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Community, Labour and Social Life

Chromite Mining Cooperatives, Tribute Mining Contracts, and Rural Livelihoods in Zimbabwe, 1985–2021

Coopératives d'extraction de chromite, contrats d'exploitation minière à titre onéreux et moyens de subsistance ruraux au Zimbabwe, 1985-2021
Cooperativas mineras de cromita, contratos de minería de tributo y medios de subsistencia rurales en Zimbabue, 1985-2021
Joseph Mujere


Transnational corporations dominated chromite mining in Zimbabwe for the entire colonial period. However, the postcolonial period witnessed a gradual but significant shift toward small-scale and artisanal mining as liberalisation led to the informalisation of the mining sector. This chapter examines the impulses in the transformation of the chromite mining sector in the postcolonial period and the rise and development of chromite mining cooperatives since the 1980s. In particular, it analyses the impact of tribute mining arrangements on the emergence and growth of chromite mining cooperatives in Zimbabwe. The chapter argues that while tribute mining arrangements engendered the development and growth of mining cooperatives, the contracts also created an asymmetrical and exploitative relationship between cooperatives and large-scale mining companies that owned mining claims that they sublet to cooperatives. The chapter also considers the effects of Zimbabwe’s redistributive land reform programme and Chinese participation in artisanal and small-scale mining on mining cooperatives. Overall, the chapter analyses the effects of the liberalisation of the mining sector in Zimbabwe and the centrality of mining cooperatives in the interface between large- and small-scale chromite mining.

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1. Introduction

1In August 2017, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Small-Scale Chrome Miners (CZSSCM) submitted a position paper to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development detailing the challenges its members were facing. These challenges included constant conflicts between small-scale chromite miners and large-scale mining companies over ore prices and the fact that about 90 per cent of small-scale chromite miners continue to operate under tribute mining contracts entered into with large-scale mining companies who own the claims (Mhaka, 2018). Such challenges, however, were not new. The sector had faced myriad challenges since 1985 when the Zimbabwean government forced the large-scale chromite mining companies to cede some of their mining claims to mining cooperatives under tribute mining arrangements. Tribute mining arrangements and similar contracts continued to dominate small-scale and artisanal chromite mining in Zimbabwe with mining cooperatives being the dominant tributors.

2This chapter uses chromite mining cooperatives as a lens through which to examine the effects of the liberalisation of mineral resource extraction in postcolonial Africa and the resultant contentious relationship between large-scale mining companies, on one hand, and small-scale and artisanal miners on the other. The liberalisation of the chromite mining sector in Zimbabwe soon after the attainment of independence in 1980 was largely informed by the newly installed government’s desire to use the cooperative movement in the mining sector to foster social and economic development. The chapter considers how the liberalisation of the chromite mining sector contributed to the broadening of rural livelihoods and the alleviation of poverty. In addition, it uses the case of mining cooperatives to examine the interface between large-scale operations, on one hand, and small-scale and artisanal mining on the other. In particular, the chapter focuses on the tribute mining contracts concluded between mining cooperatives and the large-scale chromite mining companies Zimalloys (formerly a subsidiary of Anglo American Corporation) and Zimasco (formerly a subsidiary of Union Carbide). Finally, the chapter discusses the effects of Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme on artisanal mining as well as how it opened space for the participation of Chinese companies in small-scale and artisanal chromite mining. The chapter argues that although the asymmetrical relations between large- and small-scale mining have continued to afflict the latter, the interface between the two and the development of mining cooperatives have contributed to this broadening of rural livelihoods and the alleviation of poverty.

3The chapter places developments in Zimbabwe’s artisanal and small-scale chromite mining sector within the broader context of debates about mining cooperatives, rural livelihoods and the liberalisation of resource extraction (Banda and Chanda, 2021; De Haan and Geenen, 2016; Francescone, 2015; Hilson, Hilson and Adu-Darko, 2014; Wanyama, Develtere and Pollet, 2009). It also engages with extant literature on the interface between large- and small-scale mining (Aubynn, 2009; Kemp and Owen, 2019; Verbrugge, 2017). It draws on Kemp and Owen’s (2019) deployment of the term ‘interface’ to characterise the interactions between large- and small-scale mining. In some cases, scholars have distinguished this interaction as characterised by ‘grievance and conflict’ (Carstens and Hilson, 2009), ‘coexistence’ (Hilson, Sauerwein and Owen, 2020), or a ‘marriage of convenience’ (Aubynn, 2009). However, while Kemp and Owen (2019) approach this interface from the vantage point of large-scale mining companies, the present chapter makes use of insights and experiences of members of mining cooperatives and individual artisanal miners to understand how small-scale and artisanal miners have either benefited from or been negatively affected by this relationship. The chapter thus uses the case of chromite mining cooperatives to gain a nuanced understanding of the entanglement of large- and small-scale mining in postcolonial Africa and of the extent to which this has resulted in the broadening of rural livelihoods and the alleviation of poverty.

