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Zimbabwe's Gold Mines Face Closure - 2003-05-27


With the collapse of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector, gold mines are now the country's largest foreign currency earner.

Falcoln Gold Mine, near Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo, is the first of the gold mines to go public and say it faces closure.

The managing director of the mine, Andrew Bittie, said the mine has not been paid foreign currency earnings by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe since April 1.

Most mines in Zimbabwe are privately owned, but under current practice, the government pays 50 percent of their earnings in the local currency, at a trading rate of 800 Zimbabwe dollars to one U.S. dollar. The other 50 percent is supposed to be paid out in U.S. dollars so the mines have money to import materials for their operations.

But the payments in U.S. dollars have not been coming. Zimbabwe is using the little foreign currency it does have to buy fuel and pay arrears on electricity bills to neighboring states.

In addition to the shortage of foreign currency, Mr. Beattie said the Falcon Gold Mine is also suffering because the state's electricity supplier has increased its tariffs in the last month by more than 1,000 percent. Also, electricity cuts are costing the company four operating hours a day.

Mr. Beattie said the Falcon Gold mine would close in September if the situation did not improve.

On Tuesday, the chief executive of Zimbabwe's chamber of mines, David Murangari, said gold made up more than half of Zimbabwe's mineral exports. It is now the country's highest foreign currency earner since the collapse of the tobacco industry following the land reform program, which saw 90 percent of tobacco farmers evicted from their properties.

Mr. Murangari said gold production is declining dramatically. Three years ago, Zimbabwe produced 29 tons of gold. Last year it produced half that, and 2003 is going to be worse.

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