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St. Petersburg Miners answer the question “Why does Russia need Africa?”

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In early April, a representative delegation from St. Petersburg Mining University paid a working visit to the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The main objectives of the visit were to get acquainted with the higher education system of this South African state, the state of affairs in the field of geological exploration and subsoil use, and to identify practical ways of cooperation in the format of a roadmap for the medium term.

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As of 2019, with a nominal GDP of $19.1 billion, total exports from Zimbabwe amounted to $4.66 billion. Mineral resources are mainly sent abroad: gold - 25% (more than 4000 deposits are registered in the country), nickel ore and concentrates - 17%, nickel matte - 11%, ferroalloys - 5%, diamonds - 3% and 1% each - coking and semi-coke coal, chrome ore and platinum (Zimbabwe ranks second in the world, after South Africa, in terms of reserves of platinum group metals). The mining industry employs about 200 thousand people.

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At the same time, the country buys crude oil - 27% of imports; nitrogen fertilizers - 2%; and 1% each - iron and steel, natural gas and other hydrocarbons.

During the trip the university staff held a number of meetings with the leadership of the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development of the Republic of Zimbabwe, got acquainted in detail with the work of specialized educational institutions - University of Zimbabwe (Harare), State University "Midlans" (Gweru, Midlans Province), Chinoyi University of Technology, (Chinoyi, West Mashonaland Province), toured a number of production and research centers.

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During my visits to the provinces of Zimbabwe, a sad example of shadow employment was the numerous groups of artisanal miners engaged in the extraction of minerals, primarily gold. It is impossible to calculate exactly how much of the yellow metal "escapes" from state control - its grains fall into the hands of illegal buyers. But, according to expert estimates, it is a huge amount - about 70% of the official statistics (31.5 tons in 2021).

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The head of the delegation, Marat Rudakov, Director of the Institute of Targeted Educational Programs at Mining University, said that several national companies are involved in subsoil use in Zimbabwe, but it is illegal miners and transnational corporations that form the basis of the industry. Thus, about a third of all official gold mining is accounted for by the British Metallon Corporation, and one of the largest core assets - the Blanket mine - is controlled by the Canadian Caledonia Mining. Locals are mostly involved in small-scale mining.

"Foreign investors can have 100% ownership of deposits of any types of minerals, except for platinum and diamonds. To extract the latter, foreigners must create a joint venture with the Government of the country with 51% to 49% shares. As for deposits of other resources, they operate on the basis of concession agreements, i.e., they are essentially leased from Western companies. The lessee is not obliged to report to the federal government neither on actual production volumes nor on its income, it only pays relatively small fixed amounts to the budget, which, of course, contributes to the export of capital from the country," explained Marat Rudakov.

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The largest foreign corporations specializing in platinum are South African Impala Platinum and British Anglo American. The Chinese - Sinosteel Group and Tsingshan Iron and Steel - are involved in chromium, the British from ASAResource Group in nickel, and the Australians from Prospect Resources in lithium. In fact, this is the main reason why the continent cannot get out of poverty - the main rent from the exploitation of its national wealth lying in the subsoil is extracted by completely outsiders who are not interested in the well-being of local residents. Rector of Mining University Vladimir Litvinenko spoke about this during the second Russia-Africa Forum held in July 2023 in St. Petersburg.

"Today, a huge number of companies registered on the London Stock Exchange and mostly British domiciled, are mining in 37 sub-Saharan African countries, and collectively own the most liquid resources of the continent. However, the investments made there are primarily for the development of facilities owned by Western corporations themselves, and the indigenous population does not feel any positive effect from these investments. On the contrary, they witness the barbaric attitude of subsoil users to the environment, often face violations of their labor rights and even forced relocations," Vladimir Litvinenko assessed the scale of losses of the countries located on the sunny continent.

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He recalled that Russia was in a similar situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Concession agreements with European and American companies deprived the federal budget of a significant part of revenues, which led to mass impoverishment of the population. The situation changed only after the rejection of such agreements initiated by Vladimir Putin in the early noughties. The new policy not only brought our country's economy out of a deep depression, but also gave an impetus to development for many years to come.

"True sovereignty, i.e. the right to independently determine the vector of its development, both domestically and internationally, can only be achieved if the state is able to monetize its natural capital without the help of intermediaries. And let it be used for the needs of socio-economic development of its citizens. If the management of resources is external, the main rent will go abroad," emphasized Vladimir Litvinenko.

These words were heard at the signing ceremony of the Memorandum on the establishment of the Consortium "Subsoil of Africa" between the Center of Competence in Mining Education under the auspices of UNESCO, operating on the basis of Mining University and 26 African universities. This document approved the basic concept and principles of cooperation in the educational sphere.

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"I agree that our economy and our education system should not contribute to the prosperity of people in countries that have never been our friends. That is why we need new knowledge and new competencies to extract and use resources independently, and to do so for our own needs or for the needs of our partners, not exploiters. We support the idea of creating the Subsoil of Africa community. And we assure that we are ready to work together with our Russian colleagues to strive for a fairer world order," said Zimbabwe's Minister of Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Amon Murwira, after signing the agreement.

This document became the starting point for the Mining University specialists' business trip to Africa. As part of the trip, the Petersburgers visited a number of deposits in Zimbabwe and, in particular, sampled gold-bearing weathering crusts near the town of Chinhoyi in the northwest of the country.

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The instrumentation and laboratory facilities of local universities do not allow to accurately determine the mineral and geochemical features of such rocks and draw conclusions about the concentration of a useful component in them. The equipment of universities completely lacks laboratories for studying the chemical composition and methods of local analysis of matter, as well as other equipment necessary to determine the volume of proven and probable metal reserves.

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In this regard, it was decided to study the selected samples in the scientific centers of Mining University. The results of their study will describe the course of the weathering process of Zimbabwean deposits, analyze the distribution of gold in the weathering profile, and draw the first conclusions about the potential of the deposits.

"The results of our research may be of interest to Russian companies, primarily Polyus Gold, Polymetal, Russdragmet (Highland Gold Mining) and others. The most promising area of cooperation between Mining University and the Republic of Zimbabwe is geological exploration of mineral deposits. Our colleagues from Zimbabwe have an urgent need for modern equipment for geophysical research, training of personnel for geological sampling and laboratory analysis, interpretation of the results obtained, compilation and digitalization of geological maps," said Irina Talovina, Head of the Department of Historical and Dynamic Geology of the oldest technical university in Russia.

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Painos Gweme, Director General of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), is convinced of this. During the visit of the Russians to the headquarters of this organization, he said that in its activities ZINGSA plans to "widely use the experience of scientists and teachers of Mining University in the field of full-scale exploration and mapping of mineral deposits". It is no secret that today only about 60% of the country's territory is covered by geological maps.

The meeting with the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amon Murwira was extremely concrete and substantive. The Minister emphasized the need to develop a roadmap for joint mutually beneficial cooperation as soon as possible, an integral part of which could be the Mining University's participation in the development of the Pan African Mineral University of Science and Technology (PAMUST), as well as active assistance in the exploration of mineral deposits.

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A partnership is also planned for the implementation of a new model of higher technical education, currently being implemented by Mining University as a pilot project, on the basis of one of Zimbambambwe's universities, which was recommended by the host country as Midland State University. It has similar educational programs in earth sciences, mining, metallurgy, mechanical engineering and energy.

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Forpost will soon continue the series of articles about the visit of the Mining University delegation to Zimbabwe. In particular, we will talk about the "educational" component of the trip. In addition, an interview with Mr. Murwira will be published.