4The chapter is based on ethnographic research conducted in Mapanzure communal areas between 2019 and 2021. Oral interviews were conducted with traditional authorities, members of mining cooperatives, groups of artisanal miners, and some individuals working for Chinese companies. The majority of informants were interviewed more than once. In addition, several informants provided documents such as tribute contracts, records of their ore deliveries, constitutions of their cooperatives, and receipts. These documents proved very useful to an understanding of the nature of relationships between the large-scale mining companies and the mining cooperatives and of the importance of small-scale and artisanal mining as not just a rural livelihood option but one of the key rural livelihoods. The chapter also makes use of Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) Annual Reports, Secretary of Mines Annual Reports, newspaper reports, parliamentary debates, and parliamentary portfolio committee reports as well as tribute mining agreements. Apart from providing general information on small-scale mining, the ZMDC Annual Reports were particularly useful in providing annual statistics on the number of chromite mining cooperatives and their contribution to annual chromite production.

2. Liberalisation, Informalisation, and the Rise of Chromite Mining Cooperatives

5There is extant literature on mining cooperatives in the global South, especially on their potential to foster social and economic development and alleviate poverty (Banda and Chanda, 2021; de Haan and Geenen, 2016; Francesone, 2015; Wanyama, Develtere and Pollet, 2009; de Haan and Geenen, 2015). According to Wanyama, Develtere and Pollet (2009, 362), ‘cooperative development in Africa can generally be said to have traversed two main eras: the era of state control and that of liberalisation. The first era that lasted up to the early 1990s saw the origin and substantial growth of cooperatives on the continent under state direction’. This phase was followed by an era of liberalisation in which African governments adopted structural adjustment programmes on the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. In these new, liberalised economic conditions, cooperatives ‘were restructured and disentangled from the state so as to be run on business principles in line with the then evolving market economy’ (Wanyama, Develtere and Pollet, 2009, 363). This was premised on the argument that state control stifled the development of the cooperatives.

6It is important to highlight that scholarship on the interaction between large- and small-scale mining has largely focussed on the acrimonious relationship between the two. This has largely been a result of the framing of artisanal and small-scale miners as ‘illegal’ or as operating clandestinely (Bolay, 2014; Katz-Lavigne, 2020; Hilson and Potter, 2005). However, while the majority of artisanal and small-scale mining is informal and clandestine, mining cooperatives in several countries have tended to establish formal relationships with large-scale mining companies to gain access to mine claims and to the market (Banda and Chanda, 2021; de Haan and Geenen, 2016; Francesone, 2015). As will be demonstrated below, chromite mining cooperatives entered into mining contracts with transnational corporations (TNCs) that owned mining claims and had a monopoly in the market.

  • 1 Retrench in the sense of make redundant.

7When Zimbabwe gained its independence from colonial rule in 1980, chromite mining was dominated by two large-scale mining companies: Anglo American Corporation (later Zimalloys) and Union Carbide (later Zimasco). However, as the companies struggled to deal with the slump in global base metals prices they were forced to scale down operations and retrench1 surplus labour. Mining companies also argued that the low prices of chromite on the international market meant that they could not pay minimum wages without such retrenchment. This created an impasse between the government and TNCs as the government could not allow the companies to retrench workers without being seen as having abandoned its socialist experiment.

8 In addition to its reluctance to allow chromite mining companies to retrench workers, the newly installed Zimbabwean government outlawed the colonial contract labour system that was colloquially referred to as ‘madobadoba’ in its bid to dismantle the colonial labour system. Under this contract mining labour system, ‘workers would produce chrome ore individually, on a contract basis, and then sell the ore to the mining companies at largely the buyers’ prices’ (Chiwawa, 1990, 19). The government’s move to reform labour relations by banning the contract labour system had, however, the unintended consequence of swelling the ranks of the unemployed.

9In 1985, after a series of consultative meetings between the government, mining companies, workers’ unions, the Chamber of Mines, and ZMDC, among other interested parties, it was finally resolved that mining companies could phase out the contract labour system and could retrench their workers under specific conditions agreed with the government. The most enduring legacy of this compromise between mining capital and the government was the condition that retrenched workers and former contract workers would be assisted by the government through ZMDC to establish and run mining cooperatives to mine on claims owned by the companies (Ministry of Information, 1985). Established through an Act of Parliament in 1982 (ZMDC Act No. 31 of 1982), ZMDC’s mandate included fostering mining development projects, investing in mining on behalf of the government, and assisting in the establishment of mining cooperatives as well as providing them with technical assistance (Maponga, 1993, 16; Chiwawa, 1990, 21). Furthermore, ZMDC assisted mining cooperatives in acquiring mining equipment and training, and with regard to logistics and accessing loans (Chiwawa, 1990, 20). According to Ndakaripa (2017, 105), ZMDC was also supposed to ensure ‘equitable distribution of wealth and increased local participation in the economy’.

