THE Ministry of Mines and Mining Development has reportedly awarded a firm with suspected links to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Terrestrial Holdings, a licence to export one million tonnes of raw lithium ore annually, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
This comes after the government early this year gave the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) a permit to export raw lithium, a development that triggered public outrage, which led to the deal stalling.
However, CIO director-general Isaac Moyo said he knew nothing about the export permit when contacted by the Independent.
“I don’t know anything about those things. So, l don’t know how to comment,” Moyo said.
Mines ministry permanent secretary Pfungwa Kunaka referred questions to Terrestrial Holdings.
“About Terrestrial, I would need to establish the facts, which may require time. The best would be for you to contact them directly,” Kunaka said
When contacted for comment, Terrestrial managing director Kumbirai Nyamande said: “Let me seek approval first to comment. Call me back after 10-15 minutes.”
In a later interview, he said: “I am sorry, authority not granted. But what I can say (about) that licence is that I don’t know about it. So whatever information you write about TH (Terrestrial Holdings) get it from the Ministry of Mines.”
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However, according to Terrestrial website, https://terrestrialholdings.co.zw, “Terrestrial Holdings (Pvt) Ltd also has a lithium export licence.
“Currently, (the) mine is producing gold, coal, lithium and has interest in other minerals. Exploration for coal is presently under way at Sebungwe Mine in Binga.”
According to the website, Terrestrial is a “private entity registered and incorporated in Zimbabwe (1981) under the Companies and Other Business Entities Act (Chapter24:31 as Limited. It is a conglomerate with subsidiaries in mining, pharmaceuticals, real estate, agribusiness, energy, transport, telecommunications, tourism and hospitality”.
Mines ministry sources reiterated that the company and Kuvimba Mining House (KMH) were awarded separate lithium export licences.
KMH group chief executive officer Simba Chinyemba confirmed that the mining giant was granted a licence to export raw lithium ore in January this year.
“We have had it since January,” he said.
The Independent is informed that a Chinese national William Gung was also awarded a licence to export raw lithium and chrome ore.
“Terrestrial was awarded a licence to export raw lithium ore,” a source in the Ministry of Mines said. “Kuvimba Mining House also has a licence to export raw lithium.
“Another player, Gung has been moving a lot of chrome and we are informed he also has a licence to export raw lithium to China. The lithium export issue is shrouded in secrecy and it is not public knowledge, who and which companies have permits to export the mineral.”
A ZDI letter dated September 13, 2023 and addressed to Cronewald Minerals, a company reportedly linked to Gung reads: “Ref-ZDI-Cronewald Minerals contract dated January 13, 2023. This letter serves to confirm that Cronewald Minerals is in partnership with ZDI on the export of lithium ore subject to approval by (the) ZDI board of directors.”
Contacted for comment, Gung said everything he was doing in Zimbabwe was above board after the Independent asked him about how he was allowed to export raw lithium.
“I have put so many projects on the ground in your country. I have been doing everything and following regulations,” Gung said.
ZDI has been aggressively expanding its footprint in Zimbabwe’s mining sector.
Its growth resulted in the formation of the platinum mining firm, Great Dyke Investment (GDI), which is developing a US$3 billion operation in Darwendale, Mashonaland West.
GDI was a joint venture between ZDI, a Russian consortium, and state-owned KMH, which is now a 100% shareholder in the mining company.
ZDI’s stake in Great Dyke was held through an investment vehicle called Pen East (Pvt) Ltd, which was established in partnership with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), another state-run operation.
The government extended the permit to ZDI immediately after imposing a blanket ban on lithium exports last year, which was imposed to curb rampant smuggling of the mineral.
The bulk of lithium was at the time being spirited into neighbouring South Africa, from where it would find its way onto the international markets.
Most of this demand has been underpinned by growth in electric vehicle assemblies in advanced countries, including the US and China.
Early this year, the Independent was told that some powerful figures within ZDI had capitalised on the ban to comb through lithium rich areas across the country, identifying companies that were willing to “partner” for “exports”.
After finding the “partners”, the officials would coax them into salting away the resource through ZDI. They would name-drop military generals, sources claimed.
Investigations by the Independent exposed how some ZDI top brass had been lining their pockets since last year.
An investigation last year by this newspaper revealed that ZDI was given the green light to export an estimated 10 000 tonnes of lithium monthly, reportedly to China.
China and the US are major global consumers of the mineral.
Small-scale miners have also joined in the rush for Zimbabwe’s lithium, including at Sandawana Mine in the Midlands province.
The discoveries have positioned Zimbabwe among the dominant players in Africa.
Zimbabwe, which produced 1 200 metric tonnes of the mineral in 2021, is the world’s sixth largest producer.