Nqobile Bhebhe, Senior Business Reporter
WHILE the world of the ultra-rich may be brimming with private jets, rarely do billionaires find time to fly just to check on their massive global investments dotted around several parts of the planet.
Most wealthy business magnates usually assign their executive teams to physically go on-site, while they prefer monitoring their massive investments from the comfort of air-conditioned board rooms or luxurious top-end hotel business suites.
For some, like Chinese billionaire, Pei Zhenhua (64), whose net worth is US$10,3 billion, the script reads differently.
On a hot and humid Thursday afternoon, Saturday Chronicle caught up with Pei during his visit deep in Fort Rixon to assess progress at the site of the lithium project.
Clad in a white shirt, a pair of black trousers, and sports shoes, Pei humbly stood in a queue as he patiently waited for his turn to be served lunch.
One of the people serving lunch was overheard saying, “From our menu, I wonder whether the chairman will be able to eat what is on the offer.”
Rice, samp, fried chicken and beef and a variety of vegetables were being served. When his turn arrived, Pei took his plate and joined the rest of the workers and visitors eating the food much to the relief of the waitress who served him.
Pei is the chairman of Suzhou TA&A Ultra Clean Technology Company, a Shanghai Stock Exchange-listed firm, which provides antistatic cleaning technology. The majority of Pei’s fortune is derived from his stake in Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Limited (CATL), a battery products manufacturer.
CATL is the largest supplier of electric vehicle batteries in the world, according to its website.
The China-based company had a revenue of US$20,2 billion in 2021
Pei owns a 5,8 percent stake in CATL through his majority stake in Ningbo Lianhe, according to the company’s 2022 third-quarter report. He also owns a 79,9 percent stake in the holding company Ningbo Lianhe. Add to that another 35 percent stake in Suzhou TA&A Ultra Clean with his wife, according to the company’s 2022 third-quarter report.
According to the American global business magazine, Forbes, the mogul is ranked among China’s richest people.
On Thursday, Pei flew into the country on his private jet, to assess progress on a high-impact Zulu Lithium project, in Fort Rixon, Insiza District in Matabeleland South. The project is generally regarded as potentially the largest undeveloped lithium-bearing pegmatite in Zimbabwe, covering a surface of about 3,5 square kilometres which is prospectively for lithium and tantalum mineralisation.
Last year, PAM secured US$35 million in pre-funding from Suzhou TA&A Ultra Clean Technology Company to enable the construction and commissioning of a large-scale pilot plant. The project is developing at a rapid pace.
Pei, who was visiting the country for the first time, was all smiles as he narrated how warm and hospitable Zimbabweans are.
“I arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday and it’s my first time here. I am very impressed by the infrastructure I have seen, and most importantly, I was warmly welcomed at the airport and everywhere I go, the people are so friendly,” he said.
“I have also observed that the local Zulu Lithium team is very hardworking and I am quite impressed. Zimbabwe is a safe investment destination and I am confident that this lithium project will be a success.”
Pei is even considering expanding his investment in the country by exploring other opportunities. The Second Republic has created a conducive environment for the attraction of both local and foreign investments.
“If you want to deliver a successful product you must first become a good corporate citizen and contribute, not only to the product but to the local community. Our team here has conquered many challenges and I believe the standards set are very high,” said Pei.
An engineer by profession, Pei recently ventured into an energy-related sector and focuses on battery manufacturing. He worked for the Jiangsu Textile Research Institute before he founded Suzhou TA&A in 1997.
Pei has other investments worth US$30 million in Mutoko in Mashonaland East Province. Globally, industry investment in battery production and its value chain is increasing. This, in turn, is driving demand for underlying battery raw materials, including lithium, whose demand has overtaken that of non-lithium batteries. Chinese investors have shown tremendous interest in the country’s lithium.
Zimbabwe is recognised as one of the most prospective countries in Africa for pegmatite-hosted lithium.
Lithium is increasingly becoming a key mineral worldwide with its demand surging for use in the ceramics industry, mobile phone manufacturing, and the making of automotive batteries.