On 20 October 2022, the Times of Eswatini reported about a new group of minerals known as the Copper-Nickel-Platinum Group Elements which have been discovered in the country.

According to the publication’s report, the discovery was presented by the Acting Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Jabulani Mabuza during a briefing about the findings of a Multi-Disciplinary Geoscience Mapping in the Manzini and Hhohho regions. The Multi-Disciplinary Geoscience Mapping was conducted during the second half of last year and the beginning of this year and was completed in October 2022.

The Acting Minister for Natural Resources and Energy, Jabulani Mabuza, was quoted to have said the new group of minerals from Copper-Nickel-Platinum Group Elements was discovered in three different areas in the Hhohho Region which are Siphocosini, Mhlambanyatsi, and Lamgabhi-Luyengo.

Mabuza said the gold mineralization is confirmed in areas northwest of the country. “It stretches from Nsingizini area in the north to Lomati, the current Lomati Mine lease, the Luhhumaneni area, and the Forbes Reef area in the south. He mentioned that, as much as some of the areas were known, a much bigger deposit size has been identified from the models,” said Mabuza, as quoted by the Times. He further revealed that iron ore targets were identified from various areas north of the current Ngwenya Iron Ore Mine.

It has always been known that we have gold in the northern part of Swaziland, diamond at Dvokolwako, iron ore at Ngwenya, and coal at Maloma, among others. In fact, a license to restart the process of mining iron ore at Ngwenya was recently issued, much against complaints of poor working conditions and dust and water pollution affecting the surrounding areas. This publication had earlier reported about Eswatini being excessively endowed with a rare breed of coal - anthracite. This is the most expensive coal and accounts for about 1% of global coal reserves; it is mined in only a few countries around the world. Eswatini is arguably the number one producer of anthracite coal on the African continent!

However, there seems to be a glaring paradox here, considering the underdevelopment of Swazis, especially those around areas that are known to have mineral resources and mining operations. For instance, the road to Maloma has been untarred for years, and the one that connects Pigg’s Peak and Bulembu has been a historic disaster. Communities continue to be subjected to dreadful conditions with no proper medical and educational facilities whereas their resources are extracted for the benefit of the ruling elite and their cronies. Comparatively, the Manzini-Mbabane corridor is better developed, urbanized, and industrialized than the rest of the country, including where minerals are mined. The ruling class, including its puppet parliament that has no real power and largely serves to rubber-stamp the government’s decisions, sees nothing wrong with these contradictions.

In its editorial by Dr Sanoussi Bilal, Great Insights, a magazine of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), covering a wide range of topics related to economic development in Africa and the developing world, makes an important point on mining and development. This is contained in the publication’s July/August 2017 Issue.

Bilal posts that the extractive sector can play a pivotal role in the industrialization and economic transformation of resource-rich countries, stimulating more inclusive and sustainable growth. He says this requires looking beyond the perimeter fences of the mines, and considering broader dimensions such as governance frameworks, genuine linkages with economic activity in the rest of the economy through innovation, skills development and education, entrepreneurship, infrastructures, and territorial development approaches.

In the case of eSwatini, there is no link between the mineral endowment and the economic development of the people. Quite frankly, the tough questions must be asked as to who owns the mineral resources and who benefits from them, whose interests are the minerals extracted at the present moment, and does Swaziland's contemporary mining industry align with the public interest and the country’s developmental agenda. In the first place, do we have a mining industry or just resources shipped out of the country by a looting nucleus that does not care about the plight of our people who are subjected to horrible conditions and living in abject poverty?

With a slight shift in the governance of the country, a lot could change insofar as our natural resources are concerned. We need to understand and rectify the poor impact of mining on eSwatini's economic development. For instance, why has it not been possible to come up with and implement policies that would improve the social welfare of the people using minerals? Incontrovertibly, the net impact of mining on the economic development of eSwatini is likely to be enhanced with appropriate reforms in the system of government.

*This is the first of a series of articles that will focus more on the minerals, how they are mined and who benefits from them. We will also be exploring other sectors to ascertain the limitations that hinder national growth and development.