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Statistics: Mining Figures fail to add up

ECONOMIC data and statistics are often  available in Zimbabwe but when they do come through the numbers often do not add up.

Elsewhere, market players and investors rely on government data to take financial positions and in making key decisions.
But in Zimbabwe, the markets and investors take government data with a pinch of salt.
For instance, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) refused to publish the numbers after inflation spiralled out of control. When they came through, the numbers were understated.
In serious economies, it would have stoked controversy.
In mining for instance, the central bank says Zimbabwe has 13 million tonnes of gold in reserves. At Zimbabwe’s current extraction rate of 20 tonnes, it will take 650 000 years for the reserves to be exhausted.
With platinum reserves of 2,8 billion tonnes, it will take 1 200 years to exhaust the reserves at an annual extraction rate of 2,3 tonnes per year.
Copper resources of 5,2 million tonnes is said to be still in the ground.
Diamond deposits are estimated to be sitting at 16,5 million tonnes.
The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe is worried that the central bank has been pulling numbers from the air and presenting it as fact.
Chamber chief Victor Gapare says the central bank’s numbers are misleading because there has been no exploration to back such estimates.
He says: “From a geological point of view, the above figures are highly misleading as there has been no exploration to back up the resource estimates. There is no scientific data to back up the figures and there is confusion in the use of the measuring units.”
So just where did the figures come from?
Gapare says neither the Geological Survey Department nor the chamber have done any work “to come anywhere near estimating the amount of mineral resources in Zimbabwe”.
In fact, according to Gapare, all organisations that would have been involved in the process have disputed the data.
He says Zimbabwe is “hugely under explored” and coming up with a global resource figure without the “requisite” exploration drilling presents “very questionable numbers” that leave mining investors wondering if the authorities know what they are talking about.
Even if the data was correct, Gapare feels it is not classified.  Either way not all known resource finds warrant investment unless a cheaper mining method is found to extract the deposits.
He said: “In any case, even if the data was correct, most of the resource would be unclassified and these may not necessarily be economic to mine. The figures have obviously been put together with no consideration of the universal definitions of reserves and resources. Mines in Zimbabwe have traditionally operated with very little reserves and some resources. However, even if one was to consolidate the reserves and resources of existing mines and exploration projects, there is no way one would get anywhere near the figures given by the RBZ.”
While the central bank suggests that the country has 13 million tonnes, the chamber feels there could a small mix-up between authorities understanding of ore and gold.
Diamonds are normally measured in carats and virtually no exploration has been done to justify the figure of 16,5 million tonnes of the resource.
Gapare questions why Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation shut down its Mhangura Copper operation if the company had an economic resource as big as 5,2 million tonnes of copper available.
“Why on earth did they close the mine?” asked Gapare.
“The table (below) suggests that Zimbabwe has an estimated resource of 13 million tonnes and an annual extraction rate of 20 tonnes. It appears the writer might have confused tonnes of ore with tonnes of gold. In any case gold resources are normally given in ounces and not tonnes. Since 2000, none of the gold mines have been doing exploration and development and the reality is that the industry has been extracting without replacing the ounces of gold.”
Former Zimplats owners — BHP — in 1994 estimated an inferred platinum resource of 114 million ounces. According to Gapare, it is an uphill task to quantify resources because the success rate in exploration rate is low in greenfields projects.
In greenfields exploration the success rate worldwide is around 3% while in brownfields it may be around 10% depending on stage of exploration.  Zimbabwean gold mines could not sink funds in the last decade into exploration owing to an economic crisis characterised by high inflation, a skewed exchange rate and an acute foreign currency shortage.

Chris Muronzi

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