10Mining cooperatives, whose membership was supposed to be not fewer than ten individuals, were expected to work on a self-help basis, to pool their resources, and share the proceeds of their work. Writing about the organisation of artisanal gold miners and the importance of working as syndicates and cooperatives, Mkodzongi and Spiegel (2019, 2155) assert that ‘working as a team enables the cooperative to tap and leverage on the varied skills and experiences of the miners to enhance their success. These skills range from administrative skills in organising and executing work and negotiating with “sponsors” and buyers to technical skills such as surveying and prospecting’. This also informed the organisation of chromite cooperatives, which usually require members with skills in geology, blasting, and accounting, as well as individuals with legal knowledge.

11The majority of chromite mining cooperatives mined under contract from the two large-scale chromite mining companies, Zimasco and Zimalloys. Cooperatives would enter into tribute mining contracts under which they would be allocated claims to mine under contract. Tribute mining contracts have been at the core of small-scale and artisanal chromite mining in Zimbabwe since 1985 when Zimalloys and Zimasco agreed to lease some of their mine claims as well as loss-making mines to chromite mining cooperatives (Chiwawa, 1990; Maponga and Ruzive, 2002). In tribute mining arrangements, ‘tributors or cooperatives work on claims as though they were their own for a fee. Tributors also legally sublet claims to sub-tributors under similar arrangements.’ (Maponga and Ruzive, 2002, 117). In addition, tributors were expected to pay a 5 per cent royalty and to sell their chromite to the grantor (claim holder) at prices determined by the latter, and also had the responsibility to rehabilitate he environment by filling the open pits and revegetating the environment (Maponga and Ruzive, 2002, 117). Furthermore, grantors determined the quality of the ore and the prices. It is also important to note that tributors were expected to work based on set monthly chromite production targets determined by the grantor. A consistent failure to meet the tonnage and ore quality targets could lead to the agreement being terminated. On their part, grantors sublet their claims, provide equipment and technical assistance, and purchase the ore.

12Tribute mining contracts thus created an asymmetrical relationship between grantors (large-scale chromite mining companies that owned claims and bought the ore), on one side, and individual contractors and cooperatives mining under tribute arrangements, on the other. Despite this, however, in some instances tributors violated the terms of the tribute mining contracts by failing to meet set production targets, delivering poor quality ore, selling their ore to other merchants, or failing to rehabilitate he environment after mining, among other contractual breaches. The punishment for such violations is usually the termination of the contract.

13Although large-scale mining companies ordinarily leased out some of their claims to individual tributors, it was not uncommon for a company to allow a cooperative to take over an entire loss-making mine. As has been observed by Chiwawa (1990, 21),

Zimalloys let all of their Vanad Mine be taken over by five cooperatives, all of their Sutton Mine by another five cooperatives, all but Four Seam of their Caesar Mine by the cooperatives. This means that 13 of their total 15 tributing cooperatives (901 workers) took over existing (loss-making) mining operations.

14Thus, alongside assisting their retrenched workers who were establishing mining cooperatives, large-scale mining companies were also using tribute mining arrangements to dispose of their loss-making mines. As Francescone (2015) observed in the case of mining cooperatives in Bolivia, once production becomes less profitable, large-scale mining companies lease out some of their claims to cooperatives whilst maintaining their control over marketing. Consequently, cooperatives seldom have autonomy with regard to large-scale mining companies.

15It is interesting to note that when ZMDC was established in 1982, Ingezi Chrome Mining Cooperative was the only registered cooperative in the country mining chromite. However, the number of registered chromite mining cooperatives rapidly increased after 1985. Among the factors that contributed to this rapid increase in and growth of chromite mining cooperatives are the tribute mining arrangements extended to cooperatives by large-scale chromite mining companies, abundant chromite deposits, and the availability of markets in the form of ferrochrome smelters operated by Zimalloys and Zimasco (ZMDC, 1985). ZMDC also contributed to this phenomenal growth in mining cooperatives by assisting several retrenched former mineworkers to establish and register cooperatives. In its 1986 Annual Report, ZMDC described how it had assisted 1,200 retrenched mineworkers and former contract workers to establish and run chromite mining cooperatives in the North Dyke (ZMDC, 1986, 15). The majority of members of chromite mining cooperatives in the 1980s were thus former mineworkers who had some mining experience.

  • 2 The treatment of a raw material to improve its properties.

16In addition to helping former mineworkers to establish mining cooperatives, ZMDC also provided cooperatives with technical assistance in accessing mine claims, mining, and finding a market for their ore. ZMDC also deployed resident advisors to provide technical assistance for cooperatives seeking blasting licenses (ZMDC, 1990, 12). The government, meanwhile, provided mining cooperatives with loan facilities to help them set up their operations. In 1990, for instance, the Secretary of Mines reported that ‘small-scale mines continued to receive financial assistance in terms of loans to develop mines, to establish beneficiation2 plants, to connect power and water, and diamond-drilling services on a simple hire basis’ (The Secretary of Mines 1990, 7).

