Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
THE country’s coal production has been on the downslide in the last five years due to a number of factors although its mining remains very critical as the resource has been used to generate electricity.
Though the coal mining sector has for a very long time been closed to private players, Government recently started reviewing some of the regulations and opening up opportunities to other players as part of a raft of measures meant to stimulate production and reconfigure the national economy.
Besides generating thermal power, the mining of coal is critical in boosting revenue inflows and the much needed foreign currency from exports to regional and international markets.
Although mining, just like agriculture, contributes a major component in the national economy, Beitbridge has never been on the map as a major producer of any mineral although pockets of the district are rich with a host of minerals including gold, diamond and coal to name but just a few.
The border town’s mining tale in the last three decades has been characterised by mixed fortunes, with several mines opening and closing.
A few years ago two mines — Tuli Coal Mine and River Ranch Diamond closed shop due to viability problems.
In 1962 Bubye Coalfields some 120km east of the border town were also closed following an underground explosion that killed seven people earning the mine the native name “Belavhatu” (where people perished).
However, the arrival of Beitbridge Colliery Company 55 years after the disaster in the area in April last year raised hope of a return to the glory years of mining that people had long forgotten.
The new mine is just 700 metres away from the old shaft.
The company’s director Mr Tinashe Kamuriwo said they were going to employ more than 250 people with 70 percent of them being locals from the district.
“Our projected tonnage monthly is 50 000 tonnes on the first sales according to the size of the box cut opened. Thereafter we will increase to 100 000 tonnes strictly for exports and local markets.
“We have covered a lot of ground in terms of logistics and we expect full-scale operations to commence in the next few weeks,” said Mr Kamuriwo.
He said the company would be carrying out open cast and underground mining operations.
According to geological surveys, the coal mine which is owned wholly by an indigenous consortium led by Messrs Tinashe and Rodwell Kamuriwo and one Thabiso Mofokeng, a South African has a lifespan of over 60 years.
“In essence, we are looking at turning around the lives of many people in Beitbridge and contribute to the district’s economic development.
“The coal products will be sold locally and to international markets to generate the much needed foreign currency,” he said.
He said a border post to be opened close to the mine would facilitate their coal exports to South Africa and other markets.
“As you are aware our Government already had plans to open a border around the Chituripasi area this project will also contribute to that dream. So far we have completed working on a road leading to the proposed border post site,” he said.
He added: “Delays in opening up for full-scale operations are mainly related to the current economic climate, but we have come up with a strong sustainable plan.”
Mr Kamuriwo said they have lined up a number of community development initiative as part of their social responsibility programme.
His organisation, Mr Kamuriwo said, has applied to Beitbridge Rural District Council for land to carry out fishing and horticulture projects among others for people around the mine.
“The venture will also help boost business around Beitbridge and its environs.
“We already have plans to build a coke oven plant for value addition. We have already engaged a Chinese company to construct the coke oven with a monthly capacity of 20 000 tonnes of coke output.
“In addition we intend to build a 300 megawatt power plant which will be fed from our coal as value addition process,” said Mr Kamuriwo.
He added that they would also roll out community-based tourism programmes derived from the tourism facility they are building which they intend to name after Vice-President Kembo Mohadi.
According to Mr Kamuriwo, the colliery company will also drill more boreholes as part of improving water and sanitation issues around the mine and its peripheries and also construct other amenities including schools and a sports stadium.
“We will also be funding income generating projects for the community with a bias on women’s economic empowerment,” he said.
The mine’s superintendent Mr Bothwell Ndou said they were mining on a 90 metres by 9 metres box and had reached coal at 20 metres.
“Studies show that the claim has at least 454 million tonnes of mineable coal. So far we have extracted 30 tonnes which have been tested by Gold Fields South Africa.
“The coal was burnt at 1 900 degrees and can last for 16 hours and has one percent moisture, 11 percent ash, 30 percent caloric value and 89 percent of coke matter.
“Some of the expected by-products from the coal here include sulphur and methane gas. The area is also rich in limestone and gypsum”.
He said the coal deposit could go deeper than 200 metres though at the moment they were focusing on open cast mining.
He said underground mining would go beyond 60 metres.
According to Mr Ndou, a causeway will be constructed with an overhead conveyor belt or easy export of the coal to South Africa and that pegging of the causeway site is expected later this month.
“We have done the mine set up including office block, employee houses, stockpile and clinic and junior school sites and the road network.
“A residential place to accommodate over 5 000 housing units in the new city has already been identified.
“The mine has three sections Bubye West, Central and East and at the moment activity is concentrated on the Western component,” said Mr Ndou.
Chituripasi Councillor (Ward 1) Mr Enock Ndou said the mine had raised hopes of employment creation for the youth and urbanisation of the area.
He said they were very hopeful that many business and investment opportunities would arise when the mine starts operating at full capacity.
“The opening of the mine has been long overdue. It will also help improve the road infrastructure and speed the opening of the proposed Chituripasi border post. Urban to rural migration will also be reduced with the mine, fish farming and citrus production will also anchor most economic activities here,” said Cllr Ndou.
Beitbridge District Administrator Mrs Kiliboni Ndou-Mbedzi said the mine would boost economic activities especially in the eastern parts of the district.
She said the opening up of a border post close to the mine would also relieve pressure at Beitbridge and reduce cases of irregular migration.
“We are likely to see a drop in cases of irregular migration with a border post brought closer to the people, most of whom currently have challenges accessing the sole border post with South Africa.
“It is our hope that broken marriages will also be reduced with labour turnover from the area to other areas including South Africa going down as more people get opportunities at the mine,” said Mrs Ndou-Mbedzi.
She said the mining of coal in Beitbridge has the potential to revive the rail and road network as the organisation (BCC) starts transporting products to both international and local markets.
“A new border post and the exports from the mine will help improve Government revenue inflows.
“Issues of infidelity and HIV infection which are common in broken families are likely to go down since the mine will address some push and pull factors to labour migration,” she said.
Beitbridge Rural District Council chief executive officer, Mr Peter Moyo said the urbanisation of the area around the mine and the opening up of a new border would improve infrastructure development, communication facilities, radio and television services.
He said issues of road maintenance; electrification of communities in underlying areas is a welcome development.
“We are happy that the company has pledged to adopt three schools near the mine whose infrastructure and related needs shall be catered for,” he said.
Only time will tell if the coal mining will turn into reality or will face the same fate as others before it.