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Zimbabwe’s mine executives call for more EPOs

“The period 1991 to 2000 indicates that if the government sets an environment conducive for mineral exploration, the opportunities for discovering mineral deposits are abundant.”

Exclusive Prospecting Orders (EPOs), which were issued in 2021 expired this month, sparking fierce national debate between various interested stakeholders.

For instance, small-scale miners and prospectors are arguing that the government should allow them to prospect and peg claims in areas once held by EPOs.

On the other hand, large scale producers—some of them holding expired EPOs—are arguing otherwise.

They are saying the country is underexplored; hence they want the government to issue EPOs more often.

An EPO confers exclusive rights to prospect for specified minerals in an identified location within Zimbabwe. The EPOs are issued for three years, renewable up to a maximum of six years.

A report prepared by the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe (CoMZ) in 2014 titled: The Need and Structure of a National Mining Exploration Strategy, shows that mineral exploration in Zimbabwe is almost non-existent due to the non-granting of EPOs.

Resultantly, no green field mineral discoveries have been made in the last 10 years, it noted.

“Most of the current operating mines are a result of the work undertaken in EPOs.

“There is a strong correlation between the number of EPOs granted and Greenfield discoveries,” CoMZ report reads in part.

“It is, therefore, in the interests of the mining industry and the nations to have an active and vibrant mineral exploration sector.”

The report noted that, between 1991 and 2000, the government granted more than 600 EPOs and made 23 mineral discoveries.

Between 2001 and 2010, less than 200 EPOs were issued, resulting in less than five discoveries.

“The period 1991 to 2000 indicates that if the government sets an environment conducive for mineral exploration, the opportunities for discovering mineral deposits are abundant,” it said.

“The discovery status of the period 2001 to 2014 is lamentable as only one greenfield gold discovery was made.

“However, two discoveries of mineralised alteration haloes were made on some existing old mines.”

Historical statistics show that in Zimbabwe, mineral exploration and the production for the various minerals was going down at a time the prices were firming up.

Resultantly, Zimbabwe lost the opportunity to derive maximum benefit from the mineral price boom.

“If the status quo remains, it is anticipated that mine closures will take place due to depletion of ore reserves,” the report said.

“For sustainability of the industry; measures need to be taken to stimulate mineral exploration and growth of the mining sector.”

The sentiments were echoed by Duration Gold managing director Allan Dolan whose company is administrating 11 EPOs owned by Canilite, Infield and Pearline.

Dolan said there was a need for the government to issue more EPOs to increase the chances of mineral discoveries in the country.

“Since 2006, the chances of discovering a new mine have been going down. The bigger the EPO, the higher the chances of getting targets.

“The 65 000 hectares granted under EPOs is too small compared to other countries,” he said, adding that the Zimbabwe Geological Survey should be collecting data generated from EPOs for future use.

The resources giant has applied for an extension of its 11 EPOs by one year following their expiry this month.

“We have put in our application to say we need a one year extension.

“That’s what we have applied for.

“So in this one year, we need to finish up our soil sampling and at the same time, the other six months, again we finish off our drilling exercise,” Duration senior geological technician Nelson Banda said.

“That’s what we’ve done to try and catch up because of the time that we lost, because of these challenges that we encountered that we did not anticipate.”

Banda said they encountered numerous challenges between 2021 and 2024, ranging from Covid-19, heavy rains which disturbed soil sampling, shortage of qualified field officers among others.

“You know people will start saying why are these guys holding on to all this ground,” he said.

“These guys have got five EPOs on 65 000 hectares. Why are they taking all this ground? Some will be saying these guys are just speculating.

“No, the problem is for you to discover a deposit; you have to start with a big ground.

“You fly all over your ground then you zoom in, abandon the other ground that you don’t need and remain with the ground that has got potential to discover a deposit.

“That’s why companies are applying for bigger ground like 65 000ha because the bigger the ground the higher the chances of discovering a deposit.”

The company has spent over US$1 million so far on these EPOs and if their application is not granted, the money will just go down the drain.

However, Zimbabwe Prospectors Union president Samson Dzingwe has written a letter to Mines permanent secretary Pfungwa Kunaka demanding the reversal of a letter reserving mineral ground once held by expired EPOs.

“I hereby urgently request the reversal of that letter in respect of the existing mining law allowing stakeholders to enjoy their rights as enshrined in Mines and Mineral Act..,” the letter reads in part.

In his circular to provincial mining directors, Kunaka instructed them not to accept any applications for registration of mining titles on the expired EPOs. – (The Standard)

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