17Chromite mining cooperatives continued to dominate the mining cooperatives landscape in terms of their numbers and production throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986 for example, out of the 38 registered mining cooperatives 23 were mining chromite, while in 1988 this number was 28 out of 44 (ZMDC, 1986; ZMDC, 1988; ZMDC, 1990). Apart from their sheer numbers, the annual chromite production of cooperatives bore testimony to their success and to how they were alleviating poverty among their members. Cooperatives continued to increase in number and contribution to the annual chromite production.

18The upward trajectory in chromite production among cooperatives continued in the 1990s. For instance, between 1993 and 1999 chromite mining cooperatives and other tributors contributed an average of 55 per cent of the total production output per year (Maponga and Ruzive, 2002, 117). One of the drivers of this increase in the number of chromite cooperatives and of the upward trajectory of their contribution to annual production in the 1990s was the massive retrenchment associated with the structural adjustment programme. In several African countries that implemented such programmes, retrenched workers were forced to find new forms of livelihood, and sometimes this meant artisanal mining (Weng et al., 2015, 65). In Zimbabwe, for instance, retrenched workers filled the ranks of mining cooperatives with chromite cooperatives attracting the highest number of retrenched mine workers. As a result of this success, chromite mining cooperatives were seen as epitomising the cooperative movement’s success story. And due to this success, by 1987 ZMDC had begun to encourage the establishment and registration of mining cooperatives ‘to undertake the mining [of] minerals other than chrome’ (ZMDC, 1987, 25).

19Although small-scale chromite mining in Zimbabwe has been viewed as a success story, especially given the flourishing of chromite mining cooperatives, the sector also faced several challenges. Most stemmed from the tribute mining contracts that the cooperatives entered into with the large-scale mining companies Zimasco and Zimalloys. Chiwawa (1990, 4) identifies a ‘lack of autonomy’ and ‘excessive technological dependency’ as the key factors contributing to the vulnerability of chromite mining cooperatives.

20Even though ZMDC was mandated to bargain for prices on behalf of cooperatives, prices were largely determined by the grantor (large-scale mining companies that owned the claims). In addition, penalties were imposed on tributors for subletting claims without the consent of the grantor, and for failure to meet the agreed monthly production targets, oversupply of ore, and failure to meet the specified quality of ore, among other conditions. An extract from one tribute agreement reveals a clause stating that ‘the company also retains the right to terminate this contract if the supplier fails to supply the agreed tonnage and ore quality as set out in this agreement for a period of two or more consecutive months in any calendar year’ (Kushanduka Mining Syndicate, 2011). Moreover, tributors were supposed to pay a 5 per cent royalty to the grantor, calculated based on the ore delivered. In some instances, the grantor would provide fuel, personal protective equipment, and machinery at set prices, and recover the costs of these from the amount due to the tributor after the delivery of the ore.

21Despite the intermediary role played by ZMDC, tribute agreements between chromite mining cooperatives and grantors were largely skewed in favour of the latter and created an asymmetrical relationship. Tribute mining contracts invariably placed the tributor at the mercy of the grantor, who could reject ore supplied by the tributor or unilaterally terminate the agreement. In addition, a tributor could be punished for supplying more than the agreed tonnage, and could be compelled to remove the excess tonnage from the grantor’s yard at the tributor’s own cost. Most tributors consider the tribute agreements to be exploitative and the production targets they are set by the grantors difficult to meet. In 1990, ZMDC reported that cooperatives had failed to meet their production targets ‘due to lack of appropriate mining equipment, transport for delivering mining consumables and spare parts’ (ZMDC, 1990, 12). Cooperatives’ lack of autonomy and their over-reliance on grantors and ZMDC financial and technical assistance thus affected their ability to meet targets.

22Mining cooperatives were also greatly affected by the government’s fluctuating chromite mining and export policies. In particular, the government intermittently banned the export of chromite to support local beneficiation. It was in this context that in 2007 the government banned raw chromite exports, citing the need to promote value addition through ferrochrome production. The ban was lifted in 2009, but another was imposed in 2011. The government resumed exports in 2015, only to impose another ban in 2017 (Makichi, 2017). While placing a moratorium on the export of unprocessed ore can potentially promote local beneficiation, export bans negatively affect artisanal and small-scale miners. The 2013 Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Report on Mines and Energy revealed that

following the ban, small-scale producers were left with no option but to sell to the local smelters who were offering an average price of USD 60 compared to average international prices of between USD 110 and USD 235 prevailing at that time. In the process, this created a standoff between the small-scale producers and the local smelters. (Parliament of Zimbabwe, 2013)

