HomeOpinionNew perspective: Lithium promises and prospects for Goromonzi

New perspective: Lithium promises and prospects for Goromonzi

By Masimba Manyanya & Mary Nyadome

Goromonzi, a peri-urban rural district covering 254 072 square km (25 407 200 hectares) is perhaps well known for its gold mine, for the rich fertile soils in its vast (commercial/communal) farming lands, as well as the fairly dependable annual rains (averaging 800mm-1000mm).

These are key characteristics of Natural Regions 1 and 2 in which the district is found. These factors represent great opportunities for rapid growth in real estate, agro-industries, mining, manufacturing and related downstream industries. But perhaps the major obstacle in the investment as well as social life of Goromonzi is the dilapidated state of 1 606 km of roads in the district.

Over recent years the population of Goromonzi has grown phenomenally to over half a million, but faster than the capacity of local economic activities to create employment, incomes, or the capacity of the Goromonzi Rural District Council to provide basic health, education, energy, or social infrastructure services. The result is a worsening spectre of unemployment, poverty, deforestation, and land conflicts. Zimstats’s 2015 Poverty Atlas pinpointed Goromonzi’s ward 9 and ward 13 as some of the poorest regions in Zimbabwe.

There is, however, quite a good chance these sad trends could change with the recent discovery of lithium deposits in ward 13. Could, because the Arcadia Lithium Project in Goromonzi, which next year nears commercial readiness and perhaps also the local Goromonzi community, all have key lessons to learn from the Bikita Lithium Mine, operational since it was set up more than 50 years ago in Masvingo.

The formerly Kamativi tin mine that was closed in 1994 due to depressed international mineral prices, is set to be reopened in 2023 as a lithium mine. So lithium is opening new chapters in Zimbabwe.

The Arcadia Lithium Project in Goromonzi is a venture run by Australia-based miner Prospect Resources. This paper examines prospects at Arcadia, in the context of the experience of Bikita Mines.

From a global perspective, Zimbabwe is next year, one of the six top lithium producers in the world, with Australia topping the list with 55% of global output. Zimbabwe, the only African country mining lithium, accounts for 2% of the 76 700 tons of the global output. But what is lithium?

Discovered by a Brazilian naturalist and statesman, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda e Silva in the 1790s, lithium is a chemical element; silvery-white alkali metal that is also light and soft. As the least dense metal it floats on water and can be cut with a kitchen knife. Its global market value of USD$4,09 billion in 2019 and USD $5 billion next year is projected to reach USD8,24 billion by the end of 2027. By simple estimation from next year Zimbabwe stands to benefit a minimum of USD$1 billion in inflows per annum, and this is expected to rise to $1,6 billion by 2027 with the expansion in global demand.

Many reports show that lithium-producing countries have grown in stature on the world mining stage in recent years, as interest in lithium grows in tandem with demand for the electric vehicles and consumer electronics whose rechargeable batteries it powers, including space products. Reports on www.livescience.com trace the key drivers of the massive global demand growth for lithium to;

Growing global demand for lithium-ion batteries a key to lightweight, rechargeable power for laptops, phones and other digital devices.

Lithium and another battery component, cobalt, could become scarce as demand increases.

Lithium is a type of metal that is consumed in the diet, mainly in grains and vegetables.

Studies show naturally occurring lithium in drinking water correlates with lower levels of suicide, linking lithium’s role in the brain. Thus lithium helps mental disorders. Lithium might also be needed for other functions, like the development of blood cells.

Lithium carbonate and lithium citrate are approved by the US FDA as prescription drugs for bipolar disorder.

But psychiatrists are careful about prescribing lithium in high doses, particularly because it can pass through the placenta and have unknown effects on the developing foetus.

On a lighter note, the element is part of celebratory fireworks shows: A mix of lithium and strontium salts, along with some other chemicals, creates the show’s brilliant red colour.

Bikita Minerals

The Bikita Lithium Mine (BLM) in Masvingo province is Zimbabwe’s largest operational lithium mine, and has been active since the 1950s.

Bikita has, according to Energybusiness, reserves of 10.8-11 million tonnes of lithium ore grading 1,4% (equivalent to about 150 000 tonnes of pure lithium reserves). While BLM has been mining and marketing over 60 000 tonnes of lithium and caesium ore per year for the past 60 years, the mine is also considered as the largest petalite deposit in the world. (https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/). Economic Justice Atlas notes that apart from the environmental degradation, Zimbabwe’s largest lithium mine ‘has only profited local and international elites at the expense of the local communities and the government through pollution, women abuse and illicit financial flows’.  (https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bikita)

BLM activities with water pollution, artificial hills of mine dumps, loss of landscape and vegetation, lack of direct benefits to local communities, increased population vulnerability, risks of Illicit Financial Flows (IFF), corruption, illegal exploitation, and tax evasion.

A Participatory Action Research national workshop facilitated by the CNRG in 2019, featured adverse consequences BLM activities including child marriage, women abuses and denial of women’s right to energy

Other negative impacts include gender discrimination in the employment of miners, the pervasive influence of political connections in determining employment opportunities, and child marriages.

As the detailed CNRG report outlines…“the key factors of child marriage would be poverty, apathy towards education, peer pressure among the youth but also abuse by their “guardians”. Actually, “the key perpetrators were mainly Bikita Minerals employees” who would “take advantage of their social status to lure young girls into relationships, hence falling pregnant without any support from their partners.” . (www.cnrg.org).

There has been no workers’ committee at BLM, “as would be required by the Labour Act” which points to risks and threats of victimisation of the workers. Reports also highlight “shadowy activities,..and lack of accountability and transparency of the company, which could be in particular illegally exporting other lithium-bearing products…”.

This reinforces views by The Economic Development in Africa Report (2020) and the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd 2021), Africa losses approximately US$89 billion per annum (3,7% of the continent’s gross domestic product) to illicit financial flows. (https://unctad.org/webflyer/economic-development-africa-report-202). The irony being that these losses exceed what the continent receives annually as Official Development Assistance.

Oswell Binha (Africa University) writing on Zimbabwe’s mining prospects and opportunities in the context of protection of local social and natural environments recommends;

  • Integrate social environment impact assessments with the natural and economic impact assessments;
  • Local governments and local communities must play active roles in the licensing /control of mining investments. Local authorities must be empowered to levy some mining taxes. Mining ventures derive their social licence to operate by ensuring they embrace the local authority through appropriate licensing requirements, whilst also accepting informal social engagements with the local community structures;
  • Use of substances such as explosives, processing plant chemicals and mining residue management requires separate licensing protocols;
  • There is need for water management legislation to require mining companies to obtain water management licensing, as mining uses a lot of water;
  • Policy clarity is a necessity and sufficient to enhance attracting investment into the mining sector.
  • Government must resolutely deal with the threats and vices of corruption and institutionalised graft, which tend to be offshoots of constraints associated with complying with bad laws, guidelines and procedures. (Oswell Binha ‘Sustainability of Zimbabwe’s Platinum Mining Sector’ (Africa University, College of Business Peace Leadership and Governance :International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 10, Issue 12, 2020).
  • Manyanya and Nyadome are policy analysts. These weekly New Perspectives articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge,zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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