The history of tourmaline in Mozambique is intertwined with the fortune of a man by the name of Moussa Konate. Originally from Guinea in Northwest Africa, Moussa Konate was a gemstone trader who had tried many of the African markets with limited success. That story changed when in 1987, he switched from buying rough stones in Madagascar and focused his efforts on the other side of the Mozambique Channel.
Moussa was trading in aquamarine rough, which was mined in the province of Zambezia in Central Mozambique, when he decided to take a risk and buy up some of the mixed tourmaline that was being traded locally. He was surprised to find that a small percentage of the stone glowed in a way which would indicate that it was copper bearing tourmaline, similar to Brazilian Paraiba.
The origin of the tourmaline rough was an alluvial deposit in the Shalawa area of Nampula Province where tourmaline was originally discovered in around 2001 by local farmers. When in 2003 Moussa took seven kilos to the US and quickly and easily sold the lot, he began to further investigate the nature of the tourmaline from the region.
The mining operations at the time were limited to 300 local people digging tourmaline out of crude 2 meter-deep pits on about one acre of land. Realizing the huge potential of the stone, Moussa struck his own claim on an adjacent 300 hectares, and applied for the first mining and exploration license in the area. With some others, Moussa created Mozambique Gems and throughout 2004 and 2005 began production of tourmaline, a small percentage of which contained Paraiba colors.
As these tourmaline gems trickled into the market place, the news quickly spread until Moussa's tourmaline find had created a boom town. Within months the number of miners increased from a few hundred to over 3,000, and five new claims of over 1,000 hectares sprang up on all sides of the original plot. But the early bird, in this case, got the worm - of the several hundred kilos of tourmaline rough that was first mined from this area, only approximately ten percent has the neon glow of Paraiba and indeed ninety percent of the production was from within the original 300 hectares.
Unfortunately, the infrastructure of the area was unable to cope with the huge influx of laborers, and in 2006 disease became rampant in the mining camps. This led Moussa and his group at Mozambique Gems to suspend operations in order to try to take a more measured approach to avoid future epidemics. Instead, they began to develop the local area and community by building medical facilities and extending an electricity supply to neighboring areas, including schools.
They also built a washing plant to mechanically extract the tourmaline from the ground before recommencing operations, which offers safe employment conditions for local miners and hopefully more Paraiba tourmaline for the world market.
- First Published: May-23-2008
- Last Updated: August-23-2017
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