Spiked Online Media had an interview with Mr. Blessing Togarepi, the Founder and Director of Togabless Mining Consultancy – a company that is empowering people from all walks of life to venture into mining. Below, we share snippets from the interview:
- Background details, family, education.
Blessing Togarepi is a Christian and visionary man, born in a family of two, with my elder Sister. I went to Cranborne Boys High School from form 1 up to form 6 and thereafter I pursued my tertiary education by studying ACCA.
- Describe your journey up to now. How you got into mining (state awards you won so far)
I was the Chairman of Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) in Mashonaland Central Province, (March 2016 to August 2019) and also, I was the National Secretary for the Zimbabwe Artisanal & Small Scale for Sustainability Mining Council (ZASMC) (January 2017-December 2019). During my time and term as the Chairman, I managed to bring sanity to the Mining Industry within the whole Province. I remember vividly in 2018 when all ASM in areas like Kitsiyatota in Bindura, and Mukaradzi in Mt Darwin were evicted by the Government through the Joint Operations Command (JOC).
Hundreds of small-scale miners were left stranded after police destroyed their makeshift shelters, accusing them of causing and spreading Cholera in these gold-rich areas and close by villages.
I visited the Mukaradzi mining area, and I met the JOC members manning the area, guarding against the return of the small-scale miners and I managed to engage the Member of Parliament (MP) for Mt Darwin South, Honourable Stephen Kabozo, through a phone call and we had a long discussion on the way forward since the livelihoods of my constituency had been affected. Mr Kabozo promised that he was taking my plight to the Provincial Minister and engage the relevant stakeholders and the superiors to come up with a solution to avert the raised problems by the JOC.
Fortunately, that engagement that I did and the visit I had bore fruits. ASM players were allowed to come back and register their names under the claim owner. Since then the ASM players have never been disrupted in their operations.
Following the failure by ZMF to deliver and adhere to its mandate, I left ZMF and joined hands with other like-minded members and we formed ASSA where currently, I am the Chairman. Since its formation, ASSA has achieved a number of battles we fought as an organisation that represents the interest of the majority of Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners.
- ASSA contested the issuance of EPOs in a blanket approach whereby the whole province or the eight provinces out of ten in the country will be under EPOs, ignoring the presence of the local small-scale explorers.
- ASSA also appealed to all the relevant stakeholders to raise their voices against the new Mining Bill, through writing to the Clerk of Parliament and the parent Ministry, the Ministry of Mines and Mining Industry.
- We are very hopeful, that ASSA will go a long way in serving the interests of its principals, the Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners (ASM).
Recently TogaBless company won a multimillion-dollar tender to refurbish mining projects in Ethiopia, which is a great achievement, a dream come true for me to win such a big tender in a foreign land where there are big companies, with better profiles than ours. As TogaBless, we shall keep on shining and deliver the services beyond the expectations of our clients so that we would win more hearts locally and abroad.
- How did you feel about championing the cause for indigenous Zimbabweans to get into mining?
It is always great to be amongst the pioneers of every initiative but the credit goes to the Almighty God, who gave the courage and strength to keep on doing this work. Secondly, I acknowledge the support I got from mentors from church and lastly the TogaBless team which is dedicated, focused and hard-working.
From my experience, I realised that there is no typical and standard template to follow for you to be successful but what am sure of is, hardworking, determination and be willing to accept and evaluate all sorts of criticism from different people because it will mould and shape you into a better someone. Our living God does not help stupid people, but he helps those who put effort and keep on focused.
This Mining industry has elevated the livelihoods of most citizens in Mining towns and rural areas, through artisanal mining, small-scale mining, and inter-linkages of industries (buying and selling mining consumables and inputs) and all this benefited the whole country through the trickle-down effect. The mining industry is the biggest foreign currency earner in Zimbabwe, followed by tobacco exports. The precious yellow metal, Gold raked in US$1.3 billion in 2019 and generally, all the minerals earned more than US$3.5 billion in 2019.
In a nutshell, I am contributing a lot to the growth of this country and as well as in reducing poverty in communities by advocating them to venture into mining.
- What has been the impact of all these things you are doing on your life?
So far TogaBless has assisted more than 300 women to prospect, explore the area using Induced polarization (IP), and peg 56 Gold mines in the following areas; Shamva, Mutawatawa, Marondera, Chegutu, Kadoma, Inyati, Filabusi and Intabaziduna.
