By Staff Reporter
CHINESE-owned Bikita Minerals, Zimbabwe’s largest producer of lithium, has suspended operations at its Masvingo mine for seven days to address ‘concerns raised by authorities’ a few weeks after claims of looting were raised by a local watchdog.
China’s Sinomine Resource Group took over Bikita Minerals, which was at the time Zimbabwe’s sole lithium-producing mine and one of Africa’s oldest, in a $180 million deal last year.
The Chinese miner has invested a further $200 million to expand existing operations at Bikita, including the construction of two lithium processing plants to produce 250,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate and 480,000 tonnes of petalite per year. Spodumene is another key battery mineral, and petalite is a lithium mineral used in the glass and ceramic industries.
However, Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) Director Farai Maguwu on May 2 claimed massive looting of lithium at the mine. 42 trucks of lithium ore were said to be leaving the site on a daily basis.
“Fellow Zimbabweans, the looting of our minerals at Bikita Minerals has reached another level. They are processing 754 tonnes of concentrate per day. 42 trucks loaded with lithium concentrate departing daily with the loot,” said Maguwu.
“Ian Smith and his Rhodesian fellows used Zimbabwe’s natural resources to build cities and a country that was worth fighting for. They left behind world class infrastructure, great industries and factories, a powerful currency. Above all, mining had linkages with all economic sectors.”
Bikita Lithium Looting Update 02/05/23
Fellow Zimbabweans, the looting of our minerals at Bikita Minerals has reached another level. They are processing 754 tonnes of concentrate per day. 42 trucks loaded with lithium concentrate departing daily with the loot. pic.twitter.com/bGFg8LV2uf
— Farai Maguwu (@FMaguwu) May 2, 2023
Bikita Minerals which employs 860 workers holds 11 million tonnes of lithium, the world’s largest-known deposit of the mineral.
Lithium is being seen as Zimbabwe’s way out of a three decade long economic crisis. Analysts have argued the mineral could also help circumvent effects of trade and financial aid restrictions since the early 2000s.
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In a statement released Monday, Bikita Minerals Mine Manager David Mwanza said they were working to clear issues raised without naming them.
“This release serves to inform our stakeholders and partners that we have put operations at our plant on hold for seven days to address administrative concerns raised by authorities,’ said Mwanza.
“As a law-abiding corporate, we remain committed to fully complying with all requirements of the law and expect to resume operations once all the outstanding issues have been addressed.
“In the meantime, the company’s leadership is working closely with all relevant authorities to ensure that the matter is resolved within the stipulated time frame.”