3. Chromite Mining Cooperatives and Rural Livelihoods in Mapanzure Communal Areas

23In the 1980s and 1990s the majority of chromite mining cooperatives in Zimbabwe operated in the North Dyke, stretching from Lalapanzi to Mutorashanga, very few cooperatives operating in the South Dyke, in areas such as Shurugwi, Zvishavane, and Mberengwa. This was a result of the fact that the North Dyke chromite claims had thin seams that were increasingly becoming less profitable for large-scale mining companies to exploit (Maponga, 1993, 21). However, in the 1990s Zimasco and Zimalloys began to lease out some of their marginal claims in the South Dyke—including in Mapanzure communal areas—to cooperatives and individuals, using the tribute system.

24Initially, small-scale chromite mining in Mapanzure was dominated by cooperatives that had been established in the 1980s and had gained a lot of chromite mining experience in the North Dyke. Because of this prior experience, it was these cooperatives that initially entered into tribute agreements with Zimasco and Zimalloys to mine marginal claims in the area. Locals in Mapanzure communal areas remember the Ingezi Chrome Mining Cooperative, the oldest such cooperative, as having been the first to operate in the area. Other cooperatives that engaged in small-scale chromite mining in Mapanzure communal areas during this early period include the Makomborero Mining Cooperative and Tangawaedza Mining Cooperative, which had been established in Lalapanzi and had acquired tribute claims in Mapanzure communal areas.

25When the Ingezi Chrome Mining Cooperative started its tribute mining operations in Mapanzure in 1988, the majority of locals showed little interest. Locals looked down on cooperative chromite mining, preferring to engage in artisanal gold mining and farming. This was further exacerbated by the fact that the first cooperatives to operate in the area were composed of non-locals. One research participant narrated that:

The Ingezi cooperative started its mining activities in Mapanzure around 1988. During this period most of the local people were not interested in artisanal chromite mining. We were mostly farming as we considered chromite mining an activity done by outsiders. Ingezi cooperative started operating in Shauke Ward 3. The cooperative largely employed local labour and constructed compounds for the workers who could not work from home (Interview with Julia Chatira, Kudyakushanda Cooperative, Mapanzure, 15 December 2019).

26Gradually, however, locals began to appreciate small-scale chromite mining as they noticed how members of the cooperatives were making a living out of mining and also how they even managed to employ local labour. Local unemployed youths were also attracted by the flashy spending habits of contract workers working for mining contractors such as JR Goddard Contracting (Private) Limited and Madhatter (Private) Limited, which were contracted by Zimasco to mine some of its claims in the Torwood Block in Mapanzure communal areas. These elements encouraged locals to turn to artisanal chromite mining and to establish their own chromite mining cooperatives.

27Mining cooperatives and syndicates established by local artisanal and small-scale miners in Mapanzure communal areas thus took inspiration from older chromite mining cooperatives operating in their area. The mining cooperatives and syndicates established in Mapanzure communal areas include the Kudyakushanda Mining Cooperative, Kushanduka Mining Syndicate and Upile Mining Syndicate. These cooperatives and syndicates also entered into tribute agreements with Zimalloys and Zimasco both in Mapanzure communal areas and in other areas such as Shurugwi, Mashava, and Mberengwa. In the following, I examine in some detail the establishment and operation of the Kudyakushanda Mining Collective Cooperative Society, one of the first local mining cooperatives to be established in Mapanzure.

28The cooperative was established in 1993 by members of the local community. It began as an informal group of local artisanal chromite miners, who would illegally mine on Zimasco’s claims and used registered tributors as middlemen to sell their chromite (group interview, Kudyakushanda Cooperative, 5 December 2019). The membership of the group rapidly grew to over 200, and members decided to formalise their operations by registering a mining cooperative, which they named the Kudyakushanda (meaning to be self-reliant) Mining Collective Cooperative Society. The name encapsulated the cooperative’s desire to eke a living out of chromite mining through hard work and self-reliance. Zimasco encouraged the locals to establish cooperatives and enter into tribute arrangements to dissuade them from engaging in illegal artisanal chromite mining activities on its claims. The Kudyakushanda Mining Collective Cooperative Society grew, and became one of the biggest chromite mining cooperatives in Mapanzure communal areas. It also managed to enter into multiple and recurring tribute mining contracts with Zimasco.

29The cooperative drafted a constitution, in which its objectives and structure were outlined. The constitution’s preamble describes it as a ‘grouping of artisanal miners with the common purpose of chrome mining to promote development, building individuals for a competitive, self-reliant and community development as well as alleviate poverty’ ( Kudyakushanda Mining Collective Cooperative Society Limited, n.d.). The cooperative was therefore set up following the basic principles of cooperative societies, especially the idea of self-reliance and community development.

