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Bikita Minerals Lithium mine in the Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe


Description:

In the Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe, which is well renowned for its natural beauty, Bikita Minerals has been running since 1950 one of the largest lithium mines of the country [1]. Local communities are pointing out the impacts the mining activities have had on their living environment including water pollution, artificial hills of mine dumps, loss of landscape and vegetation, lack of direct benefits to them, increased vulnerability [2]. Studies from the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) have exposed potential Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) through corruption, illegal exploitation, and tax evasion from Bikita Minerals (BM) [3]. A Participatory Action Research national workshop facilitated by the CNRG featuring women’s rights activists from local districts also exposed the consequences Bikita Minerals activities have had on women and children, including child marriage, women abuses and denial of women’s right to energy [4]. 

Zimbabwe is currently the 5th largest lithium producer in the world. It produced 1,600 tons of the 77,000 tons world lithium production in 2019 [5]. Bikita has reserves of 10.8-11 million tonnes of lithium ore grading 1.4% (equivalent to about 150,000 tons of pure lithium reserves), representing 65% of Zimbabwe’s total lithium reserves in 2019 [1] [5]. BM has been mining and marketing over 60,000 tons of lithium and caesium ore per year for the past 60 years. It is also considered as the largest petalite deposit in the world [1]. Petalite is a lithium-containing ore, which is mainly used in ceramic and glass industries. BM has a mining lease of 1,539 ha [6], comprising the El Hayat pit in the North (originally El Hayat Mine in 1950) where petalite is mined, the Bikita Minerals pit in the South where lepidolite was mined from 1950 to 1957 (now stopped according to BM management) and part of the nearby forest [6] [4]. 

There seems to be preoccupying tensions between local communities and BM. According to a local newspaper “the community is accusing management and the mine of failing to comply with the Mines and Minerals Act on environmental issues. They say they have been without clean water for the last two years because rivers were being polluted by discharge of potentially toxic chemicals.” [1]. 

During a workshop about socio-economic rights in the extractive sector, the councillors representing Bikita explained that local communities found the industrial mining operations “painful to watch as the once picturesque landscape is gradually being turned into unsightly craters and gullies in Bikita”. They are blaming the country’s Environment Management Agency and the government for “failing to monitor acts of environmental negligence and dismally failing to safeguard the country’s natural resources”, resulting in the “increased vulnerability of communities living in [such] resource-rich areas” [2]. The councillors also denounced that for the local families “minerals in their area continue to be extracted with no direct benefit to them or any contribution towards the development of their area”. “Concerned communities are worried about their welfare”, and they “fear that by [the] time the miners are done with their area, they would be left […] without compensation nor alternative means of survival”, as it has been the case for diamond mining in Marange, Zimbabwe [2]. 

In another local press article, the newly elected Bikita West member of National Assembly Cde Chabaya also put emphasis on the company's reluctance to support community projects, as they would supposedly be bound to according to the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act [7] [8]. “We are aware that Bikita Minerals rakes in a lot of revenue through exploiting resources in Bikita West but not doing anything for communities. The company must help in the construction of schools, clinics, and roads, borehole drilling and rehabilitation” Cde Chabaya said in 2017 [7]. 

According to the Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs Cde Mahofa, all companies operating in the Masvingo province are expected to contribute to the Community Share Ownership Trust (CSOT) but few are doing so [7]. Actually, it seems that BM has invested money to help the local communities - at least since 2018 -, especially the Bikita Fashu Highschool and the Uyerera Clinic, following Cde Chabaya declaration. According to their Corporate Social Responsibility Program (CSRP), BM would have donated 617,000$ in 2018 and about 1,000,000$ in 7 months of 2019 [6]. However, according to a PhD research about community participation in Bikita [9], there seems to be a “lack of clear policy framework” which would make a clear distinction between CSOT donations and CSR. Hence, “Bikita minerals Limited is implementing corporate social responsibility programs like building clinics, providing quarry to surrounding schools which are undergoing construction when the community is expecting the company to contribute to the community share ownership [trust, CSOT].” The main difference is that CSRP uses a “service delivery approach” with “predetermined packages of development goods” while CSOT can enable a “relational approach” which “starts with people” and could be “achieving some kind of understanding of people’s situation as they see it” [9]. 

