Chrome ore exports were banned in April last year to promote value addition and boost revenues on government coffers.
Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu on Monday told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy that the government was under pressure to make a U-turn on the policy.
He singled out mining firms like Zimasco for paying low prices on chrome ore extracted on their behalf.
These people (small-scale miners) are like employees of Zimasco. It is Zimasco which determines the price and processes and semi-processes the chrome. We are under pressure to allow raw exports (of chrome) just to empower our people for a given period because of the actions of Zimasco and others, said Mpofu.
The minister added that the government was also considering granting chrome claims held by large mining firms to small-scale miners.
We are also, as a ministry, looking at even cancelling the tributing of these claims by certain big organisations and allow our people to mine those claims and sell that chrome to whoever they want to at competitive prices.
This can only be done if companies like Zimbabwe Alloys (ZimAlloys) are fully operational, he added.
Last year, the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, an organisation representing mainly small-to- medium-scale miners, urged the government to lift the export ban on chrome arguing the decision had resulted in job cuts in the sector.
Fast-growing economies like China and Brazil have been the major source markets of ferrochrome minerals currently in demand. Zimbabwe has large ore deposits found on the Great Dyke, a linear geological feature that runs nearly north-south through the centre of Zimbabwe passing just to the west of the capital.
Although Zimbabwe is one of the giants in chrome reserves, it has banned the export of raw chrome and small-scale miners have called for the lifting of the ban to enable them to sell their chrome and establish smelters.
However, while chrome miners are busy advocating for the lifting of the ban on exports of raw chrome, environmental degradation in the Great Dyke area where chrome is in abundance is posing serious threats to the flora and fauna.
According to the vice-chairman of the Runde Rural District Council in Zvishavane, Councillor Norman Sibanda, many mining companies have come and gone in the Mapanzure area of Zvishavane, extracted as much chrome as they wanted and dug dam-size pits, and after looting the area have disappeared leaving it severely defaced posing a danger to humans, livestock and water sources.
He said companies like GR Goddard, Zimasco, local small-scale miners and the Chinese were responsible for the massive environmental damage and what appalled local communities in the mining areas of the Great Dyke was that these companies dug, took their loot and disappeared without giving back to the community or rehabilitating the environment.
During last week’s tour of the Chinese chrome mines by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy in Zvishavane, MPs struggled to get access to the mines as large heaps of rubble were dumped on the road, allegedly by Chinese miners who had promised to repair the roads in the area.
The road was almost inaccessible and Sibanda said the Chinese had pretended they were interested in levelling the roads, but they just dumped the rubble and after their mining operations were completed they just left it lying there.
According to Sibanda, cattle were falling into the deep pits oftentimes and some villagers had fallen into the pits at night and got injured or lost their lives.
Villagers later told MPs that while all the defacing of the environment was happening, not a single mining company was carrying out sensible corporate social responsibility programmes like providing schools, clinics or even providing the community with water sources.
What shocked the MPs most was that while the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) issued out tickets to perpetrators of environmental crimes, most of them did not pay and the police were powerless in forcing those people to pay fines and to cover the deep pits they left open through their mining operations.
“We have told these miners to erect signs to show it is a mining area so that the danger warning signs deter people from entering the dangerous area full of deep pits.
“The area should also be barricaded to minimise accidents, but the problem is that chrome mining areas are vast and they say it is difficult to fence the area. Fencing of mining areas is regulated in the Mining and Minerals Act,” said EMA district environmental officer for Zvishavane, Sally Masendeke.
Some miners were said to be destroying farming areas and pegging their mines onto other people’s farms.
Zimbabwe Republic Police officer in charge for the area, Superintendent Robert Mugazambi said the problem was that there was no coordination between the Land and Resettlement Act and the Mines and Minerals Act.
During a visit of Sun He Mine at Chipuriro Village in Guruve, which is Chinese-owned, MPs saw massive destruction of water sources through pollution of dams by the miners.
The committee said they were not convinced by Sun He Mine corporate secretary Lei Zhang’s assertions that his company was engaged in corporate social responsibility programmes.
Even some of the infrastructure erected at Sun He Mine was of cheap material that it was obvious they were only interested in extracting the chrome mineral and then dump the area once they had benefited.
Houses in which workers at Chinese chrome mines lived were deplorable makeshift dagga and pole huts and local communities also complained even big chrome mining giants like Zimasco failed to employ local youths to work at the mines.
Local chiefs have watched helplessly as their flora and fauna is destroyed by mining companies, including cultural sites, and most of these mines have entered their areas waving legal documents from big offices in Harare and without consulting chiefs, started digging up the area for chrome.
To the chagrin of local communities in chrome mining areas, some traditional leaders are even bribed to side with mining companies whenever people try to raise their environmental rights.