Nqobile Bhebhe, Senior Business Reporter
A TOP foreign investor has said Zimbabwe’s investment environment is conducive for business growth and urged global corporations intending to diversify their operations to tap into the country’s business sectors for maximum benefit.
The Second Republic has created a conducive environment for the attraction of both local and foreign investments. Multi-commodity mining and natural resource development company, Premier African Minerals’ chief executive officer, Mr George Roach said his company has been energised by the conducive prevailing investment climate in the country.
The multi-commodity firm is developing a high-impact project in Fort Rixon, in Insiza District of Matabeleland South.
The Zulu Lithium project being rolled out in Fort Rixon is generally regarded as potentially the largest undeveloped lithium bearing pegmatite in Zimbabwe, covering a surface of about 3,5 square kilometres which are prospectively for lithium and tantalum mineralisation.
Premier Africa Minerals high impact lithium project site in Fort Rixon Matabeleland South Province yesterday
It produces a rare high value spodumene, a rock that has very high mineralisation of lithium.
Spodumene is a battery grade product that is key for the future of electric cars.Due to the emerging electric motor vehicle industry, there is increased international demand for the lithium mineral known as “white oil” which is used for manufacturing batteries.
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.
Speaking to the Chronicle at the plant site yesterday, Mr Roach, who was in the company of a Chinese billionaire investor in the project, Zhenhua Pei, Chairman of the Board commended the Government under the Second Republic for creating an enabling environment for investment.
Last year, PAM secured US$35 million pre-funding from Suzhou to enable the construction and commissioning of a large-scale pilot plant at the project.
“We would not have invested in Zimbabwe if we had doubts. Our requirement from the Government is similar to our expectations in terms of what we want to give to the country,” said Mr Roach.
“We are asking for a proper, honest, good citizen’s relationship as we go forward. We want to develop this country and we have already set up a project that is a flagship and a demonstration of what you can do in Zimbabwe.”
Mr Roach said with a stable investment climate, other potential investors would be encouraged to seek business opportunities.
“All we expect in return is a consistent environment in which we can confidently bring and encourage investment into the sector and country. What this project is doing demonstrates that you can bring mines such as this one and investment into production very rapidly, and in relatively constrained and contained budgets,” he said
“The second issue that we are completely committed to in this environment is to make sure that we are benefiting the country, the fiscus and the people.”
Mr Roach said he is satisfied with the pace at which the project is progressing.
“I am delighted that we got to this stage and I am particularly pleased with the rate at which we are assembling equipment. What we are doing is something novel in the mining space,” he said.
“The speed at which we are putting this project together speaks to the confidence of the people, our partners, and the country. We have come together and are working smoothly in an environment that allows us to do what we are doing.”
At the site, workers were busy assembling equipment at various construction sites at the vast plant.
“I believe we are on target to start production within the set targets of the first quarter of the year. We are doing everything possible to accelerate setting up the plant. The mining firm is keen on processing lithium bearing minerals in this country,” said Mr Roach.
“This has to be a target and I am sure that the Government and investors are all going to work with us to achieve this.”
Mr Roach said all workers are Zimbabweans and they have even roped in a skilled diaspora workforce.
The high-impact project is expected to create more than 450 jobs when fully operational.
“Our entire workforce is Zimbabweans. There is no single person working for Zulu lithium here in Zimbabwe who is an expatriate,” said Mr Roach.
“In the construction stage, we have actually brought in Zimbabwean artisans who are working in South Africa to come and help us in civil construction. We cannot be more committed to Zimbabwe than utilising skills that are developing other countries.”
Last year, the mining firm engaged a consultancy company – Bumira Environmental Consultants to gather views from various stakeholders to be affected by the high-impact project.
The company has a diverse portfolio of projects, which include tungsten, rare earth elements, lithium and tantalum in Zimbabwe, encompassing brownfield projects with near-term production potential to grass-roots exploration.