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A small-scale miner daring to dream

An emerging small-scale mining firm TogaBless says it is ready to play its part in helping the country realise its vision of growing the mining industry into a US$12 billion business by 2023.

TogaBless MD Blessing Togarepi (BT) told our reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) in an interview, that the firm’s objective is to become a beacon for small-scale miners seeking to make a difference in the industry.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

FM: What opportunities do you see in the mining industry?

BT: Zimbabwe is a mineral-rich country with great potential for further discoveries.

The country has a huge and highly diversified mineral resource base dominated by two prominent geological features, namely the Great Dyke and ancient Greenstone Belts also known as Gold Belts.

About 60% of the country’s land is said to comprise of ancient rocks renowned worldwide for hosting rich varieties of mineral resources including gold, base metals (eg, nickel, copper, zinc and lead) and industrial minerals (limestone, phosphates, clay and dolomites)
This industry has elevated the livelihoods of most citizens in mining towns and rural areas, through artisanal mining, small-scale mining, and through inter-linkages of industries (buying and selling mining consumables and inputs) and all this has benefited the whole country through the trickle-down effect.

The mining industry is the biggest foreign currency earner in Zimbabwe, followed by tobacco exports.

The precious yellow metal, gold, raked in US$1,3 billion in 2019 and generally all the minerals earned more than US$3,5 billion in 2019.

With these statistics, it is self-evident that the mining industry proffers a number of opportunities to the citizens through job creation, entrepreneurship and adding income to the fiscus of the nation.

In this industry there are various opportunities, that are waiting for the citizens to exploit for the betterment of this country, some of them are to venture into mining gold and chrome as a small-scale miner, which require less paperwork, less capital injection and machinery to commence production.

For those that are not interested in direct mining, they can exploit the opportunities, which are in this through selling mining consumables, inputs, machinery and provision of services such as transport, insurance, exploration and advisory services to those directly into mining.

Zimbabwe remains behind in exploration as the country has not invested in exploration in the last 10 years.

Opportunities, therefore, exist for investors to explore Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth
As for accessing mineral rights and mining investment opportunities in Zimbabwe, the law is so clear and it states that, “any person who is a permanent resident of Zimbabwe and above the age of 18 years may take out a prospecting licence from any provincial mining director for purposes of prospecting and registering mining claims for gold or chrome.”

FM: What are the challenges militating against the growth of the mining sector?

BT: Well, despite the many challenges that we are facing in our daily lives, we all move forward, it is noteworthy to remember the bright side of life.

Setbacks are inevitable as we encounter many different situations, but these represent endless opportunities for us to start again, giving us another chance to get it right.

It is worth mentioning that there are a number of challenges that are stifling growth of the mining sector, which is the elephant in the room.

The following are the most topical: The introduction of the exchange control requirement by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in its 2019 Monetary Policy Statement, which compels the miners to liquidate their foreign currency if not utilised after 30-day period.

The 30-day period is too short given the logistical challenges caused by the outbreak of this novel coronavirus, some orders are taking time up to 90 days for the consignment to be delivered and you are obliged to pay on delivery.

However, miners are now forced to pay for the consignment ahead of delivery because they risk having the funds converted into local currency.

l Foreign currency shortages, which limit and reduce production capacity.

l Unscheduled and prolonged power outages, which result in significant output losses.

l Delays in processing a claim. This is due to understaffing of human capital in the respective offices so that they can speed up the processes through division of labour and specialisation.

l Corruption among government officials at the Mines ministry, who solicit for payments from clients so that their issues or grievances can be processed expeditiously.

l Unnecessary red tape (bureaucracy) in processing claim forfeiting.

l Chinese companies have an attitude of being untouchable and that they can operate above the law. 

As a result, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), local authorities and the community are powerless to enforce or demand compliance with environmental and mining regulations.

FM: What efforts would you want authorities to make to improve the mining sector?

BT: It is noted that mining activities are usually associated with the following environmental risks: Destruction of vegetation, veld fires, land and water pollution, land disputes and mismanagement of hazardous substances, among other issues.

Strategies should be put in place and implemented to ensure that the above issues are addressed by the proponent and EMA monitors compliance.

The government of Zimbabwe through the Mines and Mining Development ministry must introduce a one-stop shop in each province and also decentralise to all our districts, to avoid unnecessary delays in processing all the issues.

The good news is technology is on our side, as more and more innovations are being done every day.

We advise the government and all stakeholders to invest in technology as a solution to curb rampant corruption which is eroding trust in our institutions and officials.

On this note, a website for small-scale miners can be created so that each registered miner can access it anytime, anywhere, that is logging in and checking the status of his/her claim without bothering the ministry officials.

FM: As a mining company, how do you view provisions of exclusive prospective orders (EPOs) in Zimbabwe?