Another concern is about the impacts that BM activities have had on women and girls from surrounding communities. Five women’s rights activists from Bikita took part in the Participatory Action Research national workshop facilitated by the CNRG [4]. They conducted a survey among the girls participating in the Amnesty International Campaign for Female Education and observed a high rate of child marriages as well as child abuse. 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.” [4]. 

There are also allegations that “some of the perpetrators are in the management of Bikita Minerals”, and this could explain why there are not enough efforts to reprimand BM employees to protect the young girls, according to the local activists [4]. Another key concern is about women’s right to energy. The entire community relies on firewood as their sole source of energy, and women spend a lot of time collecting it. However, some of them have faced difficulties because they have to ask for a written permission to access part of the collecting area which is on the BM lease. In the absence of the two persons who are able to deliver it, they had “no choice but to cut firewood ‘illegally’” according to the activists, hence facing a 20$ fine or 1 month in jail. There has been reports of women abuse if found cutting or fetching firewood by mine security officials. According the women, they would have been forced to cook food and clean their plates. But according to the activists “chances are high the women could have been raped but chose not to disclose the abuse for fear of losing their marriages and stigmatization” [4]. 

In addition, even though about 700 people were employed at BM in 2016, only 10% of them were women. In fact, it seems that these employees were linked with the most powerful people from the community, as well as the members of the dominant political party ZANU-PF [4]. There is no workers’ committee at BM, as would be required by the Labour Act, and according to the locals’ testimonies “there is a high rate of victimization of the workers […] Bikita Minerals premises are heavily guarded by security officials who also spy on workers” [4]. A report documented by the director of the CNRG F. Maguwu investigating the potential IFF in Bikita Minerals exposes the “shadowy activities” and lack of accountability and transparency of the company, which could be in particular illegally exporting other lithium-bearing products than the one they declare, petalite [3]. 

Extensive research shows that there has been a historical construction of “state-assisted corruption” by the political elite from the dominant ruling political party ZANU-PF in post-colonial Zimbabwe. The “pervasive political corruption” exposed in several high-profile political corruption scandals associated with a “culture of impunity” would have fuelled “unparalleled IFF” at the expense of ordinary citizens, who pay the highest price [10]. According to a research by the Global Financial Integrity, an average of $US 276 million of IFF would have left Zimbabwe each year from 2004 to 2013. It represents a cumulative IFF of US$ 2.8 billion [11], and 95% would be coming from the mining sector [3]. In this context, Maguwu points out the close relations between Bikita Minerals and the ZANU-PF since the former Energy and Power Development Minister Dzikamai Mavhaire has been the 2nd major shareholder of Bikita Minerals (21% shares in 2017, 16% in 2019), as well as a board member and a chairman for over 15 years [3] [6]. According to him, it could explain why BM has benefited from “incentives from the government”, such as not paying value added tax and the resource depletion fee “which mining companies are required to pay by law”. For him, there is definitely “secrecy” around BM operations (no public financial statement, lack of information on their website), as well as a lack of contributions to both the government through taxes and local communities through the Community Share Ownership Trust, even though they both desperately need it [3]. Overall, Maguwu accuses BM of illegal exploitation by “mis-stating the types and value of ores that it is exporting, particularly by not declaring exports of [high-quality lithium-bearing] lepidolite”. It once “provided the feed for the production of about 30% US Atomic Energy Commission’s lithium hydroxide stockpile” according to the geologist K. Evans [3]. 

According to BM, the exports of lepidolite have stopped in the 1950s as the resources have been depleted [6]. BM also allegedly started mining 7 years prior to obtaining the license to do so [3]. 

It is also accused of tax evasion not only due to the tax incentives importantly benefiting shareholders including Mavhaire at the expanse of the government but also because of the company “fail[ure] to pay its dues to the Community Share Ownership Trust” and its alleged “transfer mis-pricing and under invoicing”. Finally, it is accused of corruption by “transfer of equity” to Mavhaire during licensing - no selection process nor transparency in licensing BM and giving 21% shares to Mavhaire – and revenue allocation [3]. These allegations are corroborated by several other sources. Cde Mahofa, the Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs, declared in 2017 that he “know[s] Mavhaire (Dzikamai) is one of the directors at the mine and may be behind what is happening. He is causing a lot of confusion at Bikita Minerals” [7]. 

