GOVERNMENT has seized 77 chrome mining claims along the Great Dyke from locals and handed them over to Chinese mining firm, Afrochine Smelting (Afrochine), in a murky deal which has riled the original claim owners, investigations show.
Documents obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent this week, indicate that a total of 77 special mining grants straddling over 2 000 hectares were transferred to Afrochine in April this year, underlining China’s bold intention to stake its claim over the lucrative “Persian Gulf of Strategic Minerals,” part of which lies in Zimbabwe.
The term, Persian Gulf of Strategic Minerals was popularised at the height of the Cold War when a United States Congress Committee on Strategic Minerals and Mining highlighted US intentions to gain control of vast minerals of geo-political significance
strewn over Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, South Africa, DRC, then Zaire, and Zambia.
In Zimbabwe, the area which was primarily of interest to the US was the Great Dyke, where Afrochine, as documents gleaned by the Independent this week show, was, on April 29, 2021, given rights over vast special grants once held by locals.
Global super powers like China, Britain, France and Russia consider the area’s vast mineral treasure trove in the same manner they regard the Persian Gulf in the Middle East which is endowed with 75% of global oil reserves.
As part of this publication’s investigations into the growing dominance of Afrochine Smelting in the country’s mining sector with government’s ambitious plans to achieve US$12 billion by 2023, the Chinese company was granted a range of chrome special grants with registration numbers ranging from 8335 (Part X1X) to 8405 (Part X1X) between April 29 and April 30 this year by Mines and Mining Development ministry law officer Jonathan Mhiribidi. This makes Afrochine one of the largest chrome claim holders in the country.
Cumulatively, the special grant approvals to Afrochine amount to 77. Afrochine intends to set up an integrated chrome processing plant with an annual turnover target of US$1,5 billion.
An approval letter confirming the allocation of special grant 8431(PartX1X) to Afrochine Smelting by Mhiribidi reads:
“Please be advised that the following Special Grant (SG 8431) has been approved by the permanent secretary. Please note that proof of payment of application fees and rentals should be submitted to head office before the special grant can be dispatched to provincial offices.”
The lucrative grants, whose optimal extraction and beneficiation, if realised, will dwarf Zimasco’s 150 000 tonnes annual output by 300%, are strewn around Ngezi, Mapinga and Darwendale in Mashonaland West province.
Dated April 29, 2021, the letter was delivered to Mashonaland West provincial mining director Sibongile Mpindiwa and copied to Afrochine Smelting management.
The letter also spells out that Afrochine Smelting, for each of the 77 special grants it was granted, paid application fees of
ZW$5 000. This translates to ZW$385 000.
A previous investigation by this publication revealed on December 11, 2020, that the decision by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) to grant Afrochine Smelting rights to drill and explore for coal inside the Hwange National Park was a directive from Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu.
The Chinese firm had been granted a special grant coal concession registered under number 5767. At that time, the government’s unprecedented decision to award licences to Zhongxin Coking Company Mining Group and Afrochine Smelting to conduct geological surveys sparked outrage.
The licences have paved the way for large-scale coal extraction inside a wildlife park which generates millions of dollars annually in tourism receipts.
In the latest chrome claims acquisition spree by Afrochine — a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Tsingchan Holdings — the special grants to the firm, according to the confidential documents seen by the Independent are set to expire on April 27, 2023, with a “validity period” of 24 months.
Tsingchan Holdings accounts for 25% of global steel production.
One of the receipts generated by the Mines ministry for SG 8431 granted to Afrochine highlights that the firm would assume control of “14 731 hectares within Reserve Area MSW 002/003 in the mining district of Mashonaland West” to undertake chrome exploration and extraction operations.
“A special grant is hereby issued to Afrochine Smelting Private Limited (hereunder referred to as the holder”) to carry out mining operations for chrome in terms of section 291 of the Mines and Minerals Act (Chapter21:05),” part of the receipt, with serial number 0002282, generated on April 28, 2021 reads.
“An area of approximately 14 731 hectares situated . . . in Mashonaland West to an extent that such area would be open to prospecting and pegging where the area is not reserved, bound the following coordinate. I hereby certify that Special Grant Number 8431 has been duly registered in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act.”
According to the terms of the special grant, Afrochine, would be required to “submit programmes of the mine’s annual report as prescribed by the Geological and Mining Engineering Departments” and “submit production and labour returns”.
The Chinese firm is prohibited from exporting chrome ore in its raw form, while the government is not liable to paying any compensation should it terminate the special grants.
Afrochine mine manager Laston Mlauzi declined to discuss the matter.
“Why do you want that information? It’s confidential information. You have to come to our offices in Selous. That’s the procedure,” Mlauzi said yesterday.
The company’s managing director Benson Xu said he was busy in meetings.
Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando was not available for comment.
An official source, however, said Afrochine Smelting, leveraging on the green light it was granted by the government over the special grants, was now elbowing out previous holders of the claims.
“As we speak, renewal of licenses for special grants and pegging new ones in areas now held by Afrochine remains banned by government. In essence, government forfeited the special grants rights we held and awarded them to Afrochine,” the source said.
“Afrochine is now in the process of evicting previous SG holders from the areas which it now controls.”
An affected claim holder said he was recently booted out of Ngezi.
He said officials from the Mines ministry in Mashonaland West province told him that the government had decided against renewing their grants as they had now been transferred to Afrochine.
“In Ngezi, the government has also given the directive that previous holders of these grants should make way for the Chinese. We are being evicted on the pretext that we failed to satisfy stipulated requirements, but this is all too clear that the government is mortgaging the vast chrome resources to Afrochine at the expense of local people,” the claim owner said.
Under its ambitious plans, Afrochine intends to set up a carbon steel plant and a ferrochrome plant, while discussions to set up a railway line and a power supply line are underway. Construction of a dam that would guarantee adequate water supply is also being envisaged.