Shift towards accountability could unlock mining potential

Zimbabwe is known to hold much promise in terms of mining development, however, Workforce Holdings, a “progressive” holdings company investing in diversified human capital businesses, notes that, given the country’s current political climate, operating in Zimbabwe can be profitable but very challenging too.

Workforce Africa – a cluster of Workforce Holdings – MD Darren Hollander tells Mining Weekly that Zimbabwe’s seeming reluctance to register its mining industry with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for example, is not conducive for business at the moment.

Guided by the belief that a country’s natural resources belong to its citizens, the EITI has established a global standard to promote the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resource revenues.

The organisation also seeks to strengthen government and company systems, inform public debate and promote understanding.

In each of the implementing countries, the EITI is supported by a coalition of government, companies and civil society.

Although the country stated its intention to subscribe to this standard after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration, there has not been much traction in this regard, to the detriment of its mining sector.

As such, Hollander believes it is essential that Zimbabwe’s mining industry becomes a part of the EITI as it could boost investor confidence.

“If Zimbabwe subscribes to this standard, it will give investors a lot more confidence in investing in the country, particularly its mining sector. It would also give the purchasers of its raw materials an increased sense of comfort, as aspects such as corruption are a lot harder to get away with for countries that are registered with the EITI,” he adds.

Additionally, while there is still a lot of opportunity in Zimbabwe’s mining industry – with sectors such as gold and diamonds gaining traction – Hollander stresses that it tends to be a difficult jurisdiction to conduct business for companies and investors who have limited capital available.

“In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe is definitely playing a delicate balancing act at this stage. The mining sector is getting used to a new normal and although mining operations in Zimbabwe have been allowed to continue, there has been a global slowdown in economic activity, which has obviously affected the demand across several resources.

“There are expansion projects that are being put on hold owing to the uncertainty, but I do think that it is temporary, and they should resume at a later stage.”

From a Workforce Africa perspective, Hollander explains that the company sees opportunities in Zimbabwe – and other developing markets – particularly in its mining sector, through its range of business divisions.

“We manage investments in human capital businesses that provide innovative, integrated and diversified solutions ranging from staffing and outsourcing, recruitment,healthcare, training as well as financial services throughout South Africa and beyond.”

Describing the company as a “one-stop human resources shop” he enthuses that Workforce is able to take a person off the streets, train them and find them employment. This, in turn, affords people the opportunity to access healthcare, financial assistance and other benefits where needed.

“We want to be able to go into countries and build sustainable businesses which uplift people as we really want to make a difference. Our services are all a need in the mining sector and through the right partners in Zimbabwe, we could unlock these opportunities to the benefit of the communities which host many of the country’s mining operations,” he affirms.

Skills Development

With Zimbabwe’s ongoing socioeconomic challenges, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Workforce Africa advances that there are three critical aspects that will need to be addressed by the mining sector, going forward.

These include the upskilling of local Zimbabweans in the mining industry, creating mining-related employment for Zimbabwean youth and providing adequate healthcare to miners in the Zimbabwean mining industry.

The latter is important because, while there seem to be fewer cases of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa than in South Africa, this could be the result of less testing in comparison to South Africa.

Hollander underlines that there is a need for acceleration of healthcare provision for Zimbabwean miners and their families. This is one of the company’s focuses through its on-site mobile clinics on mines and occupational healthcare services.

An increased focus on healthcare could be of great benefit, as “a healthy miner is a productive miner” he explains, adding that, “it should go beyond the physical wellness of the miner to their emotional wellbeing as the end-result ultimately benefits the industry at large”.

Meanwhile, as Zimbabwe and many other African countries do not possess high levels of skilled miners, it is “extremely crucial” to upskill Zimbabweans who, according to Hollander, have the will and potential.

“The country possesses so much in terms of natural resources and in order to extract those resources, they need skilled workers. While the citizens are up to the task, the lack of government intervention and funding has proved to be very challenging, especially for Zimbabwe’s youth.”

Hollander adds that government incentives to companies that can train the youth, similar to those that exist in South Africa, could mitigate this challenge.

“The youth are the future of Zimbabwe and they need to be trained in preparation for that future. There are a lot of youngsters in Zimbabwe who are seeking greener pastures and there is no reason why they should not be incentivised to stay and contribute to the country and its mining industry,” he tells Mining Weekly.

He concludes that the successful upskilling of Zimbabweans – which Workforce Africa is able to provide – would not only enable them to contribute to the mining industry and the economy, but to their own families and communities, which is a key focus for the company.

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