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Zimbabwe loses millions to well-connnected gemstones cartels

INTERNATIONAL buyers and local players have established a cartel which is conniving to bleed the government of millions of dollars amid revelations there is rampant theft and illegal export of the country’s semi-precious metals, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) has said.

The smuggling has jolted the government into action and there are now plans to regulate the sector by issuing licenses to firms and small-scale buyers for purchasing gemstones, according to MMCZ general manager Tongai Muzenda.

Muzenda said the value of the country’s gemstone resources is estimated to be valued at US$20bn and the gemstones have the capability to overtake diamond in revenue generation, if proper management was put in place.

“People think that I am crazy, but I would rather be crazy than just to fold hands and do nothing. If you go to Hurungwe, which is a gemstone area, it doesn’t matter if it is ruby or tourmaline, there are plenty. We want our people to benefit in a legal manner. But gemstones from this country are being stolen.

“There are many people coming from outside Zimbabwe to buy gemstones at ridiculous prices and illegally export them and I know people have been caught by the police,” Muzenda told Business Times.

Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) General Manager Tongai Muzenda

 “Many mining companies, large and small are shunning gemstone production, preferring gold and chrome.

“The country used to be a good producer of gemstones and metals such as emerald, tin, nickel, and copper, being mined by companies like Mhangura Copper Mines, Kamativi Tin Mine and Sandawana Mine for emeralds (all three owned by Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation) and Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Bindura Nickel Corporation. Apart from small scale miners, big-scale players are not doing gemstones.”

Muzenda said MMCZ has resourced its monitoring and inspectorate teams to enforce mineral marketing regulations and curb rampant smuggling. He added that the corporation was procuring electronic gadgets to use in the process of monitoring mineral and metals exports to reduce illicit trade.

He also revealed plans to establish small chrome furnaces along the country’s Great Dyke that would benefit small-scale chrome miners.

“We want that chrome to be processed into ferrochrome but then you do not need huge furnaces, like for example the ones at ZIMASCO and Zim Alloys which used to operate furnaces of 30 Megawatts power. What we envisage are furnaces of 5 to 7 MVA (megavolt amperes).”

Muzenda said MMCZ had already engaged a private company to spearhead the process, and the project would be funded through a credit guarantee scheme from the Treasury.  

It is also estimated that Zimbabwe has about 36 semi-precious minerals that include goshenite, alexandrite, chrysoberyl, iolite, emeralds and tourmaline. 

These are largely found in Karoi, Hurungwe, Mutoko, Mt Darwin, Zvishavane, Mutare, Rusape, and Odzi.  If harnessed productively these minerals could significantly help heal the frail economy. – Business Times ■

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