Controversial Zimbabwe Asbestos Mine Reportedly Reopening

Bloomberg reports that in a controversial move, “Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp. will re-open its Shabanie Mashava asbestos mine next month.” The chairman of Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp. (ZMDC), Godwills Masimi-rembwa, explained that “mining operations at Mashava and Shabanie mines will restart next month and both mines will be recapitalised in phases,” the Herald Online reports. With many industrialized nations having banned the production, use, and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, this move will likely contribute to the worldwide controversy surrounding this naturally-occurring mineral. Many human rights groups and international alliances push for a worldwide ban on this material and condemn all actions which prolong its use, such as this mine’s reopening. Asbestos was once an extremely popular construction and industrial material valued for its ability to insulate, strengthen, and protect from corrosion and electricity. It was also inexpensive and readily available in many deposits around the globe, contributing to its business popularity. However, by the later decades of the 20th century, many nations began realizing the consequences of asbestos exposure and regulated its use and export. Today, diseases stemming from past asbestos use are estimated to account for 100,000 annual deaths worldwide. Bloomberg reports that these mines “were closed at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis in 2008 with the loss of 3,000 jobs.” The news source also explains that “Ownership of the mines is contested by Mutumwa Mawere, a Zimbabwean businessman,” who is the former owner of the mines. Bloomberg reports that “Mawere’s mining operation was placed under judicial management in 2004 before control was handed to ZMDC.” The Herald Online reports that before operations at this mine were suspended, it “produced an estimated 200 000 tonnes of fibre every year” and was “one of Africa's largest asbestos producers.” According to the Herald, these mines “had access to markets in the US, UK, Angola, Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique, India, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, China and Indonesia,” greatly contributing to Zimbabwe’s position as a leading global asbestos producer. According to the Herald, the mine’s failure to deliver 200,000 tons of asbestos last year cost the nation an estimated U.S. $105 million. The towns of Zvishavane and Mashava, which are closest to the mines, were the hardest hit by the halt in operations. The Herald reports that these mines are “reportedly sitting on reserves that can be exploited for the next 20 years. Despite the monetary boost the reopening of the Shabanie Mashava Mines will have on the local Zimbabwe economy in the short term, it remains to be seen what the long-term health impacts will be. Asbestos exposure leads to a variety of lethal respiratory diseases and cancers which generally develop after an extended latency period of 20 years or more. Mesothelioma, arguably the most lethal of these diseases, continues to claim thousands of lives each year for asbestos exposure which may have taken place as much as five decades earlier.
References:
  • Herald Online Staff. (October 31, 2011) “Shabanie-Mashava mines to reopen.” Retrieved on October 31, 2011 from The Herald Online.
  • Latham, Brian. (October 31, 2011) “Zimbabwe to Re-Open Shabanie Mashava Asbestos Mine, Herald Says.” Retrieved on October 31, 2011 from Bloomberg.
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