Zimbabwe: ‘Questionable Partnerships’ Between Socialists and China Dominate Gold Mining

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 05: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa before during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People at The Great Hall Of The People on September 5, 2018 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Chinese nationals have infiltrated Zimbabwe’s gold industry and developed “questionable partnerships” with leaders of Zimbabwe’s left-wing ruling party, Zanu-PF, the online newspaper New Zimbabwe reported on Monday.

“Chinese nationals are … prominent and influential actors in Zimbabwe’s gold sector where they have formed partnerships with Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) elites, along with senior military and ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) officers,” New Zimbabwe wrote on June 7, quoting a recent study by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) titled “Illicit Gold Markets in East and Southern Africa.”

The study, published on May 16, focused on illicit gold markets in Zimbabwe and other gold-producing countries in eastern and southern Africa, such as Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and South Sudan. Foreign nationals, including Chinese citizens, have increasingly operated as “influential buyers and investors” within Africa’s gold sector in recent years, according to GI-TOC.

“Across all the countries studied, the involvement of foreign players and their ability to profit from the sector relies on dubious agreements with political elites, who also profit from the arrangement,” GI-TOC’s report stated.

“Laws that require foreign nationals to partner with locals in mineral enterprises have been introduced to avoid the capture of mineral resources by foreigners,” according to the study. “However, in practice, it facilitates high-level corruption, with large amounts of money paid to political elites by foreigners, often in profit-sharing arrangements.”

“For example, in Zimbabwe bans on riverbed mining and mining in protected areas have been lifted, allowing senior politicians and military chiefs to parcel out lucrative riverbed mining permits to foreign investors in exchange for hefty payments,” the study’s authors noted.

Zimbabwe’s government has exclusively awarded riverbed mining licenses to Chinese and Belarussian companies, according to GI-TOC. Zimbabwe maintains close ties to China through Beijing’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative; the economic partnership has led to a growing number of Chinese nationals establishing a presence within Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector since 2010. The Zimbabwean government allegedly grants Chinese citizens unearned benefits for joining its precious metal industry, including a “fast-tracking [of] licences and protection from law enforcement,” according to GI-TOC’s report.

“Chinese nationals are also involved in supplying equipment and processing gold ore in Zimbabwe. In most gold mining towns, Chinese owned shops sell ASGM (Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining) equipment, including mercury thought to be sourced from China [sic],” the study’s authors revealed.

Chinese nationals maintain a dominant position in Zimbabwe’s main gold production districts through their “ownership of custom mills — gold processing facilities that employ more efficient technology than traditional stamp mills,” New Zimbabwe noted on Monday.

“Chinese nationals rarely buy gold not produced at their milling centres [sic],” according to GI-TOC.

China’s growing dominance within Zimbabwe’s gold sector has caused tension between native African gold miners and Chinese-run mines. The managers of a Chinese-owned mining company in eastern Zimbabwe told New Zimbabwe in December 2020 that they called off a search mission for ten local gold miners suspected to have been “buried alive” by a collapsed mine shaft on the site the previous month because it was too expensive to operate equipment necessary to find them.

A group of African miners operating illegally on a mining site in eastern Zimbabwe owned by the Chinese company Zhong Jian violently attacked the site’s Chinese managers and other Chinese staff in February.

“The Chinese are reported to have told the artisanal miners to leave as they had a permit to mine at Premier Estates,” New Zimbabwe reported.

“This angered the artisanal miners who called for a back-up from their colleagues working along Mutare River and attacked the Chinese miners,” a local environmental rights group, Center for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG), said in a statement confirming the incident.

“One of the Chinese is reported to have sustained broken ribs while the other one lost a finger as he tried to block his face from a shovel attack,” according to New Zimbabwe.

“The irate artisanal miners, popularly known as Makorokoza, are reported to have used an assortment of mining tools including crowbars, picks and shovels to attack the Chinese nationals,” the newspaper reported.

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