In a Cabinet briefing on 3 August 2021 it was reported that it was agreed to protect the ferro-chrome Industry by banning exports of raw chrome with effect immediately. They further agreed that exports of chrome concentrates was to be stopped by July 2022, giving the industry 11 more months of concentrate export.
However, this is not the first time government has banned chrome exports in Zimbabwe, with a suspension of raw chrome exports initiated in 2007, and two years later under the Government of National Unity (GNU).
The then minister of mines Dr Obert Mpofu said the proposed ban on raw chrome exports was a loss-control measure, which aimed to plug one of the major holes through which the country had been losing a lot of revenue.
Mpofu said the reform of the chrome sector would also seek to promote small-scale miners by supporting them in setting up smelting plants.
The nation is still talking of the same thing 17 years later as there is more talk and no action on making the industry a better place.
Export ban was lifted later in 2009 and two years later, in April 2011, the same government announced another ban on exports of all chrome ore as well as imposing fines. The argument of the time was that the country was losing more money by exporting ore than beneficiating the chrome before export.
When the Government changed, the formation of a special purpose vehicle, Apple Bridge Investments in 2015 led to the end of the export ban imposed four years earlier. Before the export ban, Zimbabwe had been producing an average 750,000 tonnes per year.
And currently, the mineral is one of the highest foreign currency earners.
Research says by exporting raw chrome, Zimbabwe gains only 20% value of the metal while the processing country gains 80%, and in this case being our neighbor South Africa.
Zimbabwe has the second-largest high-grade chromium deposits in the world, behind South Africa, with reserves of around 10 billion tonnes. Export earnings from chrome remain a large contributor to our economy, and we have aimed to increase production this year.
We need to invest in the latest edition of technology in the smelting department as the smelters we have are archaic with one being 62 years old and gobbles electricity as smelting needs high temperatures.
Smelting locally becomes a tough task as the existing smelters in the country can not hold our annual production.
While the government’s plan sounds ambitious and full of good intentions, the implementation would always be a problem, unless international investors were called into Zimbabwe’s benefaction business, which was far-from developed.
We do not see it taking off if the government wants to set up and take charge of these processing centres. It can only work if they invite those private investors who have the money and the expertise to set up the benefaction centres for which ever minerals they want to handle.
Botswana’s diamond benefaction industry was not even two years old when our first ban on chrome ore exports was initiated, but it has been a huge success because they opened up and attracted the right people for the cutting and polishing business. That expertise is being offered now to locals, which is a plus for mining related knowledge and technology transfer – Harare