30Like other cooperatives, Kudyakushanda required new members to pay joining fees, and those who left and wished to rejoin were required to pay an agreed rejoining fee. The joining fee for new members was stipulated as the ‘equivalent to the prevailing market value of ten tonnes of chrome ore on the date he/she joins the cooperative’ (Kudyakushanda Mining Collective Cooperative Society Limited, n.d.). Old members who would have defaulted and applied to rejoin the cooperative were required to pay a joining fee equivalent to the value of five tonnes of ore. The constitution also provided those employed by the cooperative for at least five years with the opportunity to join as full members upon payment of a joining fee equivalent to the market value of five tonnes of chrome. Using the price of USD 50 per tonne, which was the average price of chromite in 2020, prospective members would be required to pay USD 500, which is quite a high figure, especially for people living in communal areas (formerly Tribal Trust Lands). Thus, members of chromite mining cooperatives were expected to be able to raise high joining fees. At the same time, a large proportion of villagers were excluded, as they could not afford such fees. Stories of people who sold livestock to raise money to join cooperatives or to apply for independent chromite claims reveal the potential financial returns from artisanal and small-scale chromite mining.

31The members of the Kudyakushanda Mining Collective Cooperative Society had an arrangement that individuals mined portions of the claims leased to the cooperative using family or hired labour. They would combine their ore when transporting to Zimasco after taking note of each individual’s tonnage. The cooperative would apportion the proceeds of the sale among the individuals according to individual tonnage. Thus, the cooperative arrangement was largely used to gain access to chromite claims and to enter into tribute arrangements; individuals’ shares, meanwhile, were based on individual production.

32The conditions of the cooperative’s tribute contract with Zimasco include a monthly target of 5,000 tonnes of lumpy chromite and a 10 per cent deduction from chromite deliveries for the rehabilitation of the environment. The cooperative, however, struggled to meet this production target due to a lack of equipment such as excavators and haulage trucks. As the members of the cooperative narrated:

We were supposed to produce 5,000 tonnes per month but because we were operating without machinery it was difficult for us to raise that amount of ore. […] with picks and shovels, we were only able to produce slightly above 2,000 tonnes of chromite per month. This was because, during the early days of our cooperative, chromite belts (seams) were found closer to the […] surface. We could mine from depths of 50 centimetres to around five meters without machinery. With time we began to face many challenges. One of the challenges we faced was delays in receiving our payments from Zimasco. In some cases, it took us more than two months before we received payments on our deliveries. In some cases, we were paid far less than we were expecting to receive. Because of this, there have been many conflicts between our cooperative and Zimsaco. (Group Interview, Kudyakushanda Cooperative, 5 December 2019)

33As a result of constant pressure, Zimasco gradually ceded some of its claims to the government, which allowed sitting tenants to register them as independent claims.

34Kudyakushanda was one of the cooperatives in Mapanzure communal areas that benefitted from this arrangement, managing to register several claims in its name. This meant that the cooperative could now operate independently of its former grantor and could sell its chromite to any licensed buyer. In addition, the cooperative was free to enter into mining or equipment rental agreements with Chinese investors without the encumbrance of tribute agreements.

35From the narratives of members of cooperatives, it is evident that cooperatives in Mapanzure faced similar challenges to those faced by other mining cooperatives across the country. These include financial challenges, a lack of machinery, technical challenges, and exploitative tribute mining arrangements. Furthermore, cooperatives were also affected by internal squabbles, especially over financial mismanagement and the distribution of profits.

4. Land Reform, Chromite Mining Cooperatives, and Chinese Companies

36Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), which started in 2000, had a far-reaching impact on the rural populace’s livelihoods and access to mineral resources. The interface between mining and farming, both rural livelihoods, is nothing new and peasants are known to oscillate between the two (Hilson, 2011; Hilson, 2016; Hilson, Hilson and Adu-Darko, 2014; Pijpers, 2014). The symbiotic relationship between the two means that developments in agriculture can easily affect artisanal mining, and vice versa. According to Pijpers (2014, 34), it is important to go beyond the perception of the relationship between farming and artisanal mining as being one purely based on competition, and to view the two livelihoods as cohabiting. The interconnectedness of the two can be observed in how peasants either seasonally shift between them or engage in both concurrently. The financial flows between the two livelihoods are a further demonstration of this symbiosis.

37The FTLRP, with its focus on the redistribution of resources and on indigenisation, provided a new impetus for an upsurge in artisanal and small-scale mining, as villagers took the opportunity to ‘invade’ claims owned by large-scale mining companies and to illegally extract minerals. As Mkodzongi and Spiegel (2013, 2152) have observed, the land reform ‘allowed peasants access to natural resources that were formerly enclosed under the previous agrarian structure’. The upsurge especially affected former white commercial farms that had been occupied by peasants. In addition, the land reform temporarily increased mobility and migration, as artisanal miners migrated to mineral-rich areas (see Mkodzongi and Spiegel, 2020).

