Chitando speaks on ambitious target, teething mining sector problems

Government has set an ambitious target in which the mining sector will generate US$12bn annually by 2023.

Business Times reporter Mona-Lisa Dube (MD) caught up with the Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando (WC) and discussed the teething problems facing the sector and his plans to grow the multi-billion dollar industry.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

MD: I know that you’ve been working in the private sector prior to being in government for quite a number of years, what would you say has been the difference between the private sector and government

WC: Well, I think for me, it’s a continuation of serving the industry. And, like you correctly said, I worked in the private sector, largely in the mining industry for years, and sort of moving from the mining industry—the private sector—to the mining industry in government. So for me, it’s a continuation. And fortunately, I must say at some stage I served as vice president and then president of the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, which enabled me to get a good overview of how the industry operates in Zimbabwe and also engage government on the issues that were affecting the industry.

MD: And now you have to deal with those issues?

WC: Now I have to deal with those issues. So it makes it so much easier for me.

MD: So you have a target of having the mining sector worth US$12bn and we are in 2021, how much is the mining sector worth right now?

WC: It’s probably not a fair way of assessing how we are achieving that target in the sense that most of the projects which will contribute to the 2023 target are projects which are in construction.

MD: But how much is it worth now?

WC: As we speak its worth about US$5bn.

MD: So from the US$5bn you are aiming to get to US$12bn in the two years. What’s the plan there?

WC: There are about four major contributors which will move us from where we are to the US$12bn. The first is improved gold deliveries.

As you are aware that we suffered a decline in gold deliveries but that is not a decline in capacity. If anything the capacity is increasing and a number of initiatives are being carried out. In the small scale, we are looking at formalising a number of small scale miners and capacitating them. We are also looking on the large scale, the “Zimbabwe is open for business” has attracted capital which has enabled large scale production. Notable targets include Caledonia where an agreement was signed with government where they are aiming to achieve 15 tonnes over a number of years. We also have Shamva which was officially commissioned by the President last year, which on its own will do five tonnes, five percent of the target from one mine. We have Eureka which is coming into production in July this year which will do one and a half tonnes so we have a number of these projects, which will be coupled with the policy review  framework in terms of enabling the gold sector to achieve the 100 tonnes target.

MD: While we are still on the  gold sector Minister Chitando before we move on to the other priority areas that you have as a minister of mines, you rightfully said that you’re looking at small scale miners as well as large scale. And there have been a number of issues in the mining sector. Let’s start with the small scale miners. And it’s estimated that Zimbabwe has been losing about US$200m in terms of leakages alone every year. And this has been attributed to a number of issues. They’re questioning how can the country has Fidelity Printers and Refiners as the sole buyer of gold. Are you looking into this?

WC: Like I said, well, before you asked the question, there are a number of initiatives to capacitate the small-scale and large scale miners which I cannot divulge at this stage but there will be a review of these enablers.

MD: At what point Minister, 2023 is around the corner?

WC: Very soon. It’s actually under discussion and I am very confident that by the time the policies are announced we will be in time to achieve the 100 tonnes of gold.

MD: So is the liberalisation of the gold mining sector something on the cards?

WC: I wouldn’t say so. What I am saying is we are reviewing and I wouldn’t want to reveal just yet but discussions are on going.

MD: Let’s also look at the issue to do with corruption within the mining sector. When the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission released a report on the mining sector, one of the key issues that they highlighted needs to be addressed in the mining sector is corruption. I hope you will not say it’s in this framework that you’re working on and give us a comprehensive answer as to how you are working to curb this.

WC: With corruption, what we have said before is if anyone has  any specific cases of corruption they should be reported to the ministry and to the ZACC and action will be taken. You find that there are many cases where there are allegations of corruption and if the necessary information is not passed on there is nothing we can do. Once cases are reported they are taken seriously and decisive action is taken. So what I urge members of the public is, if anyone has any knowledge of corruption that information should be passed on to the ministry.

MD: And what if that complaint is against you as the minister of mines that you have been involved corruption? We understand that there are some raised concerns about a certain incident that happened in Kwekwe. What if it’s against you, Minister Chitando.

WC: ZACC has a mechanism whether it may be a minister involved in corruption or a minister where one is free to report cases. I’m sure you are aware of ministers that have been questioned

MD: Have you been questioned for corruption by ZACC?

WC: No. But let me take this opportunity to clarify since you’ve mentioned it. Suffice to say, the matter is within the courts. But I will since you have mentioned it. The ministry, in terms of the provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act, every holder of a mining title is obligated to renew his mining title every year. We have a lot of cases where mining titles are not renewed under the use it or lose its principle, if the mining title has not been renewed  and the work is not being carried out, that mining is what we call forfeited. So all provincial offices periodically undertake what we call forfeitures, that is repossession of mining titles and is done according to law.

MD: So who does this? You as a minister?

WC: No, it’s done at provincial level. It doesn’t even come to the Harare office.

MD: So why is your name being dragged in this Mirage claim incident?

WC: That’s what I’m saying I don’t want to go too much into it. But the fact of the matter is, it was done by the province. As to why it’s being dragged you will have to ask the people that are dragging it why they are doing that because it was done procedurally. It wasn’t just that particular claim. It was the actually a bunch of claims which were forfeited in terms of the provisions of the act and once refuted what happens in a number of cases Players in the mining industry go on to apply and the applications are done in the provinces.

MD: So are you stating that you didn’t take this mine for yourself?

WC: No, not at all. What has happened in this particular case? There is an entity which is also based in the Midlands, which applied to that mine, which had been forfeited and it was granted to them.

MD: We understand that there has been a backlog in issuing of these licenses dating back to 2018. Why is this?

WC: To put it in perspective for years, the average number of mining concessions awarded per annum by the ministry averaged about 2500. At the moment, we have a backlog of about 14000 which is about six years with worth of mining applications. But that’s all owing to the Zimbabwe is open for business mantra which has seen this huge influx of applications which the ministry was not capacitated to handle. But what has happened is since 2019 and last year, more resources have been availed to the ministry. And that number is coming down. And we expect that by the end of this year we would have cleared them

MD: All 14000? What’s the plan there?

WC: We have massive resources that we are going to disburse. Just as an example in 2018 when applications were made some provincial offices had only one vehicle to service applications , to service disputes etc but we now have provincial offices having five/six vehicles to attend to all these.

MD: One of the major concerns in the mining sector has been to do with safety. We’ve been hearing about Shafts falling and just recently the Civil Protection Unit highlighted to parliament recently that they do not have the capacity to attend to mining accidents. What’s your response to this as the Ministry?

WC: Whilst I fully understand and appreciate the concern from the public and from stakeholders, let’s be clear that there are regulations, which govern the operations within the mining sector. What you are supposed to do and what are not supposed to do. And if those regulations are followed, accidents should not happen.

MD: But how do they even get to mine there before these regulations are followed. Shouldn’t there be a procedure for someone actually checking on what’s going on with any mine before we even get to the shafts falling? 

WC:  Well, in all fairness, you can go and check today but if someone follows unsafe practices tomorrow, an accident will take place. Admittedly there is need to increase the level of inspections but even if you increase the levels of inspections, that does not guarantee that accidents will not happen if those operating do not follow procedures. 

MD: As we wrap up as a sector how are you working into including women and young people in the mining sector and to ensure they are fully supported?

WC: Firstly, as a Ministry we have created a special desk to look into promoting women, the youth and war veterans to move into mining. Furthermore, we have some initiatives which will be roll out in the next few weeks targeting this group. 

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