Home » Eswatini Mining Project Halted After Licence Revoked

Eswatini Mining Project Halted After Licence Revoked

The project, which aimed to rehabilitate the tailings and extract valuable minerals from the defunct Bulembu Havelock Mine, was expected to generate billions of Emalangeni in revenue and create jobs for the local community.

by Motoni Olodun

The mining project that was launched by King Mswati III of Eswatini in 2016 has been stopped after the Minerals Management Board (MMB) revoked its license in 2022. The project, which aimed to rehabilitate the tailings and extract valuable minerals from the defunct Bulembu Havelock Mine, was expected to generate billions of Emalangeni in revenue and create jobs for the local community.

However, the reasons for the cancellation of the license remain unclear, as the MMB and the Commissioner of Mines, Robert Biyela, declined to give details on the matter. Biyela said it was difficult to comment on a matter concerning a person who was still alive and could be the one better suited to shed light on what happened. He was referring to Lloyd Birell, the Chief Operating Officer of Salamander Mining, the company that jointly owned Kobolondo Mining, the entity that was granted the license.

Birell did not respond to questions on why the license was revoked or whether they were happy with the Board’s decision. Kobolondo Mining was a joint venture between Salamander Mining International, the Ingwenyama in Trust for the Nation, and the Government of Eswatini. Salamander Mining is based in Mauritius and has a technical partner, Birrell Mining International, which is a specialist in dumps reclamation.

The mining project was supposed to make use of the minerals available at the Bulembu Havelock Mine, such as gold, magnesium, chrysolite, nickel, and chrome, which are believed to be in abundance at the tailings. The project was also intended to restart the Eswatini Gold Mining Industry, which would add value to the returns from the mining project.

According to a business paper prepared for investment institutions in July 2020, the Kobolondo project was a high-yielding investment opportunity with an investment of E1.8 billion (US$100 million) required for the first phase. The first phase was to see roaster production at 20,000 tonnes per month, translating to 240,000 tonnes per year. At that level, the project had a net present value of E7 billion (US$400 million).

The project was launched by the King in November 2016, amid high expectations from the people of Bulembu, who had suffered from the closure and liquidation of the Havelock Asbestos Mine in 2006. The mine had left behind environmental and health hazards, as well as a deserted village with limited economic activity.

The King had granted Kobolondo Mining a 10-year mining lease for the rehabilitation of the tailings, which was seen as a beneficial endeavor for the nation and the government. The MMB had conducted due diligence and confirmed that the company had the expertise and equipment to efficiently recover minerals from the dumps.

In June 2017, Kobolondo Mining and Bulembu Ministries Eswatini, a non-governmental organization that had purchased the village and surrounding farm in 2006, reached an agreement that gave the former the right to buy the farm and infrastructure of Bulembu. The agreement also stipulated that Kobolondo Mining would finance the relocation of the childcare program run by Bulembu Ministries, which catered to 380 vulnerable children.

The relocation planning process was expected to take some 18 months and be completed by early 2019. In addition, Kobolondo Mining was expected to make annual corporate social responsibility contributions to Bulembu Ministries for the life of the project. However, it is not clear whether these plans were ever implemented or what the current status of the village and the children is.

The cancellation of the mining license has raised questions about the future of the Bulembu Havelock Mine and the prospects of the mining industry in Eswatini. The country has been struggling with a sluggish economy, high unemployment and poverty levels, and a dependence on imports and foreign aid. The mining sector, which contributes about 2% to the gross domestic product, has been hampered by low global prices, lack of investment, and outdated technology.

However, some experts believe that there is still potential for the sector to grow and diversify, especially in the areas of coal, iron ore, diamonds, and quarrying. They argue that the government needs to create a conducive environment for mining exploration and development, as well as to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of mineral resources. They also urge the government to invest in infrastructure, skills development, and environmental protection to support the mining sector.

The people of Bulembu and Eswatini hope that the mining project will be revived or replaced by another viable venture that will bring economic and social benefits to the country. They also hope that the King, who has the ultimate authority over land and mineral rights, will intervene and provide clarity on the reasons for the revocation of the license and the way forward for the mining project.

Source: Times of Eswatini

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