Blessing Togarepi (BT) has been on the forefront of fighting for artisanal and small scale miners’ rights. Recently he made noise about some clauses in the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill that he deemed were meant to elbow artisanal and small scale miners out of the game. ZiMining’s Amanda Mavhaza (AM) caught up with Togarepi for a one on one interview. Read on . . .
AM: Tell us who is Blessing Togarepi
BT: Blessing Togarepi is a Christian and visionary man who wants every Zimbabwean to prosper through exploration and mining of the 60 plus minerals we have in Zimbabwe. I am the Managing Director of TogaBless Mining Investments.
AM: As a successful young entrepreneur how had been the going so far in pursuing some challenges in your mining business investment?
BT: For you to move forward the ground must be firm, that is friction (challenges)is the key enabler of motion.
As always known that any meaningful and fruitful journey has a lot of challenges, as a determined entrepreneur I mend and bend the problems as I move forward, so that they will no longer be my problems but my strengths. I won’t stop moving because of problems; however, these problems are the ones which give me power and zeal to keep on focusing onto my destiny. In vernacular language we say, “Kuhukura kwembwa hakutadzise nzou kupfuura”. It should be known that the prevalence of a problem is the emerging of an opportunity, so I wouldn’t yell or feel to be challenged whenever a problem comes in my way because I know that God has presented an opportunity for me.
AM:. What is your secret for success?
BT: I personally I believe in self-determination, Resilience, hard work and having good relationship with everyone. 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”
For one to succeed, procrastination should be avoided at all cost because is the major killer of time and dreams. Whenever, you think to execute something do it therein there, because if wait to consult or to have a second you will end up with nothing tangible.
AM: You have been at the forefront of assisting women get mining claims for free, why women only?
BT: Yes, am biased towards women for a number of reasons:
- All along women were left behind in areas of production and decision making in our societies, so I want to empower our mothers so that I bridge that gap.
- Women are committed and they are eager to try unlike men. Men are always doubtful and they can get easily distracted when they earn an extra dollar.
- By numbers, using the 2012 national statistics women are more than men, I thought that it would be ideal to assist them so that they would assist each other and by so doing the poverty in our country could be easily tackled.
AM: Tell us about your journey with Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF)
BT: I was the Chairman of Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) in Mashonaland Central Province. During my time and term as the Chairman I managed to bring sanity in 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 MP for Mt Darwin South, Honourable Clemence 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 bear fruits, ASM were allowed to come back and register their names under the claim owner. Since, then the ASM have never been disrupted their operations.
AM: Do you regret leaving ZMF?
BT: Not, of course. ZMF is losing its ground and focus because is now representing for the interest of the few forgetting the loud and clear plight of the majority Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners which are being deprived the opportunity to be heard their concerns, grievances and aspirations.
I lobby for the interest of majority so that they will benefit from the little that we have, because I know this will assist in achieving the national goal of becoming an upper middle-income economy.
AM: From ZMF, you were elected National Chairman of the Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association (ASSA), how is ASSA performing?
BT: Following the failure by ZMF to deliver and adhere to its mandate, I left ZMF and jointed hands with other like-minded members and we formed ASSA. Since its formation ASSA has achieved a number of battles we fought as an organisation which represents the interest of the majority 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 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).
AM: You have been a lone voice in making noise over the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. What gives you such power to fight against the proposed amendments?
BT: I feel the new Bill centralise 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.
AM: You also made a lot of noise about the EPOs, some people now say you are against the Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando. What is your response?
BT: Yes, I have made it clear and I put it on record that I am against the issuance of EPOs in a blanket approach. However, I am not against the Honourable Minister, people should know that, if people differ in opinion does not necessarily, they are against each other. That’s a big NO. Constructive criticism is health for the development of our country.
AM: In one of your audio voice note circulating on social media, you claimed that you’re also related to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Is it true?
