ZIMBABWE is losing precious minerals through porous borders, with security forces and border officials manning the entry points seriously incapacitated to plug illicit flows, a report by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services has revealed.
The country has been losing minerals, ranging from diamonds and gold through well-knit syndicates that involve security officials, foreigners and local smugglers who have been taking advantage of lack of knowledge by the officials manning borders.
According to the report presented this week by Umzingwane legislator Levi Mayihlome after visits to Beitbridge Border Post, the committee was informed by Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officials that there was a stretch of 230 kilometres of the borderline encompassing Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, which was poorly manned by law enforcement agencies in Zimbabwe.
Along that borderline there were over 15 well-known unregistered exit and entry points between the three countries.
Smuggling has also been rife at the points, while they have also been a source of gold leakages, among other commodities. Law enforcement agencies, which include the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), as well as the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), have also been unable to control the illegal crossing points because they do not have vehicles, while the roads are impassible, according to the report.
“In addition, there was no cellphone network coverage in these border lying areas, which made it difficult for law enforcement authorities to coordinate their efforts effectively along the border. The security forces requested for vehicles, tents, drones, testing and communication devices and the establishment of a reaction team to arrest would-be smugglers,” read part of the report.
The ports of entry have also been hit by a shortage of personnel and equipment. The committe’s findings have revealed that border officials have been operating without modern scanners to detect gold, diamonds and other minerals that may be smuggled out of the country.
“Officials at ports of entry have limited knowledge of the characteristics of minerals such as gold and diamonds. Zimra outlined that it was in the process of recruiting a metallurgist and a geologist, so that they could be stationed at the land borders to assist in the identification and verification of minerals being exported or those confiscated for attempted smuggling.
“At RGM International Airport, two attempts were made to smuggle gold out of the country. In the first case, the gold was intercepted before leaving the country and in the second case the gold was recovered at O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa. The major cause of the leakage was due to collusion by airport officials,” it read.
As previously reported, Zimbabwe has been losing gemstones through illicit trade and undervaluation necessitated by a close-knit ecosystem of panners, security services and runners of merchants from Pakistan, Lebanon, China and India.
While the country boasts more than 30 semi-precious stones, only four are covered by the Diamond Policy. Most of them are mined by informal foreign prospectors from India, Mozambique and other countries. Cartels implicated in the illicit flows have also been using well-traversed channels opened up by couriers of second-hand clothing bales on farms within the Penhalonga area, according to a report titled “Scope and Nature of Illicit Flows in Zimbabwe’s Gemstone Sector” by Lyman Mlambo, a mining economist.
The smuggled minerals are then traded in Chimoio, Mozambique, an area that is dominated by Asian nationals who operate grocery shops, before they are transported to Dubai and other destinations. In 2011, the United Arab Emirates imported US$408 million worth of (rough) diamonds from Zimbabwe, making it the largest diamond market.
An investigation by The NewsHawks published in April also exposed lithium smuggling from the Mudzi and Mutoko areas via Nyamapanda Border Post.
The location of lithium reserves close to the border has also made the mineral, also known as the “white gold”, prone to smuggling. This is despite Zimbabwe imposing a ban on the exportation of unprocessed lithium.
While cabinet also approved the beneficiation policy, the country has not yet fully operationalised value addition and beneficiation programmes. Local participation and capacity in beneficiation have not been developed.
Another investigation by Zela in February revealed that foreign buyers are smuggling lithium ore, which is bought in bulk from artisanal miners.
For instance, during one of Zela’s visits to mining sites in Mberengwa, there were various buyers of lithium who were operating haulage trucks at night. In one incident, the investigative team observed a fleet of seven haulage trucks headed for Mberengwa around 7pm.
However, the following day, it was noted that only two trucks had been fully loaded overnight and left. It also emerged that the lithium miners sell their lithium to buyers, mostly Chinese nationals who also drive at night to these remote areas for collection, according to the report.
The Chinese nationals are said to be the best buyers, forking out between US$120 and US$150 on average for a tonne of lithium.
However, local buyers have been short-changing miners as they buy ore based on the percentage value of the ore after estimating the tonnage. The buyers are reportedly bribing police officers to be allowed to leave with truckloads of lithium. – (Newshawks)