The following brief is published courtesy of AllAfrica
Author: Zephania Ubwani
Arusha — A section of tanzanite dealers have applauded the government’s move to ban exports of the gemstone in it’s raw form, adding that the country was losing millions of dollars through such trade.
Mr Sammy Mollel, the chairman of the Tanzania Mineral Dealers Association (Tamida) said here on Saturday that besides adding value to the mineral, local processing would create many jobs.
He told The Citizen that proponents of rough exports have argued that the country does not have enough processing facilities, an assertion Tamida does not agree with.
He said many lapidaries (gemstone cutting and polishing equipment) had either closed down or were not operating at full capacity, as a result of increased export of rough tanzanite, hence little need to process them locally.
According to him, there are 400 gemstone cutters across the country who are trained and well-equipped for the job but have over the years left the business due to lack of rough gemstones.
The existing facilities can cut and polish up to 1,500 pieces of tanzanite gemstones a day, he added in an interview.
“Our capacity will be built fairly quickly once enough rough tanzanite is available in the market,” he said in response to the government’s ban that was announced on Thursday.
While announcing the ban, minister for Energy and Minerals William Ngeleja said the move targets improvement of local tanzanite-processing facilities that would provide employment to Tanzanians.
He told reporters in Dar es Salaam that unprocessed tanzanite attracted low price in overseas markets and that the government has been getting only five per cent as royalty from the rare gem.
Mr Mollel, who is among prominent mineral dealers here, wondered why it had taken the government so long to enforce the ban after an earlier announcement in 2003 that export of raw tanzanite would be stopped.
He said Tamida, a body formed in 1987 by registered gemstone dealers, has been yearning for such a ban for a long time after realising the economy was was making significant losses.
“We are not only supporting the government’s directive but pledge to be pro-active in its implementation,” he affirmed.
He added that the revival of closed down lapidaries would lead to immediate employment for gemstone cutters besides enabling them to sell their minerals overseas directly.
The Tamida chairman noted that overseas buyers of tanzanite had stopped coming to the country due to what he described as “monopolistic structure” of the tanzanite business.
He said the government’s ban should not be confined to tanzanite but include other raw gemstones.
Major gemstones produced in the country include rhodolite, ruby, sapphire, green garnet, tourmaline, aquamarine, emerald, diamond, topaz and amethyst, among others.
Commercial mining of tanzanite, a rare gemstone found only in Mererani hills in Simanjiro District, Manyara Region, started about 40 years ago but slumped in the 1970s.
It picked up again in the 1990s following the liberalisation of the economy, which opened the remote area to local and foreign investors as well as hundreds of small and medium scale miners.
The rare gem is said to have been generating between $100 million and $300 million to the economy in export revenue each year, with the US being the largest market even though in recent years it has attracted buyers in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.
When contacted to comment on the government’s move, senior officials of TanzaniteOne Mining Limited, a giant firm operating at Mererani, declined to give their views.
“I am sorry, I have nothing to say to the press at the moment,” Mr Zane Swanepoel, the managing director of the company said when contacted on phone.
Until a few years ago, TanzaniteOne was said to account for at least 35 per cent of the total tanzanite exports and the remainder by other exporters, mainly small and medium scale companies.