We should laugh at our foolish selves
One of the weekend newspapers ran an interesting story about how “crucial Zimbabwean minerals exploration data” had disappeared with a mysterious Canadian company which had been contracted to conduct mineral surveys in the country. The paper also complains more data is being jealously held at a South African university with bits of it being “auctioned” off to clandestine fortune seekers.
Subsequent stories tell us that Government will be pursuing the matter with the government of Canada.
Zimbabwe is regarded as a highly mineralised country with everything from diamonds to gold, platinum, tin and asbestos
Now, my first urge was to laugh out loud at the gullibility of this Government, which by the way, was reported in the same paper not long ago to have been duped by “Arab conmen” in a deal involving US$30 million worth of diamonds and by one Ghanaian businessman William Atto.
There have been numerous other scandals, including one in which a company that specialised in plastic recycling suddenly declared a capacity for mining.
All this could elicit a good laugh – only such happenings are really tragic.
Zimbabwe is regarded as a highly mineralised country with everything from diamonds, gold and platinum to tin and asbestos.
Other underground riches, of course, include groundnuts and sweet potatoes!
Now a problem has been identified in that for all our assumed riches, nobody knows how much we have by way of quantity and quality.
We do not know the value of our unmined assets, which is not very complimentary for a people who are ostensibly leading the continent in what is called resource nationalism.
We have already claimed the land and are working it.
Mining is considered the next big step for indigenisation: whether by way of expropriation or by way of new ownership models. Zimbabwe is broke.
We cannot broker business deals with large companies whose stake we might be interested in when we do not have money.
Lately, we have tried to cover up for this deficiency by stating that anyone who wants a piece of our mineral cake will have to bring money because, after all, the minerals and the soil are ours.
But then we cannot quantify the same minerals we claim to own.
So the panacea would be to seek to establish the extent of our mineral wealth.
The other time we heard about an exploration company being formed to do just this.
It is to be wondered what has become of it; but then this is the point at which the mysterious Canadian firm ghosts into the plot.
So the company, we are told, comes in thanks to the Canadian International Development Agency through which it was hired.
The company comes, explores and vanishes.
Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Fred Moyo is at a loss as to how exactly this happened.
He won’t tell us how much of taxpayers money went down this Canadian drain.
Educated but …
In all this stands one irony.
First, Zimbabweans pride themselves for being among the most educated peoples in the world, especially so among the darker species.
We often pride ourselves for having the highest literacy rate and how Zimbabweans excel abroad at various institutions and universities.
However, for all this human resource endowment, Zimbabwe does not strike one as a sophisticated country with engineers, technicians and other professionals.
The culture of our education seems not to encourage innovation, while the precious few innovators do not get the recognition and support they require for the sake of national advancement.
This brings us back to the Government and its mysterious Canadians.
What special attributes did these Canadians possess that discounted locals, or even our friends to the south of Limpopo, who are generally more advanced than us (though less educated)?
How rigorous was the selection process and what due diligence was done?
And now that the Canadians have vanished into thin air, most probably with all precious data, what next?
And if eventually we track them down – which someone must do – how can we verify their findings and claims?
It is all muddled.
Due diligence is such a dirty call in Zimbabwe.
Foolish sons of the wise
It is rather baffling that Zimbabwe can afford to lose lots of money to people from beyond the oceans to come and tell them about what our ancestors bequeathed us.
It is worse if one considers that throughout history, and documented as early as the 12th century, the autochthonous people of this land were involved in mining – successful mining.
The colonial settlers and other adventurists and prospectors before them were led to gold mines by locals, the same way Livingstone was led to his “discovery” of the Victoria Falls.
A few historical texts to back this up.
David Beach notes that by the 12th century, reef mining was in progress, and it continued up to the 19th century with gold being “the most important single export from the Plateau”.
There was also copper mining, whose achievement Beach says “was remarkable” and states that “all possible advances in mining technology were made relatively early in the Shona period”.
Estimates for gold before 1500 are at one and half million ounces a year while it was later to decline to 53 125 to 25 571 ounces a year for the16th and 17th centuries.
In “Indigenous Gold Mining in Southern Africa: A Review”, contained in the Goodwin Series, Vol. 8, African Naissance: The Limpopo Valley 1000 Years Ago (Dec, 2000), Duncan Miller; Nirdev Desai; Julia Lee-Thorp tell us of the productive past of Zimbabwe.
They note that the gold mining was recorded in the mid-12th century AD and that high quality gold and iron were traded with Indians at Sofala.
Interestingly, they point out “(d)uring the gold rush years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, colonial gold prospectors in Southern Africa soon found that they had been preceded in their discoveries”.
“Evidence for earlier, but largely forgotten, gold mining was evident especially in Zimbabwe. Despite memories of gold mining among some of the local people (Wallis 1946), a widespread belief in the great antiquity of these earlier gold mines developed, and they came to be called ‘ancient workings’ because of their assumed association with the local stone ruins, then commonly believed to be of biblical age.”
Yes, Biblical Age!
Zimbabwe is said to have been the site of the mythical King Solomon’s Mines.
History accounts that in 1514, Antonio Fernandes made two extraordinary journeys from Sofala to the gold mining regions, covering most of what is now Zimbabwe and he saw alluvial gold nuggets and gold dust being extracted.
The medium of exchange between locals and Muslim traders at trading fairs was gold.
It is said that his subsequent expeditions recorded more details of the location of gold mines and the mining methods, the positive reports of which “fuelled the Portuguese mission to wrest the lucrative gold trade from the Muslim and Indian traders”.
Then there is a particularly important point that Miller et al make.
They say: “Active prospecting for gold followed after Zimbabwe became a British colony in 1890. Claims were pegged on the old mines that were considered to be good prospects. A few reports found their way into the British-South Africa Company files, and thereafter into the Southern Rhodesian Geological Survey archives.”
You could bet that some of the reports are what is said to be files that “found their way into BSAC files” constitute the data we are crying for.
The overarching point though is that the autochthonous natives laid a foundation for mining, which was taken advantage of, by some people from yonder.
We are too foolish to tap into our own historical knowledge and we whine about enterprising foreigners.