Zimbabwe's chrome miners have called on government to grant them a special dispensation allowing them to export chrome accumulated before the ban on exports was imposed a few months ago, saying they needed to raise capital to set up their own smelters.
Presenting oral evidence on challenges facing the industry before the Parliamentary Committee on Mines and Energy on Monday, the Chrome Miners Association (CMA) chairperson, Thomas Gono, said government should allow chrome to be exported.
"In line with the use it or lose it policy by the Ministry of Mines, government should allow us to export chrome. Chrome producers are stuck with huge stocks of the mineral as a result of the ban. We feel not only chrome should be allowed to be exported but (also) other minerals," he said.
Zimbabwe is said to be sitting on around 600 million tonnes of chrome.
Government banned the export of raw chrome to force producers to invest in smelting machinery to add value to the mineral so that the country could derive more benefits from it.
Chrome miners say building a smelting plant would cost aboutUS$500 000, depending on quality and size.
Miners estimate that every 2 000 tonnes of chrome ore can generate close to US$1 million worth of metal when exported in processed form compared with just about US$240 000 when exported raw.
Gono said in February this year, the cost of maintaining claims rose significantly and this happened at a time when government had banned exports.
"There is no justification for smelters to purchase ore at prices higher than their own production cost. They are not obliged to outsource," said Gono.
CMA secretary general, Tendai Matambanadzo, said there were currently only two smelting companies buying chrome from their members in the country.
"Setting up smelters requires substantial amounts of chrome ore resources. At the moment, small scale miners do not have access to sufficient resources to set up individual smelters," said Matambanadzo.
Matambanadzo said labour and working capital was also a challenge for the sector.
Chairperson of the committee, Edward Chindori Chininga, said it was going to be very difficult for CMA to access loans from financial institutions because they appeared not to have plans to revive the sector.
"Failure to have a plan will make it difficult for banks to support you (CMA). Government does not come up with incentives but support you when you have a plan," he said.
The Zimbabwe Miners Federation, an organisation representing mainly small-to-medium-scale miners, also urged government to lift the export ban on chrome, arguing the decision had resulted in job cuts in the sector.
"We have made representations to government to review the ban. The whole country cannot take chrome to Zimasco," a member of the CMA who was present during the committee meeting said.