GOVERNMENT is losing US$120 000 per day and has so far lost about US$16 million since December last year as Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa drags his feet over whether to grant a special dispensation to recover gold from sand to a local company working with Chinese firm Sino Hydro on the US$533 milion Kariba South Power Extension Project. A local company last year discovered gold deposits on the sand being used to make concrete to fortify the Kariba Dam wall and has been asking for permission from government to separate gold from the sand.
By Hazel Ndebele
Despite pleas for permission to rescue the gold being literally thrown away, Chidhakwa has not responded to a January 4 request by Townsend Enterprises, a private company last year subcontracted by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) to supply sand to Chinese firm Sino Hydro from a concession on the Gache River owned by Chapungu Safaris.
Government sources said this week that in the course of rehabilitating the structurally weak dam wall, Sino Hydro discovered significant quantities of gold in the sand from Gache River and promptly informed Townsend which then wrote to the Ministry of Mines seeking permission to separate gold from the sand.
Government in 2014 banned alluvial mining in river beds, banks, wetlands and any land within 200 metres of naturally defined banks. This was done through a Statutory Instrument 92 of 2014, Environmental Management (Control of Alluvial Mining) regulations.
The wasteful loss of gold, according to sources, is conservatively estimated at three kilogrammes per day. The international price of gold is currently pegged at US$40 000 per kilogramme.
“Since December 2015 about 400 kilogrammes have been lost to the wall which is equivalent to almost US$16 million,” a source said.
“It is further reckoned that, since the government was first notified of the fortuitous finding in January 2016, at least 320kgs or an estimated US$13 million has been lost to the wall.
“Surely, at a time when our economy is reeling from a liquidity and cash crisis, it would only be sensible for government to allow for more gold to be produced by as many players as possible.”
Government sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that Townsend initially approached Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya in December 2015 after the discovery of gold. However, the governor advised the company to deal with the Mines ministry.
The central bank is the sole buyer of gold in the country through Fidelity Printers.
Instead of responding to Townsend, sources said on February 19 2016 the Mines Ministry sent a technical team to take samples. Laboratory tests showed there were between two and seven grammes of gold per tonne of sand. Platinum was also discovered there.
The ministry also sent another team to the site in February from Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) to take more samples.
The ZCDC team led by Sebastian Mabenge, a metallurgist, went in and out of the area several times before moving in with equipment.
“There has been no authorisation to recover the gold and therefore sand containing gold is still being delivered to Sino Hydro at their dam wall site where, as concrete, it is subsequently used to fortify the Kariba Dam wall,” the source said.
Despite his failure to respond to Townsend, Chidhakwa this week said government will soon begin full scale mining in Gache Gache through the ZCDC, the consolidated diamond mining company struggling to mine in Marange.
Last month Chidhakwa told journalists that the ministry had “accidentally” discovered new gold and platinum deposits — which is factually untrue — and had swiftly moved in to ring fence the area.
Chidhakwa could not be reached for comment.
Deputy Mines Minister Fred Moyo said he was unaware that Townsend had not yet received a response from his ministry.
“If we have not yet responded it is unprofessional, let me check on the matter with the office,” he said.
Townsend director Chris Hokonya said: “Yes I can confirm that we wrote to the Ministry of Mines, but I would advise you to get the details from the ministry.”