Candid Comment: Zim must be sincere on lithium ban

Tinashe Makichi

IN an effort to add value and curb lithium smuggling through the country's porous borders, the government banned the exportation of unprocessed lithium in December last year.

Zimbabwe holds some of the world's largest reserves of hard rock lithium, a vital mineral in the production of clean energy technologies.

The ban was aimed at curbing leakages and encouraging lithium players to come up with beneficiation and value-addition plans.

Chinese giants Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group and Chengxin Lithium Group have over the past year acquired lithium mines and projects worth a combined US$678 million in Zimbabwe and are at various stages of developing mines and processing plants, which would exempt them from the ban.

However, despite the ban, there have been allegations that lithium was still being spirited out of the country, illegally or with blessings of those in the echelons of power. This has become a cause for concern in the context of the government’s value addition plan.

Lithium miners are still dribbling authorities, and the precious mineral is finding its way out of Zimbabwe through our porous borders.

The sincerity of the government on its policies comes into question.

At a time when the country was still looking for ways to benefit from the mining of lithium, President Emmerson Mnangagwa reportedly gave the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) a controversial raw lithium export permit under unclear circumstances.

The deal signed in October 2022 will see the military exporting raw lithium amounting to about 100 000 tonnes under an arrangement involving the Chinese.

This was despite the latest ban on raw lithium exports in a quest to bring order to a sector. ZDI is a state-owned Zimbabwean arms manufacturing and procurement company headquartered in Harare.

According to reports, ZDI and Zimbabwe  Mining Development Corporation together held 30% of the joint venture, known as Great Dyke Investments, through Pen East (Pty) Ltd., a company they control.

The Zimbabwe Defence Forces, through its Defence Economic Department (DED), has an array of investment arms already actively involved in mining.

When the ban is still in force, ZDI has been busy signing agreements with lithium exporters under unclear circumstances. There are allegations that those signing the agreements have been asked to pay facilitation fees.

Zimbabwe must be sincere in the enforcement of its policies for the country to benefit economically because at the moment everything points to deals for the boys.

As a country, we should not relax and fall into the same trap, which saw massive looting of diamonds in the Chiadzwa, a communal area in Marange in Manicaland province.

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