BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Zimbabwe is working on changing its policies on the marketing of semi-precious gemstones in order to curb illegal sales and plug revenue outflows, an official has said.
The southern African nation is home to large deposits of semi-precious minerals such as agate, amethyst, alexandrite, aquamarine and heliodor, among others, with an estimated value of $20 billion. The minerals are largely under-explored and remain a target for smuggling by international cartels of dealers.
Tongai Muzenda, general manager of Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ), which is mandated to market the country’s minerals, told a meeting of small-scale miners that smuggling was rife because of lack of data and infrastructure to support artisanal and small-scale miners and related downstream activities.
He said in dealing with semi-precious stones, MMCZ was facing challenges which included unaccounted export revenue, loss of value through under-pricing, the size of consignments often being too small to constitute economically viable exports as well as bureaucracy in export documentation processes.
“Many miners and traders operate outside of the formal sector, slowing the diffusion of appropriate environmental, social, and labour practices, and perpetuating linkages between the gemstone business and organised crime, internal conflict and corrupt regimes in certain countries,” he said.
“In many cases these are obtained from their living environs. They end up being illegally sold and exported,
“Our biggest challenges include but are not limited to quantity of production. We are producing too little in gemstones so that it becomes difficult to market on your behalf.
So we need to increase the production of gemstones. One way of doing this, which I will have to consult with the (Mines) ministry, is obviously to try and get special grants in areas like Karoi so that we will have all gemstones in one area and then we can give more services to you.”
It is estimated that Zimbabwe hosts about 36 semi-precious minerals that include goshenite, chrysoberyl, lolite and tourmaline. These are mostly found in Karoi, Hurungwe, Mutoko, Mt Darwin, Zvishavane, Mutare, Rusape and Odzi.
Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya said the mining of semi-precious gems was an important component of the sector.
“They are easily found, sold either legally or illegally, but ultimately end up on the international market. There is need to properly organise trade of these minerals,” she said.
Speaking at the same event, Mines and Mining Development deputy minister Polite Kambamura said it was high time the country discussed the potential which lay in the semi-precious stones or coloured gemstones.
“…we have these stones in Karoi. Then we ask ourselves: How much have we benefited as a country from this multi-billion-dollar sector from the resources that we have? You will realise it’s a pittance if any. We need to urgently develop the sector for the benefit of our country,” Kambamura said.