Zim new Lithium Ore policy targets beneficiation; CNRG says govt must walk the talk

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By Alois Vinga

ZIMBABWE is set to enact a Lithium Ore Policy which prioritises local beneficiation of the sought after commodity in a move which will deliver maximum benefit if implemented accordingly amid calls for government to walk the talk.

The country currently has the largest lithium reserves in Africa and fourth worldwide on the back of a surging global demand for electric cars, powered by lithium batteries which has increased demand for the mineral.

The rapid development of the lithium-ion battery market in the world has accelerated the consumption of lithium resources.

This week, Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa revealed that cabinet approved the Policy which is set to be backed by a Statutory Instrument will be issued on Lithium in a bold commitment to depart from the common practice of exporting raw commodities seen in the past.

“Under the new policy, any individual or entity owing a lithium concession can mine lithium ores for either processing at its own Approved Processing Plant (APP), or for sale to those with APP locally.

“Players wishing to process lithium ores will be required to construct an APP locally. Ore movement permits for lithium ores will only be issued where such ores are destined for a local APP. Lithium ores can only be stored at the mining site where such ores were mined, or at an approved for local APP,” she said.

The new policy stipulates that a Lithium Ore Purchase Licence will be a prerequisite to buy ores from miners with an APP becoming prerequisite for obtaining the Lithium Ore Purchase Licence on the back of a requirement for APP holders to submit a summary of monthly reconciliations of ore movements to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.

Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) shall conduct minimum tests, approve technical specifications and set the minimum selling price for the commodity on a regular basis.

The move is in sync with best practices in other lithium mining nations like Mexico which has since moved to nationalise the commodity’s extraction in a bid to derive maximum benefit.

Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) director, Farai Maguwu said while the move is welcome, there is need to walk the talk.

“There are gaps in the issuance of the mining licenses. Last year the Mines Ministry went to Mberengwa and promised to give artisanal miners tributary status and encouraged them to mine their lithium but later the government climbed down and banned them and disposed of the miners of their claims,” he said.

He added that the policy presents the opportunity to empower citizens in lithium rich areas which do not require machinery to mine hence the need to legally protect locals over foreigners in places like Uzumba, Mberengwa and Goromonzi.

The mining expert said costs to acquire the licenses must be affordable in order to cater for poor citizens amid calls for the licensing awarding processes to be transparent and predictable unlike the obtaining scenario.

Regarding the concentrates, Maguwu said there is need to give the miners a window period to dispose of the ore they have before operationalising this policy which is set to fail if the people are stuck with their current stocks of lithium.

“It is also important to note that we have been on a similar road before with diamonds where policy stipulated that 10% of mined gems must be processed locally but that never saw the light of the day. There was the issue of banning chrome exports characterised by inconsistencies.

“The knee jerk government policy has led to companies getting into distress and workers losing their jobs.

“I therefore hope that this policy is not a reactionary or pre-emptive strike but a well thought out piece to ensure that the lithium industry grows steadily,” he said.

Maguwu underscored that licensing organs need to be depoliticised and operate professionally amid calls for the government to encourage setting up of consortiums and co-operatives by locals.

“Mining is about the value which remains in the country. So if we are not empowering locals to participate in mining at the expense of the Chinese, what it simply means is that we are building China at our own expense,” he added.