Other policy makers have been criticising BM activities “due to its minimal contribution to the treasury”, and Foreign Affairs deputy Minister C. Mutsvangwa “launched an attack on the mining concern over its failure to contribute significantly into the fiscus” [12]. This followed heavy critics from the ZANU-PF Youth League about the ownership structure opaqueness and the lack of contribution to CSOT while “taking away the country’s resources” [13] 

More generally in Zimbabwe and in 2019, according to the research analyst with Econometer Global Capital Masawi, “there is [a] lack of transparency in the sales and declaration of revenues” [14]. BM has expressed its “rebuttal” of the points made by Maguwu and the press articles in a written response, declaring that “during the time he was involved with the mine, at no time did Mr. Mavhaire ever tried to unduly influence the Board or extract any advantage from his position” [6]. They claimed again that the only lithium-bearing ore they currently export would be fully-declared petalite. The total beneficiation process for this mineral would be concentration and milling, which is significantly less intensive than other lithium-bearing ore such as spodumene. For that reason, the price and the impacts on the environment would be lower, and the final commercial product wouldn’t be refined enough to be used for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, a strategic market that is currently expanding extremely rapidly [6]. 

Their associate D. Thiery, an expert from the German company Minerals Dvt Consultancy also declared that “the Ministry of Mines records precisely the mineral products produced and exported by Bikita Minerals” and that “the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe is monitoring and auditing the mineral products supply chain” [6]. BM also wrote a list of the visits they have had in the previous years, including several mining authorities, and a media tour in 2018. These statements cannot be effectively verified since as BM puts it “as a private company, Bikita is under no obligation to publish any of its financial and production information other than to the relevant authorities”. BM has plans to further expand its activities. They declared that they invested at least $4mi to build a new processing plant to boost their output [15] and that they started an exploration programme together with an “extensive metallurgical programme […] using laboratories in South Africa, Germany and Australia” commercialise lithium concentrates from spodumene and possibly tantalite from lepidolite tailings [6]. This has been done without consultation of the surrounding communities [4].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Bikita Minerals Lithium mine in the Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe
Country:Zimbabwe
State or province:Masvingo Province
Location of conflict:Bikita
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Land
Lithium

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Bikita has reserves of 10.8-11 million tonnes of lithium ore grading 1.4% (equivalent to about 150,000 tons of pure lithium reserves), representing 65% of Zimbabwe’s total lithium reserves in 2019 [1] [5]. Since it started its activities in 1950, BM has been mining and marketing over 60,000 tons of lithium and caesium ore per year for the past 60 years. It is also considered as the largest petalite deposit in the world [1]. Petalite is a lithium-containing ore, which is mainly used in ceramic and glass industries. BM has a mining lease of 1,539 ha. It employed 700 people in 2016 (430 staff in 2019), and 10% were women [4].

In december 2017 the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act was softened, and non-indigenous people could once again become majority shareholders of Zimbabwe businesses [1]. The alleged anonymous shell company African Minerals Limited became the major shareholder of BM with 55.4% shares (16% for Mavhaire in 2019) [6] while it had been previously limited to 49% of the shares (21% for Mavhaire in 2016). As for other anonymous shell companies, there is no website nor real offices at the claimed physical address, and it is nearly impossible to establish the real beneficial ownership, as they aren’t required to disclose the real identity of the people who profit from it or control its activities [3]. A 15% tax on raw lithium ore was introduced at the same time, and BM is bound to pay it [1] [6].

Project area:1,539
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectUnknown but important; 4,000,000$ over 36 months for new processing unit
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Bikita and other local communities near the Bikita Minerals Mine
Start of the conflict:01/01/1950
Company names or state enterprises:Bikita Minerals (Pvt) Ltd from Zimbabwe - Mining company, allegedly responsible for illicit financial flows, abuses and pollutions
African Minerals (Pvt) Ltd from Mauritius - Mother company of the mining company Bikita Minerals
Relevant government actors:Former ZANU-PF Minister of Energy and Power Devlopment D. Mavhaire
Concillors representing Bikita district, Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs Cde Mahofa, Bikita West member of National Assembly Cde Chabaya
Ministry of Mines, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (Mining authorities)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG, http://cnrgzim.org/ )
Womens' rights activists from Bikita district

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Referendum other local consultations

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Corruption
Strengthening of participation
Abuses on women when found on newly 'illegal' areas for collecting woods
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The mining activities haven't stopped, the beneficial owners of the company are still national elite or multinational actors. There is a planned expansion of the company's activities, including exploration and processing with potentially important impacts.
It seems that there have been some improvements in the economic contributions to the local communities (2018-2019) but still not in the expected manners, and the communities seem to fear the long-term consequences for their lives and welfare even after the mining activities cease.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[8] Mugabe R. (2015) Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act [Chapter 14:33] (2015 update).
https://zimlii.org/zw/legislation/act/2007/14

