WATCH: Zulu Lithium targets paprika irrigation project for locals, export Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring Implementation of Government Programmes Dr Joram Gumbo (second from right) speaks to Zulu Lithium officials during a tour of their plant in Fort Rixon, Insiza District yesterday

Nqobile Tshili, [email protected]

PREMIER African Minerals has so far injected a whopping US$80 million towards setting up the massive Zulu Lithium mining project in Fort Rixon, Insiza District, Matabeleland South, which has also created more than 600 jobs for the local community.

Zulu Lithium has since started trial run productions at its plant.

While financial investment is key to the success of the project, the company has also taken a community development centred approach in implementing the project.

At least 250 locals have been permanently employed at the plant which is 95 percent complete.

The company officials yesterday led Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring Implementation of Government Programmes Dr Joram Gumbo on a tour of the plant during which they highlighted the transformation of the project in the last eight months. 

The company started bringing its machinery in December, which is now running with downstream benefits already being realised at community level. 

The area’s traditional leader, Chief Jahana requested Dr Gumbo to invite President Mnangagwa to come and commission the plant upon completion.

Minister Gumbo was shown spodumene, a final product that is produced after the processing of the lithium stone which is said to be Grade 4 quality. The company is targeting a Grade 6 quality of the product. 

Zulu Lithium general manager Mr Jabulani Chirasha said the company expects to make up to US$30 million a month when the project is fully operational. 

“We have probably spent US$80 million as we speak on this project. We started in 2014 with a limited exploration and in 2017 we did a scoping study and managed to see that there is substantial amounts of lithium,” he said.

“We are saying at the current price of production, we  will make a monthly turnover of between US$20 million and US$30 million. We are making zero profits at the moment because we have not even fully commissioned the plant as it is 95 percent complete.”

Mr Chirasha said at the initial stages of construction the company employed 600 people who were part time workers.

He commended Government for acceding to their request for more land during their exploration period.

“So, we applied for extra land which is called Exclusive Prospecting Orders (EPO) from Government and in 2021 we got an extra 20 000 hectares extra land for exploration. We started exploration and spent  US$5 million to do further exploration to validate the value of lithium ore on the ground,” said Chirasha. 

“During that time we decided that we have seen enough ore in the ground and we started looking for possible financing of building a process plant. That is how our mining and lithium beneficiation journey started eight months ago.”

Mr Chirasha said the company, which is also building a dam, is targeting to run a paprika irrigation project for export with locals expected to benefit. 

Local  investor and businessman Mr James Goddard said the work that has taken place at the plant is remarkable considering that about a year ago the area was virgin land.

“This is a very important project considering that all this development occurred within a year. This plant as it stands costs US$40 million and the development of the dam, accommodation, offices, road construction among other things is above US$70 million” he said.

“At least 250 people have been permanently employed. We started this project on December 18 and we worked right through Christmas so that we see what is happening today.”

Mr Goddard said he is confident that the Zulu Lithium will transform Fort Rixon communities who relied on subsistence farming for survival. 

He said the lithium mining project has also helped rehabilitate the road linking Pioneer village and Bulawayo-Harare Highway, which was in a poor state.

Mr Goddard said there is also a likelihood of the road being tarred, a development that will benefit the community and spur economic activity.

“We are also constructing a dam with a capacity of 1,8 million cubic meters, but the water that is going to be used here is 0,5 million cubic metres. So, there is a balance of 1,3 million cubic meters of water that they have promised to the community,” he said.

“Looking at the southern direction of this place, there is fertile land and there is a huge potential to create a centre pivot run irrigation project. We are not just talking about the development through employment, but through irrigation farming irrigation.” 

Dr Gumbo said the project speaks to President Mnangagwa’s vision of transforming the country into an upper middle income economy by 2030.

He said Government will continue to create a supportive environment for a private sector-led nation’s development agenda.

“This answers the vision of His Excellency, that by the end of 2023, the mining sector would have contributed about US$12 billion to the growth of our country. I’m happy with what I have seen. The progress that is taking place here is no doubt very good for the development of our country,” said Dr Gumbo.

“Also looking at His Excellency’s vision of getting our people out of poverty to an upper middle income society by year 2030, this is one of the milestones that we are proud of.”

Dr Gumbo commended the company for not just exploiting the country’s natural resources and leaving a poverty stricken community.

He said it is important for the private sector to be involved in corporate social responsibility just like what Zulu Lithium has done.

“I’m really glad to say that there is a construction of a big dam that will be used by the locals for irrigation farming because the soils around this area are fertile. The community around this area will benefit through growing crops like paprika, a crop that is good for export,” said Dr Gumbo.

“That answers to the improvement of our people with locals being employed and that is a way of empowering the communities. So, it is not just the company benefitting, but the locals are also benefiting through the improvement of their lives because of this investment.” – @nqotshili


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