AS Zambia plays host to international emeralds and rubies merchants in Lusaka this week at Hotel InterContinental, from Wednesday January 8 to Saturday 11 2020 courtesy of Grizzly Mining Company Limited, it would probably be interesting to take stock of our country’s gemstones sector and what benefits it has brought to Zambia.
Zambia boasts of having some of the largest and finest emeralds in the world which constantly attract buyers from far and wide.
Emeralds, rubies and others gemstones, don’t sell cheaply either because they fetch millions in hard currency. A question is, with all the amount of gemstones that Zambia produces annually, what has the nation got to show for it other than mere statements and pronouncements?
Zambia needs to seriously put its house in order on gemstones mining, especially regarding emeralds otherwise the country will merely continue to play host to mining houses and auction events but benefit peanuts as has been the case in the past. Ministry of Mines should urgently review the policy regarding gemstones mining to ensure the nation and the citizens greatly benefit from these precious resources.
Presently, Zambia’s gemstones mining industry is run by foreigners. Few if any Zambians are involved in this important mining sector because the current policy regarding the same is very prohibitive to them.
The end result is that much of the earnings from this lucrative industry are not retained in Zambia as much of it is managed by expatriates.
Gemstone mining is not a complicated kind of operation like copper mining, for instance, which requires sophisticated equipment and skills.
Gemstone mining is one of the easiest operations usually carried out through open pit excavation using ordinarily excavators ordinary tools, like picks, shovels and even hoes.
We have seen some locals successfully mine emeralds in some rural parts of Ndola district. Just like gold, gemstone mining should be mostly left to local small-scale miners because it does not require specialised equipment and technology.
Let the investors and foreign companies be encouraged to engage in large-scale mining operations because they have the resources and technological know-how to do so. Allowing them to also engage in such easier types of mining would be disadvantaging Zambians and denying them an opportunity to benefit from their national resources.
As rightly observed by ministry of mines Permanent Secretary Barnaby Mulenga, gold mining and other types of small-scale mining operations, like gemstones production, is supposed to be for the local minor miners as a means of empowering them.
But as to why emeralds and other types of gemstones mining are still left in the hands of big foreign companies to operate, remains a big quesion.
And not until reforms are implemented to normalise the situation, Zambians will still remain spectators in their own country as the freigners continue to extract the precious resources and externalise most of the revenue with impunity.