38As Mkodzongi and Spiegel (2020, 995) have observed, ‘one of the major outcomes of FTLRP implemented in 2000 is the way it allowed resettled farmers to use the formerly inaccessible natural resources under a dualistic agrarian structure inherited at independence.’ The aforementioned ‘invasion’ of mining claims owned by large-scale mining companies, encouraged by the land reform, took place without recourse to any legal document, and was referred to locally as kubhomba (literally, bombing). Further, it was part of the land invasion fervour led by Liberation War veterans and landless peasants and popularly referred to as jambanja (chaos), which gripped the country starting in 2000. Kubhomba was therefore the mining-claims-invasion equivalent of jambanja in land redistribution, land redistribution and mineral resource redistribution being interconnected processes with similar practices and discourses.

39The leader would normally identify a claim and organise a team of artisanal miners to invade it (kubhomba), the leader’s role being to provide team members with food, and the tools necessary to quickly mine and transport the ore to a safe place. Then the leader would contact a middleman, who would clandestinely buy the ore. These middlemen were usually local entrepreneurs who were already involved in chromite mining or were involved in tribute agreements. Thus, they could easily pass off illegally mined chromite as ore that they had mined at their own claims. Because this practice was illegal, artisanal miners involved in kubhomba usually sold their ore to middlemen at very low prices.

40The post-2000 period saw the increased involvement of Chinese companies in buying chromite, engaging in contract mining, and hiring out mining equipment. A similar rise in the involvement of the Chinese in artisanal and small-scale mining has been observed in several countries in Africa (Hilson, Hilson, and Adu-Darko, 2014; Spiegel, 2015). The Chinese are introducing new types of mining contracts characterised by verbal agreements as well as introducing heavy mining machinery that contributes to rapid, mining-induced environmental degradation. The upsurge in the number of Chinese companies operating in Zimbabwe was largely a result of the government’s response to sanctions imposed by the EU, the United Kingdom, and the United States following violent land redistributions. The government began to follow a new foreign policy, which was dubbed the ‘Look East Policy’, and under which Asian countries and companies received special treatment and had unfettered access to investment opportunities in the country. This was the context in which Chinese companies, and some Chinese nationals operating as individuals, invested in the chrome mining industry in Zimbabwe, and several of them engaged in equipment rental schemes and contract mining with local artisanal and small-scale miners with access to chromite claims.

41The Chinese companies operating in Mapanzure include Bunday, Afrochine, Asia Ferry, and several smaller companies and individuals. Although Chinese investors are widely thought to be exploiting local artisanal miners, the latter—along with cooperatives—are forced to enter into mining and equipment hire agreements because of their own lack of equipment. The most common mining contract between Chinese investors and cooperatives is one in which the Chinese company would provide mining equipment and fuel and mine on behalf of a claim owner. The company would recoup its costs by claiming 80 per cent of the total tonnage, while paying the client 20 per cent of its total value. Generally, cooperatives and other artisanal miners find these agreements to be exploitative, and argue that the claim holder should get a much higher percentage.

42The majority of the artisanal miners interviewed for this study reasoned that Chinese companies preferred verbal agreements to written agreements because they could be easily violated. For example, the company could make a verbal agreement with a cooperative that it would buy their ore at USD 50 per tonne before commencing the mining process, and then change the amount to USD 35 per tonne citing contentious reasons such as the poor quality of the ore or fluctuating global chromite prices (interview with Martha Moyo, 10 November 2020). One artisanal miner lamented:

The Chinese companies are exploiting us. Can you imagine that we own these chromite claims, but in the end we only get 20 per cent of the proceeds from selling the ore while Chinese companies take 80 per cent for just mining? If you refuse to accept that arrangement, they demand five tonnes per hour for hiring their excavator. This is unfair. I wonder what the government is thinking about this exploitation of citizens by Chinese companies. (Interview with John Phiri, 16 November 2020)

43It can be argued that although cooperatives and some individual chromite miners had been freed from the fetters of tribute mining contracts when they registered claims ceded to the government by both Zimalloys and Zimasco, they still had to deal with Chinese companies and with their equally exploitative verbal mining contracts.

44Chinese companies are also accused of not initiating any meaningful corporate social responsibility programmes to help develop the communities in which they are doing business (Parliament of Zimbabwe, 2013). This has caused tensions between the companies and local communities. In 2018, a reporter for The Standard newspaper reported on how chromite mining operations damage the infrastructure and environment of Mapanzure communal areas, writing, ‘The small-scale miners use heavy-duty equipment to extract chrome with little regard to infrastructures such as roads and schools. On the Zvishavane-Gweru highway, the miners are excavating land only a few metres from the road’ (Mhlanda, 2018).

  • 3 Fines in the sense of small particulate matter.

