Washington — The United States is "dangerously reliant" on southern African sources for critical minerals, warns Rep. Jim Santini (D) of Nevada. "The US imports 93 percent of our manganese, 76 percent of our cobalt, and 48 percent of our chromium," the chairman of the House Interior Mines and Mining Subcommittee declared following a trip to Zaire, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
"Without chromium or cobalt, we cannot build an automobile, a computer, a cutting tool, or other high technology equipment," observed Congressman Santini. "We could not run a train or process food under present laws, and we could not build an oil refinery or power station," he went on.
Claiming that the mining and minerals industry of South Africa has reached a sophisticated state of development, he cautioned that the stability of its mineral resources is imperiles "by the grave internal prospect of major racial confrontations."
Though asserting that apartheid "is abhorrent to Americans," he sais US policy toward South Africa has been "a self-defeating disaster." In his view it requires "careful reappraisal and redirection."
Zaire, he said, has mineral wealth that would be the envy of nay developed country; but the country is on the brink of economic collapse. Mining there, he reported, is seriously burdened by government mismanagement and capital deficiencies. Stressing that Zaire provides 55 percent of US cobalt needs yearly, he declared: "There's a real possibility that development of Zairean mineral resources could be brought to a halt by internal deterioration or external invasion."
The mineral industry in Zimbabwe, to the south of Zaire, Mr. Santini said, is the principal economic base. He stressed the need for political stability there if mining experts are to remain in the country or, indeed, go there.
"No informed prognosis can be given now," he says, "but [Prime Minister Robert] Mugabe's actions give some reason for optimism." The Nevada congressman says that there should be a complete reappraisal of US policy toward southern Africa to ensure that the US is not someday denied the minerals it relies on for its industrial survival.
Santini asserts that the US has no national plan or policy "regarding the minerals essential to our nation's survival," and he adds: "I believe we are inviting a possible calamity.