Artisanal miners raise lithium smuggling fears

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ARTISANAL and small-scale miners yesterday accused government of sidelining them when it announced a ban on raw lithium exports.

Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners Association (ASSA) leader Blessing Togarepi said the ban may fuel smuggling of the mineral.

“We don’t want a situation whereby in the next five years, people would not see the benefits of lithium, just like the Chiadzwa diamonds, where the country lost several billions of dollars,” he said.

Beitbridge Border Post officials last week intercepted a consignment of lithium ore on three haulage trucks belonging to one Bernard Tafadzwa Mnangagwa.

The ore was being smuggled to South Africa, and was declared as manganese, reports said.

“This is the reason we believe we should have to sit down with the government. We want a win-win situation as we might see only government benefiting while its people fail to benefit. We want locals to benefit from their lithium,” Togarepi said.

Government has imposed a ban on the export of unprocessed lithium saying the country was losing 1,7 billion euros annually from exporting it as a raw mineral and not processing it into batteries.

The country reportedly holds some of the world’s largest reserves of hard rock lithium, a vital mineral in the production of clean energy technologies.

According to Zimpricecheck, beneficiation will benefit the country.

“Unprocessed ores lead to an imbalance of trade that has contributed to Africa lagging behind,” Zimpricecheck said.

“Some form of beneficiation would benefit the country, but on the other hand, some investors might shy away  because the country has very little  functional infrastructure, not enough electricity and is considered a political risk with laws changing on a whim.” – News Day