BT: I am related to H.E like any other Zimbabwean, he is my president and we share the same nationality that’s how am related to him. I think people have doctored and purport that the audio you are referring to that it’s from me. Let me put it on record that, I am not one of the people who walk around masquerading to be closely related to the first family and extorting people their hard-earned incomes.
AM: Your company, TogaBless Mining Investments, is doing well, we have heard so many success stories. At that age how do you manage to do it?
BT: Firstly, I would like to give credit 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 one and standard template to be successful but what am sure of, is hard working, determination because God does not help stupid people, he helps those who put effort and kept on focused.
AM: Recently your company won a multimillion dollar tender to refurbish mining projects in Ethiopia, what does this mean for TogaBless?
BT: This mean a lot me and to our brand TogaBless. It is a great achievement, a dream come true for small, emerging company to won a such a big tender in a foreign land where they are big companies, locally and abroad 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.
AM: You have set an ambitious target of 50 000 clients by year end. We are almost there now, have you reached that milestone target?
BT: AS TogaBless will believe in setting realistic targets and we strive to achieve every target we set. TogaBless always aim high, we aim to reach the moon, however, if we miss the moon, we reach the stars.
As we are approaching the festive season, we are hoping to have clients from Diaspora who were enquiring about our services on social media. I am still hopeful that the 50 000 mark is attainable since so far, I have managed to register around 35 000 members through out reaches in different churches, social media and referrals.
The response I am getting from locally and abroad, from politicians, business people, church leaders and the general populace is so overwhelming. I value the support they are giving to TogaBless and I shall reciprocate their love and support by offering greater services.
However, the occurrence of the novel disease, Covid-19, is a major stumbling block that has affected the smooth flow of plans, but I hopeful I will get there, nothing is impossible as a long you are alive.
AM: In your own view, do you think government will meet the targeted US$12bn mining revenue by 2023?
BT: Yes, am very confident the target can be met. As I said previously, that nothing is impossible as long as you are alive. The key to success is determination, hard work, resilience and cooperation, so if all these are well taken on board, the goal could be achieved easily.
However, certain measures and policies need to be adopted by the authorities and these are:
- The proposed Mines and Minerals Bill should be grounded on transparency and accountability along the mineral value chain and should reflect the tenets of the African Mining Vision of having a “Transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development.”
- Formalise and decriminalise the Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners to optimize on their contribution to the economy. The formalisation of the sector should be coupled with incentives for the players to access mining claims and licenses at reasonable fees.
- Take measures that promote the attainment of gender equality, equity, and women empowerment within the pursuit of a just mining sector.
- Fulfil its commitment to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and implement its standards. Implementation of the EITI Standards establishes a systematic process for making data in the mining sector transparent and accessible. By joining EITI the government will be committing itself to assuring full disclosure of information along the mineral value chain- from how extraction rights are awarded to government revenues and how the public benefit from the sector.
- Adopt a legal framework of fiscal terms that provide sufficient accountability to citizens, stability for investors and flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. This will enable the government to review mining contracts in the event of policy changes.
- Desist from giving harmful tax incentives and abolish the indefinite carrying over of losses in the mining sector.
- Incorporate into the mining contracts provisions that impose obligations on the mining companies to respect human rights and the highest standards of environmental, social and health protection consistent with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Human Rights. This will create the basis for mining communities to report wrongdoing and assure them of prosecution of companies that violet human rights.
AM: Where do you see TogaBless in five years’ time?
BT: 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 mineral resource for the socio-economic enhancement of the people of Zimbabwe.
We would like to expand our base to every corner of Zimbabwe and reach out to all potential citizens, Youths and Women, who are eager to venture into Mining industry and serve them to the best of our abilities. We will be the beacon for small-scale miners in Zimbabwe pushing the agenda of empowering the citizens to actively participate and contribute to the growth of our country, thus attainment of the US$12 billion mining industry and improvement of the livelihood of the citizens.