Currently, the people that we helped are currently doing their operations; we also trained them the safe and environmentally friendly mining methods.
All this is inspiring me to do more so that our country Zimbabwe and its citizens will benefit from its more than 60 endowed minerals and become one of the richest in the region and in the continent.
- What advice would you give other enterprising people out there who are not moved by the proposed bill etc?
I feel the new Bill centralises power around the Ministry of Mines officials in making decisions in the Mining Affairs Board (MAB). The bill isolates other critical stakeholders like EMA, RDCs, CSOs and traditional leadership. This is in violation of section 13(4) of the 2013 constitution which obliges the state to ensure that local communities benefit from resources in their areas.
Under the Traditional Leaders Act (Chapter 29.17), Traditional leaders have jurisdiction over communal land in terms of Environmental-Economic Social and Cultural Rights (EESCRs) for the benefits of their communities. The RDCs are agents of development for rural communities through revenue collection for service delivery. The EMA is the regulatory agency in environmental health and protection. Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need representation on the Mining Board in view of the paramount role they play in providing checks and balances to operations of government. These human rights defenders have played a critical role in exposing rights abuses, opaque mining deals and other forms of resource plunder. The MMAB cannot adequately address issues of transparency and accountability in the mining sector if these critical players are not involved in decision making in the MAB.
I, therefore, urge other stakeholders out there to analyse and evaluate the contents of the new bill first so that we would be on the same page when we argue about its flaws. It is dangerous for the majority to hide their heads in sand now waiting for only a few to share their views to the authorities before it is gazetted into an Act then they would cry when it will be late to amend or reverse it.
Advice to women who are thinking about going into mining.
Gone are the days when Women remain seated in their shells and comfort zones, leaving men actively participating in all facets of the economy without any competition. I would like to urge them, to participate like men doing a good job, because it is the duty of everyone to contribute to the development of our nation to attain the 2030 National Vision. I think the advent of social media, (Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube) is facilitating and encouraging Women to partake in a number of economic activities.
- What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
It is worth mentioning that the challenges I face are the ones that affect the generality of the mining community and these challenges are stifling the growth of the mining sector, which is the elephant in the room. The following are the most topical;
- The introduction of the Exchange control requirement by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in its 2019 Monetary Policy Statement, which compels the miners to liquidate their foreign currency if not utilized after 30 days period. The 30 days period is too short given the logistical challenges caused by this novel Covid-19, some orders are taking the time up to 90 days for the consignment to be delivered and you are obliged to pay on delivery. However, miners are now forced to pay for the consignment ahead of delivery because they risk having the funds converted into local currency.
- Foreign currency shortage limits and reduces production capacity.
- Corruption amongst Government Officials at the Ministry of Mines, solicit payments from clients so that their issues or grievances can be processed expeditiously.
- Chinese companies have an attitude of being untouchable and could operate above the law. As a result, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the local authorities and the community are powerless to enforce or demand compliance with environmental and mining regulations.
- Who is your biggest source of inspiration?
Teachings and sermons by Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa, Facebook articles by Dr Strive Masiyiwa.
- Who is your mentor?
I have a number of Mentors which are Prophet E. Makandiwa, Apostle B. Java, Honourable Mliswa and a number of my friends who are also in this Mining industry.
- Is there anything else that you would like to share?
The majority of the people here in Zimbabwe do not have the information on how to venture into Mining Industry, so this deficiency has caused our country to lag-behind because our endowed minerals have not been explored and exploited at full capacity to improve the welfare of the citizens and the country at large.
Our main thrust as TogaBless is to advocate for information dissemination and capacity building, thus, educating all those eager to venture into this industry and also, we will assist the potential investors with knowledge and advisory services whenever and wherever necessary so that the attainment of the US$12 billion mining industry and improvement of the livelihood of the citizenry would be achieved.
TogaBless aspire to be the future engine and catalyst for growth, development and empowerment of small-scale miners. We as, TogaBless it is our hope that we will thrive in promoting and ensuring rational development and utilization in a safe and sustainable environment of a mineral resource for the socio-economic enhancement of the people of Zimbabwe.
Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen” Hence for you colleagues to succeed in your endeavours you need to dedicate your precious time and all the resources, am now challenging you guys to consider venturing into the mining industry and join TogaBless so that our future as youths will be better-off through dedication, hard work and unremitting devotion.