Sengwa mine is one of Gokwe economic sleeping giants, probably the huge, massive and greatest pure coal deposit in the country. The Sengwa coalfield has an estimated 538 million tonnes of coal reserves and still more deposits are being discovered with the most recent being the J.R Gordad discoveries northwards in Nenyunka.

The mine is located some 114km from Gokwe Centre to Chitekete/Kabuyuni, along Nemangwe – Binga road to the north. Then some 13km to the east from Chitekete.

According to the traditions I gathered from the community elders the discovery of this mine was tragic.

Young boys were just playing in the 70s and one of them stepped over an underground burning pit. He had his whole leg burnt. He was taken to hospital and that’s how the Whites discovered the coal deposits,” said Mr Mnsaka who claimed to be one of the pioneers to settle in the area.

In roads processes to establish a mine began slowly with a passive resistance from the local Tonga, who saw threat to their culture along the Sengwa River. This resistance resulted in the murder of one of the pioneer Whitemen to explore the area. Some sources say his goblin is always visible in the night. Hence, the colonial attempts to establish a mine ended with the construction of a dust road to connect the mine Gokwe centre.

The first mega deal of the Independent Zimbabwe was signed in 1989 by the issuing of a coal mining license to Sengwa Colliery Company, owned by Rio Tinto Zimbabwe (RTZ) and Rio Tinto (RT).

The second mega deal was the JV Agreement between Rio Tinto Zimbabwe Limited and RTZ Mining & Exploration Limited on 22 April 1994. The intention was to focus all activities toward ascertaining the existence, location, quality, quantity and commercial value of deposits or products at the Sengwa site. One would expect the establishment of a giant economy.

The third mega deal, was an agreement made in 1994 between RioZim Limited and Rio Tinto plc. Intention was to regulate their direct and indirect investments in Sengwa Colliery. Each of the parties acquired 50% of the issued and allotted shares in the company.

The forth mega deal was proposed in 1997, a Gokwe North Power Station Project based on a coal resource of 1.3bn tonnes, capable of generating up to 1400MW of power, predictably, Zimbabwe’s total installed capacity.

It was a noble idea because at peak of demand, Zimbabwe requires 1 800MW. Zimbabwe is reportedly able to manage just under 1 000MW due to constrained capacity at the major power plants. However, this noble project still remains on paper.

The composite project wanted a startup capital of about US$1.5 billion for the composite project, constitutes of a; coal mine, thermal power plant, 110 km water pipeline from Kariba dam to the power station and a transmission line to the main grid.

In addition to the above, the investors pushed for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) especialy the cotton industry value addition chain given the area’s cotton producing potential, abundance of land and water. All this was noble for job creation.

The fifth mega deal was issued by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) to Rio Zimbabwe Limited (RioZim) in 2010. It was a massive shift from the previous one and aimed to generate a larger 2000 MW power station than the original concept of 1400 MW.

What followed the above proposals were all tragedies to the prosperity of the project. Beginning 2013, from her US$91 million debt Riozim was seeking funding to start the project. It was at threat of losing its license.

The sixth mega deal was made in 2014. The Indian state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and Shandong of China reportedly expressed their interest to partner RioZim on setting up a 250 MW.

The seventh mega deal was entered in May 2015. The RioZim considered US$2.1 billion investment in a 1,400 MW. This money was going to be raised through Sengwa coal exports to the Eskom in South Africa and Namibia Power Corporation in Namibia. Eskom was ready to purchase power but not to invest into the project, but this would require Zimbabwe to upgrade its transmission system.

In the eighth mega deal, in July 2015 Eskom expressed interest in bankrolling the Sengwa project, at up to 2,400 MW.

In the 9th mega deal in June 2016 RioZim was yet to secure an off-take agreement with Nigeria’s Dangote Group and an unnamed Chinese firm.

Another 2016 mega deal which is number 9, in August, RioZim was granted a license for a 1,200 MW coal plant in Sengwa.

The eleventh mega deal saw Riozim reportedly selecting State Nuclear Electric Power Planning Design and Research Institute, located in Beijing, to design the generators for the project, which was 2800 MW in size. However, it was unfortunate that no engagement had been made.

In November 2017 RioZim completed the twelveth mega deal by picking from 12 investors who had submitted their bids, two “serious potential investors” one from China and one from South Korea. Their teams were expected in the country in February 2018 for pre-feasibility studies and accessing of appropriate funding models.

The May 2018 thirteenth deal by the RioZim was a US$1.2 billion deal for a 700 MW power. Six potential investors placed their proposals including Chinese groups and the National Energy Investment Group. Negotiations were going to be conclude after the July 2018 elections. The effect of it was that in May of 2019, RioZim announced that construction was expected to start in the next twelve months.

The fourteenth mega deal was expected in October 2019. RioZim promised an engineering procurement and construction contract (EPC) with Power China for construction on the first phase of the Sengwa plant.

The last mega deal was in April 2020. RioZim promised to build the plant with China Gezhouba Group Corp. It was also made clear that, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was formally interested and that it was negotiating with Sinosure (China Export and Credit Insurance Corp) to cover country risk insurance costs. They promised to implement a 4 phased construction plan of 700 MW each, totaling 2,800 MW.

I can admit on the notable negative effect of the project to the local area but I’m not blind of the measures that can be put in place to control the detrimental effects of the above.

The whole land marked by a triangular pattern from Chitekete to Sengwa (13km), Sengwa through Zhomba to Chiutsi (15km) and Chiutsi back to Chitekete (8km) was going to be forced into uncompensated migration. This will result in growth of peasantry, poverty, loss of land of ancestry and their graves, family breakdowns and social ills.

This does not leave out pollution to the river network of sengwa, chimina, siachirongo, gwerenuka and small others which are the sole sources of water, river siltation and floods.

However, its socio – economic value must not be left unchecked. Measures can be put in place to avoid migrations and destruction of social systems in place – establishing the plant on the mountain in the Tshabezi National Park.

The project is of great economic value in terms of employment creation, boosting other sectors of economy and their value chains for example farming (cotton industry in the whole land and sugarcane production from Vumba to Nenyunka along Sengwa River). The soil is also good for brick molding currently done informally.

Currently the operations are muted. Even the heavy trucks (magonyeti) that used to tour the road transporting coal and providing fast, cheap and reliable transport ceased to operate. The road is now disused and full of thorns all over. It’s all disaster and a shame to the inhabitants.

Even the social aspect of providing employment and recreation in terms of sports is now history. The Sengwa mine was known for recruiting school leavers for both white color and manual. Ability to play soccer was a certificate for one to get a job at the mine. Now it’s all the thing of the past.

Thanks to the two deserted Sengwa mine pits, they are now a source of water for the animals and livestock for the drought stricken land.

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