The Chamber of Mines Zimbabwe (CoMZ) is a reputable organization that represents the mining industry in Zimbabwe. The Chamber’s President, who is at the forefront of the organization, plays a pivotal role in championing the sector’s interests and advocating for policies that support its growth. As Collin Chibafa’s tenure came to an end Mining Zimbabwe, spoke to the former President to find out more about his time in office.
Q: How has been your experience as the Chamber of Mines over the past two years?
A: I took over from Ms E Nerwande and have built on the cordial relationships she helped cultivate between the Chamber and its key stakeholder, the government. Our relationship with the government has been built on mutual trust and this has enabled us to be successful in fulfilling our purpose of promoting, encouraging, protecting and fostering the growth of the mining industry. The various arms of government have generally introduced supportive policy interventions and this has allowed us to unlock some of the hindrances that have tended to retard the growth of the sector. We have also been able to have constructive conversations in those instances where we have disagreed with proposed policy changes.
Therefore, on reflection, my tenure as the President of the Chamber has been both rewarding and challenging. My assumption of office as the President of the Chamber of Mines was at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when activities in most sectors of the economy were on lockdown. The mining sector was not spared from these challenges and marginally grew by 3.4% in 2021, a sluggish growth from a Covid-19-induced contraction of -9% in 2020. Apart from Covid-19 challenges, other sector-specific challenges that dodged the mining sector include inadequate foreign exchange retention, fragile power supply, payment delays for gold and coal deliveries, as well as loss of value on the surrender portion of export earnings. With the support of our Executive Committee and Chamber Members, we have had continuous engagement with the government on these matters and experienced a level of success in addressing some of these challenges. This resulted in the improvement in the operating environment for the mining industry with the sector recovering to record a growth of 10% in 2022. This positive outturn also coincided with the boom in commodity prices which propelled mineral exports to a record US$5.6 billion in 2022, constituting almost 80% of national exports. I pass the baton on to my successor knowing that those challenges that remain are not insurmountable.
How has the Chamber of Mines evolved during your time as President?
During my tenure, I believe that the Chamber has restored its prime position as the leading voice with a key mandate to drive the development and growth of the mining industry as enshrined in its constitution. We have been able to improve our dialogue with the government regarding various policy and legislative matters including proposed changes to the Mines and Minerals Act, the proposed Minerals Development Policy as well as electricity, foreign exchange and fiscal matters. We also partnered in government’s efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic through donations at national and provincial levels. These public-private partnerships demonstrated our commitment to supporting the government in dealing with challenges facing the country. Our members also supported ZESA settle some of its debts to regional power utilities to ensure that they imported power to supplement the domestic supply.
How have advancements in technology impacted mining operations in recent years?
The mining industry has made robust efforts to adapt to technological advancements that enhance operational efficiency, safety and viability. We have seen the mechanization in some operations that have engineered out hazardous processes resulting in the removal of humans from hazards. We have also seen the automation of some processes, particularly in mineral processing, and the ability to monitor and control various aspects of the plant from remote locations. However, there is some way to go particularly for small to medium-scale operations. The shortage of capital is a major stumbling block to the adaption of technology in mining as some of the requirements are capital-intensive.
What steps do you think the industry should take to ensure responsible and sustainable mining practices?
Being a sustainable industry is something the Chamber of Mines takes seriously to ensure that mining survives and thrives into the future as an industry that is safer, more sustainable and efficient, and better harmonised with the needs of society. The mining sector has a responsibility to mine the mineral resources entrusted to it by government in a way that maximises the benefits to stakeholders and minimizes the impact on the environment and host communities where our mines are located.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently during your time as president?
I view what some people term failure as a learning opportunity that helps develop me to be a better individual. I have had the privilege of receiving strong support from the Council, Executive Committee and Secretariat of the Chamber in executing the decisions of the Chamber. Looking back, therefore, I am grateful for the various learning opportunities I have been able to grow from. So, I leave my role with a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity I have had to lead efforts to foster the growth of the country’s mining sector.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for growth for the mining industry in the coming years?
Government and business need to continue on their journey of working together to address those remaining challenges that hinder the growth of the mining sector. Mining investments by nature is generally a long-term in nature. Therefore, government needs to continue improving the operating environment by balancing the short-term needs of the country and the long-term benefits that mining can deliver for the country. Zimbabwe is well endowed with a wide array of mineral resources and the country has certain distinct comparative advantages, such as an educated, productive, non-militant labour force and shallow ore bodies. However, our regulatory and fiscal environment could be better. By addressing this, government could unlock further growth of the mining sector. Capital tends to be tentative where there is unpredictability.
Finally, what legacy do you hope to leave behind for the mining Industry?
I hope to have left behind a legacy that reinforces the old adage that two are better than one, that government and business can work together to achieve a better outcome than either alone. The mining sector’s export earnings are at a record high. I pray that this record is broken next year as the sector continues to grow for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.