Coltan in Zimbabwe

Re. post ‘Coltan’s shadow world’: I was involved in buying tantalite in Zimbabwe decades ago as a way of getting my money out of a country which was bound to collapse into financial chaos. The whole operation was fraught.

The tantalite was being mined in the most hazardous and dangerous manner by hundreds of workers in the bush about a hundred kms north of Harare. The area was controlled by AK-wielding ex-Zanu-PF guerrillas.

I used to drive up with a sackfull of Zim dollars and buy directly from the individual workers: the only reason I was not robbed and/or shot was that buyers were needed, and buyers have an inconvenient habit of not buying when they get shot.

The point of all this is that internal law and order is essential for mining to be able to benefit the country as a whole.

In Zimbabwe there was – and probably still is – a thriving black market and smuggling operation in Tantalite (Tantalum pentoxide, or TA2O5). The miners worked by hand in atrocious conditions to produce this valuable mineral and I was shocked at what I saw.

The US government drove the price up to $112,000 per tonne, citing its strategic importance, but the price fell sharply to about $30,000 a tonne when Uncle Sam dropped out of the market. Chris Mercer, Campaign Against Canned Hunting, South Africa.

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