Govt bows to pressure, shuts down Bikita Minerals

By Admore Marambanyika

Following pressure from unions and pressure groups over labour and environmental violations Zimbabwe’s largest lithium mine Bikita Minerals, owned by China’s Sinomine Resource Group, has been ordered to suspend operations until it complies with legal provisions that include labour, environmental and immigration laws.

The mining which employs over 800 employees company was Flagged out by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions as one of the worst employers in the country in this year’s workers’ day remarks following reports of gross labour violations and disregard for humanity and environmental considerations.

“Chinese owned companies and private security companies are the worst culprits. Most jobs in the country are precarious and working conditions are pathetic. Foreign investors particularly the Chinese have enslaved local workers. They are paying very low wages while disregarding local labour laws because they are protected by powerful individuals within our political circles. Workers at Manhidze Steel Plant; Sunny Yi Feng, Bikita Minerals and many other Chinese established around the country are denied basic fundamental rights like provision of PPE, the right to join unions of their choice, are under paid and are subjected to abuses. All this is happening at a time our worker and citizen protection standards should have matured,” said ZCTU in its statement to commemorate this year’s Workers Day.

The shutdown which was confirmed by the Mines and Mining Development deputy minister Polite Kambamura comes hot on the heels of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s directive to the mines ministry to prioritise the welfare of mine workers following an inter-ministerial audit early this month.

“It’s a temporary suspension of operations. There were issues that government noted that the mine was not complying with. We had a checklist and we were ticking. Anything that the company wasn’t complying with we ticked and ordered it to correct before reopening. The audit was done by an inter-ministerial team looking at issues like immigration, labour laws, export laws, environmental laws and so forth. Once the mine puts the house in order, its authorities will call us to re-inspect. If it’s complying we will issue a reopening order,” said Kambamura

Kambamura described the suspension order as a good example of government stamping its authority.

The mine was accused of subjecting employees to ill-treatment, poor remuneration, inhumane accommodation facilities and were not registered with such statutory bodies as the National Social Security Authority.

Bikita Minerals manager David Mwanza said the mine would attend to the issues raised within seven days.

“As a law-abiding corporate, we remain committed to fully comply with all requirements of the law and expect to resume operations once all the outstanding issues have been addressed,” he said.

Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu welcomed government’s decision to suspend operations at Bikita Minerals, claiming that there was massive looting of lithium at the mine.

“That’s the right thing to do. There is no hurry. It is better to keep our lithium while we put our house in order than to give away our natural capital for a song. We can never recover that which we have lost. There has been massive depletion of lithium reserves at Bikita Minerals in recent months and yet the country has nothing to show for it,” he said.

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