Lithium destined for China lies in harbour

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Lithium destined for China lies in harbour

Large stockpiles of lithium ore are amassing at the Port of Walvis Bay, ready to be exported by a vessel that is scheduled to dock in the country next week.  This is as police assistance has allegedly been called in to stop all trucks belonging to Chinese lithium miner, Xinfeng Investments, from transporting any mineral ore to Walvis Bay for export. 

The police assistance was requested by mining commissioner Isabella Chirchir, in a letter, dated 19 October 2023, after reports that Xinfeng allegedly illegally commenced exporting lithium.  

A New Era journalist saw the large stockpile yesterday afternoon at Namport that, according to sources, has been ferried with haul trucks from the Omaruru area since last week. 

The estimated 19 000 tonnes of lithium are ready to be shipped out of the country without any local value being added, thereby contributing nothing to local employment creation, industrialisation or skills development. 

This exportation of Namibian resources is taking place, despite a Cabinet moratorium prohibiting the exportation of Namibia’s critical and strategic minerals in raw form. 

Also, yesterday, President Hage Geingob told participants at a business forum in Belgium that Namibia will no longer export unprocessed mineral products.

“Securing access to these critical resources is not just an economic endeavour, but also a strategic security imperative for the world’s aspirations in delivering on green and clean energy objectives. As we embark on this journey, we recognise the importance of securing a sustainable supply of critical raw materials, such as lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements,” said Geingob.


Vessel en route

Meanwhile, a source at the harbour town told New Era “The vessel to export the lithium ore is already on the way, and it is expected to dock at the port on 4 November”. 

Asked to comment yesterday, Namport referred New Era to one Johhny Ferreira, whose company, BigenKuumba Port Services, is said to be responsible for transporting the lithium ore to the vessel.

 BigenKuumba Port Services Terminal stores and handles industrial minerals, bases and rare metals. 

Ferreira admitted he is not aware of the latest directive issued by the mining commissioner and could not recount exactly how many trucks were offloaded at his terminal.


“The owner must decide what is the next step, as I am only responsible for transporting it to the vessel,” he said.


Testing purposes

Earlier this month, attorney general (AG) Festus Mbandeka advised mining commissioner Chirchir to grant Xinfeng permission to export at least 55 000 tonnes of lithium ore for “testing purposes”. 


Mbandeka made this recommendation after viewing the court judgement between the mines ministry and Xinfeng.


“During our consultations… we were informed that the company (Xinfeng) is prepared to provide a new technical report and a new work plan in full compliance with the applicable provisions of the Act”, Mbandeka explained in a letter seen by New Era. 


He also advised the ministry to consider a provisional withdrawal of a counter application against Xinfeng for six months while the new technical report and new work plan are being prepared and submitted. 


“Should the company fail to prepare and submit such report and work plan within six months, the counterapplication may be placed back on the High Court roll for adjudication. In light of the above, I wish to therefore propose a face-to-face meeting in the near future between our two offices, together with our key technical officials to discuss this matter further and explore various options available,” the AG’s letter reads.  


Raw exports

Xinfeng’s continued lithium exportation is in violation of a Cabinet directive, issued in June this year, that prohibits the exportation of Namibia’s critical minerals in raw form. 


In addition, Chirchir pointed out that while Xinfeng does hold a licence to mine in Namibia, it does not possess an export permit. 


“Therefore, they are not allowed to remove any material from their mine to anywhere within Namibia or outside. They got permission from the High Court to continue mining after the Minister of Mines and Energy cancelled their mining licence 243 in April 2023 but no permission was granted for the company to export,” Chirchir stated. 


The mining commissioner added that Xinfeng is in violation of the Namibian law, which stipulates the company must obtain written approval to move any material within the country.  


“Xinfeng’s only permits should be in the name of Long Fire Investment CC, and the material or crushed lithium ore should come from Mining Claims number 73409 to 73418, which is located west of Uis and south of Brandberg – and not from the mining licence 243 on the Kohero Farm,” read Chirchir’s letter addressed to the Omaruru Police. 

She added that all trucks bringing ore to Walvis Bay “should be stopped and returned to the mine”. 


Earlier this year, Xinfeng Investments was granted temporary relief by the Windhoek High Court after the mines and energy minister, Tom Alweendo, revoked the company’s lithium mining licence. 


However, the court ruled that the minister lacked the authority to withdraw the mining licence. 


Although Xinfeng’s legal challenge proved successful, the company has not been authorised to export lithium after the Cabinet directive. 


Moreover, earlier this year, New Era reported that Namibian workers employed by Long Fire Investments and Xinfeng Investments were subjected to inhumane living conditions at the mine site while their Chinese colleagues live comfortably. 


This revelation came to the fore after a mine visit by the parliamentary standing committee on natural resources. 


The committee expressed concern over the living conditions of approximately 130 Namibian workers employed by the company. 


After the visit, the Chinese mining company’s licence was abruptly cancelled, causing the company to seek the court’s intervention.


 Apart from the living conditions, concerns were also raised about the lack of skills transfer at the mine.