45Despite the negative image Chinese companies have in chromite mining communities, some artisanal and small-scale miners see them as playing a positive role and plugging the gap left by TNCs. Cooperatives appreciated that while large-scale chromite mining companies such as Zimasco and Zimalloys only bought high-grade lumpy chromite, Chinese companies bought even low-grade ores and chromite ‘fines’.3 Furthermore, some miners argued that the 80 per cent to 20 per cent ratio chromite ore sharing arrangement with Chinese companies was justifiable based on the depth of the pits. One research participant highlighted that although previously Chinese companies had retained 70 per cent of the delivered chromite ore to cover their mining expenses when they mined on an individual or cooperative’s claim, they increased the percentage to 80 per cent because near-surface chromite resources had been depleted and they were now mining at depths of up to 22 metres (interview with Shumirai Sibanda, 22 September 2020). It should also be highlighted that in the absence of government assistance with regard to mining equipment, cooperatives and artisanal miners depend on Chinese companies for that equipment, and for markets for their chrome ore (Chinembiri, 2020).

5. Conclusion

46The relationship between large- and small-scale mining is a subject that has animated debates about mining in the global South. This interface has largely been engendered by the liberalisation of the mining sector and the increased informalisation that spawned widespread small-scale and artisanal mining. Several scholars have examined the interaction between large- and small-scale mining, describing it as characterised by ‘coexistence’, an ‘interface’, a ‘marriage of convenience’, an ‘asymmetrical relationship’, or in some cases ‘conflict’ (Aubynn, 2009) or ‘coexistence’ (Hilson, Sauerwein and Owen, 2020). However, whilst the entanglement of large- and small-scale mining has often led to conflicts, especially given the hegemony of large-scale mining companies, it has also resulted in the broadening of rural livelihoods, and an alleviation of poverty brought about through artisanal and small-scale mining. This resonates with Verbrugge’s (2017, 352) assertion that ‘partnerships between mining companies and ASM-operators [artisanal and small-scale miners] may be a panacea to the conflicts between large- and small-scale mining’. Mining cooperatives, in particular, have demonstrated the potential of such partnerships to create opportunities for the alleviation of poverty in rural communities.

47This chapter has demonstrated both how mining cooperatives encapsulate the relationship between large- and small-scale mining in Zimbabwe and such cooperatives’ potential for creating rural livelihoods and alleviating poverty. Mining cooperatives have dominated artisanal and small-scale chromite mining in Zimbabwe since the early 1980s, when the government put pressure on the TNCs who controlled the chromite mining industry to lease out some of their claims to such cooperatives. Chromite mining cooperatives in particular were generally viewed as a success story because they were the most prevalent type in the mining sector and also because they contributed significantly to annual chromite production figures and offered a viable livelihood option to peasants. These cooperatives largely relied on tribute mining arrangements with Zimalloys and Zimasco, the two TNCs that dominated the chromite mining sector. The forgoing discussion has also revealed the interface between mining cooperatives, large-scale chromite mining companies, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and various government departments.

48The chapter has also examined how the Fast Track Land Reform Programme and its discourse and practice of redistribution have impacted artisanal and small-scale chromite mining by generating new discourses of resource redistribution and the dismantlement of the monopoly that large-scale mining companies (mostly TNCs) held over mineral resource extraction and marketing. Chromite mining cooperatives took advantage of the land reform to get access to chromite claims and to unshackle themselves from tribute mining arrangements. The period also witnessed the increased involvement of Chinese companies and middlemen in artisanal and small-scale chromite mining. The relationship between Chinese companies and chromite mining cooperatives is particularly interesting in that while it led to increased production and provided a large number of peasants with an opportunity to eke out a living through chromite mining, it also involved the exploitation of artisanal miners by Chinese mining companies and such companies’ contribution to environmental degradation. This last point brings into focus the challenges that come with the participation of Chinese mining companies in artisanal and small-scale mining (see Hilson, Hilson and Adu-Darko, 2014). These include rapid environmental degradation caused by the increased use of heavy mining machinery, encroachment into farmlands, and exploitation of local artisanal miners and cooperatives by Chinese companies that buy ore and engage in contract mining.

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1 Retrench in the sense of make redundant.

2 The treatment of a raw material to improve its properties.

3 Fines in the sense of small particulate matter.

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Cite this article

Electronic reference

Joseph Mujere, Chromite Mining Cooperatives, Tribute Mining Contracts, and Rural Livelihoods in Zimbabwe, 1985–2021International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 15.1 | 2023, Online since 02 May 2023, connection on 02 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Joseph Mujere

Joseph Mujere is a lecturer in History at the University of York (UK) and a research fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa). His research interests include mining and environmental history, land, migration, and the politics of belonging, as well as visual history. He published his first book in 2019, titled: Land, Migration and Belonging: A History of Basotho in Southern Rhodesia c.1890-1960s (Suffolk: James Currey, 2019).

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