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The fall of asbestos mining in Zimbabwe

By Business Reporter –Monday 15 February 2021

HARARE (Mining Index) – MASHAVA Mines are located in Masvingo Province 40 kilometres from Masvingo town.

Asbestos was mined in the mining area. Mashava had different mines dotted around the area including Bosmine and Lenox Mine which all used to mine asbestos, but are now mining gold, which is being done by artisanal miners.  Diso mine in the area used to mine asbestos.

All these asbestos mining companies are closed. There were three mines in Mashava including Gath’s Mine, King Mine and Temeraine Mine which were allegedly owned by Mutumwa Mawere under the banner of Shabanie Mashava Mines (SMM) through Africa Resources Limited (ARL) before they were taken over by Government. Mawere was specified by Government on allegations of externalising $30 billion in foreign currency. Government passed the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies) Regulations of 2004 to take over SMM under the pretence of preventing it from collapsing and saving jobs.

Some former workers argue that the takeover of the mines from Mawere by Government was not proper, while others state that while Government had failed dismally to run the mine, Mawere had duped them and did not pay them their dues as he was stashing money and asbestos fibre in SA. 

Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyer Association (ZELA) visited Mashava Mines and interviewed current and former workers at King Mine, who indicated that in 2004 Government officials held a rally at Gaths Mine Stadium where they declared that they took over the mines.

The following were notable Government officials who rallied the workers and villagers at the stadium -Emmerson Mnangagwa (current President), Patrick Chinamasa (former Minister of Justice), Jonathan Moyo (Minister of Information) and others.

Slowly the mines started to deteriorate—spare parts were not being replaced, vehicles breaking down and not being repaired, water levels rising, low workers moral, salaries not paid, and electricity bills started accumulating. Some workers are owed in excess of US$40 000.

Now, only 600 workers remain on unpaid leave and 10 workers are responsible for dewatering the mine. They are being paid RTGS 1500.

King Mine used to employ around 5 000 workers at its peak. King Mine is only open for pumping water out of the mine so that it does not flood. However, sometimes this is affected by electricity outages due to non-payment.  

It was reported that ZMDC tried to take over King Mine to mine chrome but was not successful. Many former workers opine that Government took something it could not manage. In 2019 there were reports that King Mine would resume production in 2020 when the dewatering process and repairs on the mill were done.

However, as it stands, the mine is still in a derelict state. Mountains of asbestos mine waste and dump can be observed around Mashava.  

ZELA witnessed the sad reality of poverty, economic decay and lose of former glory in old mining towns. An interview with one of the former employees revealed that some former employees and dependents of late former workers lost houses and were evicted from the company houses at King Mine.

As a retired person now he fears that the company might evict him one day by arguing that the period he has stayed in the house without paying rents is equivalent to his outstanding salary or arrears and therefore the salary will be set off by with his stay in the company house and will therefore be evicted.  

There is an upsurge of artisanal chrome and gold mining activities around the Mashava Mines. Most of the workers on retirement, those retrenched, on forced leave or currently at work now depends on artisanal chrome mining in the King Mine concessions.

Those who are still at work at King Mine for example conduct artisanal chrome mining during their off days, at weekends or after work. Some managers at King Mine are also reported to be running some chrome mining syndicates or groups while others have ventured into artisanal gold mining.

Artisanal chrome miners sell chrome for US$1 per wheelbarrow to the Chinese. In an interview with a Chrome buyer at King Mine who buys from artisanal chrome miners, he indicated that he buys 1 tonne of chrome for $10 to sell to Chinese Smelters in Gweru who in turn buy at $35 -$40 per tonne.

There is a lot of chrome in the area. At some point a company called GD was given permission to mine chrome near King Mine-but has since stopped.   However, the situation is distressing for many families and former workers. Houses have been abandoned while most of the infrastructure at the mine is collapsing.  

Machinery at King Mine and Temeraine is highly depreciated and outdated. Gaths Mine was sold to Great Zimbabwe University and is now being run as a University in the midst of mountains of mine waste.

It is not clear what measures the university has taken to ensure the safety of students against present or future mine waste or abandoned mine related hazards that often affect closed mines. An edited extract from ZELA’s Situational Report. ENDS// 

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