BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
RUFUNSA, a rural outpost about 190 kilometres east of Lusaka, will soon transform from an agricultural district to a mining town – thanks to exploration works by a UK company, GTD.
This comes with prospects of a wide array of benefits that include job creation, infrastructure development and economic transformation of the largely impoverished and vast district which until recently was part of Chongwe.
GTD, which has been granted a small-scale mining licence, is exploring for gold in the district created in 2013 by late President Sata. It is also exploring for gold in the Luano Valley in Central Province and limestone in Nyimba in the Eastern Province.
The company has invested almost US$500,000 in the Rufunsa operations to date.
“We would like our company to be one of the big players [in the mining sector],” said Simba Mantiziba, a director in GTD who is helping set up the operation.
Mr Mantiziba is leading GTD’s gold mining prospect at Musopelo, 7km south of Rufunsa in the Luangwa Valley.
According to him, GTD, owned almost 99 percent by Zambians, has met all the statutory requirements and obtained the necessary approvals from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, as well as the local authorities.
Briefing delegates from a training workshop on undertaking baselines estimates of mercury use and practices at artisanal small gold mining sites in Chongwe, Mr Mantiziba said GTD’s current task at Musopelo mine is research and exploration for gold deposits.
Musopelo mine, which is in a game management area on the fringes of the Luangwa National Park, links the Lower Zambezi to the Luangwa ecosystem.
GTD, which started its exploration late last year, has taken measures to mitigate damage to the environment at its four square kilometres site in Chieftainess Mumpanshya.
It has maintained most of the natural environment around it and only made roads and pits where it is necessary.
“There is sand gold here (free gold). We are trying to exploit it using open cast,” he told the delegation led by ZEMA principal inspector for pesticides and toxic substances Christopher Kanema which was in Rufunsa for an on-the-spot check to ascertain the methods GTD is using to extract gold.
Mr Mantiziba, who has vast experience in gold mining, assured the delegation that GTD uses environmentally sound methods to extract gold.
“We do not use chemicals that harm the environment, we use a lot of water, we need about 700 to 750 cubic metres of water per hour under pressure,” he said.
The company drilled three boreholes but did not find water.
The water is recycled.
“Whatever we do will be in sympathy with the environment,” Mr Mantiziba said.
The exploration for gold has seemingly been suspended due to lack of water.
In line with the agreement GTD has with ZEMA, the mining company has surrendered most of the earth moving equipment – an excavator, four tipper trucks, one loader and a small loader – to the owners.
This was done to avoid unnecessary expenses as the mine is on a mini-recess waiting for the rains.
Sydney Makoya, one of the mine engineers who have benefitted from the employment created by GTD, says more engineers will be engaged when production of gold starts.
Makoya, who graduated from the Copperbelt University in 2011, says three geologists also benefitted from GTD’s employment.
On the sidelines of the tour, Sepiso Mwambo from the Mines Safety Department (MSD) asked Mr Makoya whether GTD was observing safety regulations.
Mr Makoya said the company was in total compliance and that there was no blasting involved in the mining of gold there.
The concern of Nelson Muyaba from the Department of National Parks Wildlife was whether animals were sighted in the area.
Mr Makoya said they had not seen any animals so far.
Another benefit of this investment will be the creation of a ready market for artisanal small- scale miners in the area.
Operating in an area where small-scale gold mining is prominent, Mr Mantiziba said GTD has also applied for a licence to be buying gold from the local people.
“We will pay a fair price,” Mr Mantiziba said, adding that contacts are being made with potential buyers in Austria and Germany.
“We intend to sell the gold outside [the country], we will get the necessary documentation (export permits), we are making inquiries in Germany and Austria,” he said.
The alluvial gold in Rufunsa will not fetch very good prices because it has impurities.
Beyond buying gold from the local people, Mr Mantiziba sees his company being a role model to small-scale gold miners, most of whom do it illegally.
The UK-schooled Mantiziba intends to use his massive gold mining experience from Zimbabwe and South Africa to start imparting skills to local people.
ZEMA is concerned with certain aspects of small-scale gold miners.
Perine Nkosi Kasonde, ZEMA senior inspector responsible for pesticides and toxic substances, cited inactivity of licence holders as one of the challenges facing small-scale gold miners.
She also said illegal miners are difficult to regulate, and they hide information when they realise you are a government official.
Ms Kasonde cited lack of knowledge of the implications of unsafe mining methods and processing and lack of a formal marketing system for gold as issues affecting the sector.
The other concern relates to the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and its impact on health and the environment.
James Mulolo, the project coordinator based at the Africa Institute in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, said mercury is highly used in small-scale gold mining because in its physicochemical nature (neighbour with gold in the periodic table of elements), there is affinity between the two elements.
The attraction of gold particles by mercury makes it quick and easy to use.
Mercury is easily transportable and can be used independently and quickly by miners.
It is also relatively effective in capturing gold when there is no alternative (even if it only captures 40 percent of the total gold).
Mr Mulolo says it is very accessible to minors and relatively cheaper, but notes the lack of awareness to alternatives and understanding of negative impacts on health and the environment.
Because of its negative impact, Government, through ZEMA, has commissioned a baseline study on the use of mercury and practices at artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites within the country.
The study is designed to protect human health and the environment from emissions of mercury from human activities.
Speaking at a training workshop in Lusaka last week, ZEMA director – planning, information and research Gift Sikaundi said the workshop demonstrated Government’s commitment to establishing defined measures to curtail and reduce the effects of mercury pollution in the environment.
Mr Sikaundi said it was particularly so in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector.
“The process of developing the national action plan for the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector in Zambia will be achieved through collaboration with stakeholders. This ensures that expertise with scientific and technical knowledge and tools are provided by stakeholders and that synergies among stakeholders are enhanced,” he said.