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Free-for-all

Foreigners ‘feast’ on minerals in rural areas while government watches

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Some precious stone

Illegal mining is growing roots in the country as people flock from foreign countries to extract and buy precious stones from areas that are deemed to be rich in mineral resources.

It is a situation of ‘nobody cares’ as Malawi is losing out on rare minerals such as gold, graphite, quartz, mica and aldate.

There was unverified video that was trending this week on social media apparently of a container containing precious minerals on a port on its way abroad.

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Malawi News investigations have established that despite government issuing a statement last year warning individuals involved in illegal mining to stop the activities or face eviction saying doing so violates provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act (2018), those who are engaging in unsanctioned mining have not relented.

Residents of Mzimba, for example, have expressed concern that Chinese miners are duping them over minerals being mined in the district.

They claim that they are losing out on a number of minerals such as rose quartz, rock crystal quartz, smoky quartz and mica.

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Malawi News investigations in the district shows that the Chinese nationals have been going to different parts of the district as buyers of precious stones but, within a few months, they start mining.

The residents say the Chinese nationals claim they are into joint ventures with local firms.

Some residents say the Chinese nationals use Malawians to get licences and leave them in the cold once they get authorisation.

Malawi News visited Euthini in the district where precious stones are being mined.

Levison Nkhata, one of the leaders in the area, told Malawi News that members of the community were surprised to notice the influx of Chinese nationals in the area and later on they discovered that they were interested in the white and smoky quartz.

This prompted them to report to traditional leaders who seemed unconcerned and played a blind eye.

“We reported this to Traditional Authority Chindi about what has been happening. But the trend continues. We tried to talk to the Chinese people as to build a school in the area, as a corporate social responsibility. They agreed to the suggestion but, after they completed mining, they abandoned the place and never came back,” Nkhwazi said.

According to Village Head Jacob Mzumara, smoky and transparent quartz were first discovered in the 1970s.

They are also found in the nearby villages, which are in neighbouring Zambia.

Malawi News can reveal that mica and quartz are the minerals that are being mined in most of the spots in Mzimba.

According to our investigations, the Chinese mining companies have been mining in the area since last year.

They agreed with members of the community that they were going to build a couple of school blocks but, after shipping more than six containers, they changed tune.

The residents said they only released money for a single block and this prompted the community to chase the miners when they resumed operations in September this year.

Mica is used in cosmetics and paints as a pigment extender and also helps to brighten the tone of coloured pigments.

It is also a superior insulator and, in the electrical industry, it is used as thermal insulation and, in electronic equipment, as electrical insulators.

Quartz is an important mineral with numerous uses.

For example, transparent rock crystal has many electronic uses: it is used as oscillators in radios, watches and pressure gauges and in the study of optics.

Quartz is also used as an abrasive for sandblasting, grinding glass and cutting soft stones.

Yamikani Jimusole, a gemologist, said rock crystal, smoky and rose quartz are on high demand on the international market and they would sell for $1, 500 per kilogramme, even more, depending on quality and size.

“Malawi is blessed with so many gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, tourmalines, beryl, just to name a few, that could transform the country’s economy if properly managed,” Jimusole said.

According to Jimusole, there is a need to formalise the mining sector and also find markets for the stones, as neighbouring countries are benefitting from their gemstones because they are being exposed to international markets.

He also said there is a need to civic educate Malawians on mining issues because there is a lot of blame game going on, a thing which can be avoided if the people have the right information.

Natural Resources Justice Network in Malawi Chairperson Kosamu Munthali has been vocal on extractive industry in the country and told Malawi News Thursday that government has never been serious with curbing illegal mining by foreigners.

“It’s unfortunate that government is also losing a lot of revenues that could support in buying drugs and improving education services etc. Sometimes you don’t need to be told that government is just happy to see locals being exploited. All they need is just our votes. It’s high time government protected its citizens so that they should not be exploited,” he said.

He said what the country needs are regulations and empower institutions of governance and local assemblies to take lead in scrutinising and issuing of mining licences.

He has since asked Malawi Human Rights Commission and Office of the Ombudsman to investigate how the licences were issued.

Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira said the extractive industry in Malawi “is rotten to the core because there is no transparency”.

He said what is happening in Euthini and all places where mining is taking place exposes the loopholes in the sector.

“It is unfortunate that government is losing billions of kwacha in mining revenue. There is no proper legal framework governing the mining sector and this is fuelling the injustices that is depriving the nation benefits from natural resources,” Kambwandira said.

Deputy Director of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Peter Chilumanga said he was in the field inspecting and getting information about cases similar to the Euthini’s.

When contacted, Chief Geologist in the Department of Mines (responsible for the Northern Region) George Maneya said they are investigating the matter.

“I have joined the mine inspection team which is completing its exercise today [yesterday],” Maneya said.

In recent years, there have been rising cases of illegal mining in the country.

In Lilongwe, Salima and Mangochi there have been stories of people involved in gold mining.

In February this year, President Peter Mutharika assented to eight bills, including the Mines and Minerals law which is meant to bring sanity in the mining industry.

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