By Mark Mhukayesango
ONCE the hub of mining in the country, Midlands province is now a pale shadow of its former self as top mining firms such as asbestos producer, Shabanie and Mashava Mines have succumbed to the effects of the country’s economic downturn.
The companies are said to now require a staggering $1 billion to restore their previous production capacity but the demand for asbestos has fallen as prospective home owners have switched to tiles and zinc for roofing.
The company folded after a bitter fall out between owner Mutumwa Mawere and the government of Zimbabwe, condemning thousands of employees into abject poverty with some having to face eviction from company houses late last year.
The general decline in mining activities in Midlands has grossly affected livelihoods, with the larger employable population having to turn to vending for a living.
Gross mismanagement of the firms and poor government policies have been cited among the causes of the decline in mining.
The province is now infested with artisanal miners, commonly referred to as makorokoza/amakorokoza whose their uncontrolled mining activities have destroyed the environment and also resulted in human fatalities and the maiming of livestock.
Common mining areas like Boterekwa have deteriorated into pit holes.
Radio VOP spoke to mining experts who expressed dismay at how mining operations have declined in Midlands and blamed double standards as the major cause for the collapse of big mining coporates.
“Our government did not act wisely when it comes to ensuring a smooth transition from white run mines when the Indigenisation Act was enacted. There are certain skills that our black miners were supposed to acquire before taking over, hence most of the mines have collapsed,” said Menard Mataruse , an economist with a local mining firm.
“Since mining is highly capital intensive, there was need for government to support in the purchase of machinery, but our government folded its hands and still expected royalties,” he added.
Companies like ZIMASCO which are owned by the Chinese have deteriorated over time and subsequently folded in December when it shut down its last furnace before it was rescued by Portnex a South African company.
“We could not continue operating the furnaces , hence a decision was made to temporarily shut down the furnaces with hope that the prices will increase in the second quarter,” Zimasco General Manager, Technical and Development, Reginal Wachiya said.
Ferrochrome prices have been the major setback for companies like Zimasco and ZimAlloys as they struggled to stay afloat.
The prices hit their all time low of 90 cents per ounce from $1.40 two year ago.
The anathema of mining in Zimbabwe is that it is the focus of government attention and has been touted as the major revenue stream, although the resources are finite.
Economist and former Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), Trust Chikohora placed the blame on massive looting by influential individuals during their peak periods.
“Companies like Zimasco have a great potential and since the ban on raw chrome exports was lifted, the company should have thrived. But still the government insists that they value add when the company does not have the capacity. It is retrogressive,” said Chikohora.
“The Essar deal on the other hand, was just a matter of government greed that held workers and the nation at ransom. Now over 3 000 workers are redundant because of selfishness,” he said.
Midlands, although endowed with minerals like gold, chrome, platinum and asbestos, is one of the most impoverished provinces in Zimbabwe as most of its people were dependant on mining activities here.