Jobs boom in mining on the horizon

By Ntombi Mhlongo

The government seems to be on the right track in unlocking the mining sector and making it a priority area to boost the country’s economy. The latest is that a prospecting licence for mining green chert at the Malolotja Nature Reserve has been granted by the country’s authorities. The Eswatini Financial Times has reliably established that the prospecting licence has been granted to a company known as Michael Lee Enterprises whose owners are originally from Taiwan but incorporated in the Kingdom.  

Exploration is a range of activities that help determine if there are minerals under the ground. If the exploration process identifies that the minerals can be commercially extracted, then mining in the future could be possible.

An expert in the mining sector shared that the prospecting exercise could bring about 200 jobs for Emaswati and that in most instances, the residents of the area are considered.

Regarding the jobs, the expert said it usually depends on the size of the place that is being explored.

According to our well-placed sources, Michael Lee Enterprises was given a year to undertake the prospecting process. 

This publication also has it in good authority that a private signing ceremony took place last week Tuesday and was graced by the Taiwan Ambassador to Eswatini Jeremy Liang.

Confirming the latest developments was Chief Mining Engineer from the Ministry of Natural Resources Robert Biyela who said the ministry has already engaged the Eswatini National Trust Commission (ENTC) as it is a key stakeholder as it is the entity entrusted with managing the game reserve.

“The ENTC is the main stakeholder, so we have introduced the company that was granted the license to it. When we talk of green chert, we are talking about a stone, therefore, the company granted the licence will just do the prospecting to ascertain the quantity that is available which could possibly be mined,” said Biyela.

He said the prospecting exercise will allow for the government to know how big the resource is, the properties it contains and whether it is worth pursuing.

ENTC Board Chairman Dr Sikhomba Gumbi also confirmed that the licensee has been introduced to the Board but was quick to say he could not comment further as there are other procedures that are yet to be followed.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Michael Lee Enterprises management were not successful as they were reportedly out of the country. 

We reached out to the Minerals Management Board Chairperson Prince Guduza who did not deny that the licence had been issued to the Taiwanese company. He said more details will be given in due course.

The responsibility to grant licences rests with the Minerals Management Board which is currently chaired by Prince Guduza.

The responsibilities of the Board include advising His Majesty the King on the overall management of minerals, the making of grants, leases or other dispositions conferring rights or interests in respect of minerals and mineral oils in Eswatini.

They also act on the advice of The King to grant, renew, amend, accept the surrender of, suspend or cancel a mineral right in accordance with the Mines and Minerals Act of 2011.

Notably, the management of the company was once granted the prospecting licence but the country’s authorities withdrew it following environmental concerns that were raised at the time.

Green Chert is a cryptocrystalline quartz stone metamorphosed from Fuchsite. 

The stone was formed when the Fuchsite vein was subjected to intense pressure and dissolution from super-hot ground waters which partially dissolved the Fuchsite into a silica solution, forming large boulders. 

The stone is used to make jewellery and is also used by high-end buyers in the construction industry.

For quite some time, the rock has been illegally mined on a massive scale by unauthorised miners popularly known as zama zamas some of whom were arrested for not possessing a licence.

It has been said that the green chert rocks are in an inaccessible area that even high-powered vehicles cannot reach; however, illegal miners usually work in groups of about 30 to 40 and carry the rocks in specially made backpacks. 

The illegal miners are known to carry as much as 12kg at a go and this is then delivered to a usually waiting vehicle.

The positive news comes at a time when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy recently raised a concern about the illegal mining that was taking place at the game reserve.

Interestingly, around 2005, interested miners were advised to forget about exploring the green-chert mineral at Malolotja.

It was argued that further exploration of the mineral would rob the country of major benefits and that the mineral available was worth more to the country where it is than if it was to be extracted.

It was explained that although the mineral if mined would be quite substantial, it was not worth it for the country to do so. 

Unlocking the mining sector in the Kingdom of Eswatini is key as 

findings contained in the Central Statistics Office Annual GDP Report detail that mining and quarrying are the least contributors to the country’s GDP as they contribute only 0.2 per cent.

The government has, however, shown its determination of unlocking the mining sector and this is evidenced by the granting of mining licences in recent years.

In July this year, His Majesty King Mswati III granted mineral rights to Mwelase Mining Eswatini (Pty) Ltd for Iron Ore Resources at the Ngwenya Iron Ore site.

An environmental impact assessment study has detailed that the project requires a workforce of about 460 employees, and it is envisaged that Mwelase Mining has planned operations with a production capacity of 100 000 metric tonnes (MT) per month. 

In October 2021, the King granted Lurco Coal Eswatini a prospecting for coal resources at Mpaka Coal Mine in the Lubombo region. Mpaka Coal Mine was last operated in 1992 having been mothballed after previous investors existed in Eswatini. 

In 2020, Maloma Colliery Limited, an anthracite coal mine became 100 per cent Eswatini-owned after a locally incorporated company known as Mine-X Pty Ltd bought out Chancellor House Eswatini, an entity that was owned by Chancellor House Holdings based in the Republic of South Africa.

Mine-X has employed over 300 emaSwati and is said to be expanding its operations which will culminate in more jobs.

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