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Ober J. (2020) U.S. Mineral Commodity Summaries 2020. USGS, p. 132-133.
https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2020/mcs2020.pdf

[9] Nechena H. (2016) Community participation in Community Share Ownership Schemes and development in Bikita. Thesis. Bindura University of Science Education, Social Science and Humanities, Peace and Governance.
http://ir.buse.ac.zw/xmlui/handle/11196/2241

[10] Ncube C., Okeke-Uzodike U. (2015) Understanding Illicit Financial Flows in Post-2000 Zimbabwe. Journal of African Foreign Affairs (JoAFA) Volume 2, Numbers 1 & 2, 2015 Pp 95-114.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299849609_Understanding_Illicit_Financial_Flows_in_Post-2000_Zimbabwe

[11] Kar D. Spanjers J. (2015) Investigating Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2004-2013. Global Financial Integrity.
https://gfintegrity.org/report/illicit-financial-flows-from-developing-countries-2004-2013/

[1] Lithium today (2017). Lithium supply in Zimbabwe. Lithium Today.
http://lithium.today/lithium-supply-by-countries/lithium-supply-zimbabwe/

[2] The Standard redactor (2016) Mining operations leave villagers vulnerable. The Standard, Environment.
https://www.thestandard.co.zw/2016/06/12/mining-operations-leave-villagers-vulnerable/

[6] Bikita Minerals (2019) Responses to “Investigating Illicit Financial Flows in Zimbabwe’s Lithium Mining Sector”, “Daggers Out for Bikita Minerals”. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/Bikita%20Minerals%20Response%20%5BPDF%5D.pdf

[7] Mswazie W. (2017) Daggers out for Bikita Minerals. The Sunday News.
https://www.sundaynews.co.zw/daggers-out-for-bikita-minerals/

[12] Makichi T. (2014) Bikita Minerals to invest into exploration. The Heralds.
https://www.herald.co.zw/youth-league-calls-for-bikita-renco-mines-to-indigenise/

[13] Masvingo Bureau (2015) Youth League calls for Bikita, Renco mines to indigenise. The Heralds.

[13] Masvingo Bureau (2015) Youth League calls for Bikita, Renco mines to indigenise. The Heralds.
https://www.herald.co.zw/youth-league-calls-for-bikita-renco-mines-to-indigenise/

[14] Zimbabwe Mail staff reporter (12/2019) After all the talk, lithium is proving to be a disappointment. The Zimbabwe Mail.
https://www.thezimbabwemail.com/business/after-all-the-talk-lithium-is-proving-to-be-a-disappointment/

[15] Maponga G. (2018) Bikita Minerals ramps up lithium production. Masvingo Bureau, The Herald.
https://www.herald.co.zw/bikita-minerals-ramps-up-lithium-production/

Other documents

Bikita Minerals lithium mine from above, in the middle of the forest Screenshot from the Youtube video "Bikita Minerals 2018" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P83KT82lcWw
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/5139/Summary_report_of_the_Bikita_Participatory_Action_Research___Final.doc

Other comments:[3] Maguwu F. (2017) Investigating Illicit Financial Flows in Zimbabwe’s Lithium Mining Sector. Trust Africa. http://iffoadatabase.trustafrica.org/iff/Zimbabwe%20TrustAfrica.pdf
[4] CNRG (07/2016) Summary report of the Bikita Participatory Action Research (PAR).

Meta information

Contributor:Noam Marseille, [email protected]
Last update06/08/2020
Conflict ID:5139

Images

 

Bikita Minerals transportation trucks for lithium ore in the beautiful Masvingo Province

Screenshot from the Youtube video "Bikita Minerals 2018" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P83KT82lcWw

Bikita Minerals lithium mine from above

Screenshot from the Youtube video "Bikita Minerals 2018" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P83KT82lcWw

Bikita Minerals mine waste lakes near Masvingo Province ecosystems

Screenshot from the Youtube video "Bikita Minerals 2018" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P83KT82lcWw

Bikita Minerals industrial processing unit with workers

Screenshot from the Youtube video "Bikita Minerals 2018" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P83KT82lcWw