policies will be key determinants of progress, but these policies are also driven by inherent institutional structures and political dynamics. Transforming the mining sector must definitely be a priority if we are to see the emergence of prosperous youths in that sector.

  • Vince Musewe is an economist. He writes here in his personal capacity.