BT: It is noted that most of the land in Zimbabwe is now earmarked for EPOs, making it difficult for new players to enter the mining sector.

We feel that EPOs should not blanket the whole province or the eight provinces out of 10 in the country without taking cognisance of the local small-scale explorers as this will fuel up and promote monopolies, hence compromising quality and efficiency.

We strongly object to the issuance of EPOs to large companies since they will be given to minerals like gold and chrome where we have the capacity and expertise to carry out the prospecting and exploration.

This will defeat the notion of empowering locals especially the youths and women at large.

We propose that EPOs be limited to minerals where we don’t have expertise in exploration and mining.

For instance, minerals such as uranium, oil, lithium, coal and manganese should be considered for EPOs.

Gold and chrome should be left for the small-scale and artisanal miners.

FM: In your, view what are the challenges militating against the building of a US$12 billion mining industry?

BT: The occurrence of the novel disease, Covid-19, to a larger extent has affected the smooth flow of production in various sectors of the economy.

Since March 31, 2020 when the president proclaimed the lockdown restrictions, the mining industry was not spared, and this has reduced production drastically.

Currently, with the curfew restrictions announced by the authorities, most mining companies are operating below capacity, hence dwindling the chances of attaining the US$12 billion industry.

However, there are other factors such as lack of financial and capital support to small-scale miners and artisanal miners, policy inconsistency and reversals such as the introduction of the exchange control requirement by the RBZ in its 2019 monetary policy statement, which compels the miners to liquidate their foreign currency if not utilised after 30 days.

Lastly, the elephant in the room is the prevalence of rampant corruption, which has caused the trust deficit  between the government officials and the citizens.

FM: In your experience, do you see youths and women participating in seeking mining opportunities?

BT: Yes, of course. Since the day we commenced our operations as TogaBless, we are receiving overwhelming enquiries from youths and women who want to venture into this industry.

Gone are the days when youths and women remain seated in their shells and comfort zones, leaving men actively participating in all facets of the economy without any competition.

I would like to urge them to keep on doing well because it is the duty of everyone to contribute to the development of our nation to attain the 2030 national vision. 

I think the advent of social media (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) has facilitated and encouraged youths and women to partake in a number of economic activities after being inspired by others from different countries.

FM: Tell us more about the gold mining pegging process in the mining sector?

BT: When a prospecting licence holder has identified a mineral deposit that he/she is interested in, he/she appoints an agent or an approved prospector
(eg, TogaBless Investments) to peg on his behalf. 

l The agent is required to physically peg the area by marking the deposit with a discovery peg.  He/she should also post prospecting, discovery and registration notices on the ground as guided by procedure. 

The notices must be posted in a conspicuous manner to alert other prospectors. 

l Before posting these notices, the agent is required to give written notice to the landowner of his intention to prospect. 

l All areas classified as not open to prospecting and pegging or reserved against prospecting and pegging cannot be pegged claims, eg, cultivated lands, dip tanks, dams, etc. 

l An application for registration must be submitted to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, provincial mining director’s offices, accompanied by copies of the following attachments:

(a) Prospecting licences;

(b) Prospecting notice;

(c) Discovery notice (base minerals);

(d) Notification of intention to prospect to the landowner;

(e) A map in triplicate to the scale of 1:25 000. 

l If the provincial mining director is satisfied that all pegging procedures have been followed, he shall issue a certificate of registration upon payment of the gazetted fee. 

This allows the holder to start mining operations subject to meeting other obligations such as environmental management. 

l Within three months from the date of registration, the miner is required to erect permanent beacons on the ground. 

l All precious mineral claims are supposed to be continuously worked on in order to obtain renewal of title.

Claims have a 12-month tenure after which if a mining claim is transferred or sold a certificate of registration after transfer shall be issued by the Mines and Mining Development ministry. 

l Failure to renew title will result in the forfeiture of a mining claim. Furthermore, loss of title may be through cancellation upon defaulting on set minimum requirements or abandonment by the holder.

FM: Where do you see
TogaBless mining in the next five years?

BT: TogaBless aspire to be the future engine and catalyst for growth, development and empowerment of small-scale miners.

We, as TogaBless, it is our hope that we will thrive in promoting and ensuring rational development and utilisation in a safe and sustainable environment of mineral resources for the socio-economic enhancement of the people of Zimbabwe.

We would like to expand our base to every corner of Zimbabwe and reach out to all potential citizens, youths and women who are eager to venture into the mining industry and serve them to the best of our abilities.

We will be the beacon for small-scale miners in Zimbabwe pushing the agenda of empowering citizens to actively participate and contribute to the growth of our country, thus attainment of the US$12 billion mining industry and improvement of the livelihoods of the citizens.

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