Beneficiation is the game changer
Lovemore Chikova News Editor
THE majority of countries in the Sadc region are generally richly endowed with minerals, biodiversity and other resources.
This is vital for the creation of wealth and must contribute to improving the overall quality of life.
Yet, one of the most asked questions among the people in the region is: “Why are we so poor given the abundance of resources that are the envy of the world?”.
It is time that leaders from the region realise the untenable paradox, where you have so much, but very little to show for it.
And if the theme carefully chosen for the their 34th Sadc Summit set for Victoria Falls next month is anything to go by, then the region is poised for a huge transformation on how it handles its affairs on minerals.
The theme is “Sadc Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition”.
It is the emphasis on beneficiation of natural resources that will help solve the case in which millions of citizens from the region are yet to get the real value from their God-given resources.
The major problem in Sadc is that the abundant minerals are still being exported as ores, concentrates or metals, without significant downstream processing or value addition.
The region has an urgent need for policy makers, scientists, technologists, academics and other industry experts to come together and exploit ways on how beneficiation of the natural resources can be quickened.
The 34th Sadc Summit should be the start of the process since it shows that leaders from the region are ready to push for the beneficiation strategy as evidenced by their theme.
Surely, why should the region let conglomerates continue to “reap where they did not sow” by shipping away unprocessed minerals, which they sell at unbelievably high prices for their benefit?
It is a fact that mineral beneficiation is pivotal to the diversification and eventual development of the Sadc region.
It has so many linkages with the overall growth and industrial development of a country’s economy and its benefits can easily cascade to the grassroots.
The 34th Sadc Summit should be a platform to develop and implement sustainable and appropriate beneficiation strategies, sharing lessons and best practices on the subject in line with the theme.
What this means is that if Sadc countries seek to obtain greater value from their extracted minerals, their priority must be to make such an industry economically viable and this can only be done through value addition and beneficiation.
A number of Sadc countries have recently hinted that they are taking value addition and beneficiation of their natural resources as a priority and these include Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Beneficiation will add value to the mineral exports, which would boost tax revenue and encourage the formation of new businesses and add jobs.
Despite this noble thinking, there are still substantial challenges which Sadc has to deal with.
The region needs to develop its skills base to ensure it is up to date with the modern requirements of value addition, while at the same time identifying appropriate markets for the locally beneficiated products.
The region also faces a lethargic approach to issues, for instance, there are still major power shortages haunting several countries, yet investments in the energy sector could have solved the matter.
What is needed is for the Sadc leaders to come up with innovative solutions to overcome the challenges before they can embark on all-out beneficiation of the natural resources.
Much commitment is needed from the region to acquire appropriate technologies to help produce quality products that can compete on the international market.
As Sadc leaders tackle the theme of the 34th Sadc Summit, they will draw their strength from the fact that there are some countries which have already publicly registered their displeasure with exporting raw minerals.
Zimbabwe, which holds the world’s second-largest platinum reserves after South Africa, has already informed platinum mining firms that the answer lies in setting up refineries locally and only exporting refined products.
The country has also banned the exportation of chrome and issued an ultimatum for companies mining the mineral to set up refineries.
Zimbabwe, which also holds 30 percent of the world’s diamond deposits, is increasingly calling for value addition and beneficiation of the gems.
The DRC and Zambia, Africa’s largest copper producers, are also trying to boost downstream investment by calling for value addition and beneficiation.
The DRC is implementing a ban on exports of copper and cobalt concentrates.
Zambia has since revoked a law that had suspended a 10 percent duty on exports of unprocessed minerals including copper, iron, cobalt and nickel.
Mozambique has vast potential in the coal sector, while Malawi’s burgeoning production of uranium and other strategic minerals can successfully benefit citizens if beneficiation is prioritised.
The South African government has been advocating the beneficiation of minerals in an effort to grow the economy and create employment.
To support the initiative, the South African government developed a Beneficiation Strategy which identified 10 commodities and five value chains for the mineral beneficiation drive.
According to the South African government, identified potential benefits of domestic mineral beneficiation include job creation, increasing government tax revenues and reduced imports of beneficiated products into the country.
Botswana is also leading in calls for beneficiation of its natural resources, especially diamonds, which are the major mineral found in the country.
The country recently pulled out of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse where it was selling its gems at unsatisfactory prices and established its own bourse where international buyers will travel there for trade.
So, as the Sadc leaders gather for their 34th summit in Victoria Falls, they already have a platform to start from on the subject of value addition and beneficiation.
This is because most of the countries have already shown that they have the will to embark on the process.