New lithium project will lift economy
AM now Mr Groundbreaking,” President Mnangagwa joked on July 25 this year while addressing thousands of people gathered to witness the commissioning of the African Chrome Fields’ aluminothermic chrome processing plant owned by the Moti Group near Kwekwe.
“But you realise that each incident where we are commissioning or doing groundbreaking, that is creation of employment, that is putting food on the tables of our families. This is the new Zimbabwe we want. We shall continue to grow and grow.”
Since he assumed office in November last year, President Mnangagwa has commissioned dozens of multi-billion dollar projects that have created tens of thousands of jobs. Many of the projects have actually taken off the ground, while others are still in their earlier stages.
He has commissioned the Hwange 7 and 8 thermal projects, the re-opening of ShabanieMashaba Mine with a joint capacity of directly employing 9 000 people, and recently he also re-opened Eureka Gold Mine in Guruve.
In July he officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony of the $153 million expansion of Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport and officially launched the $4,2 billion Karo Resources consolidated platinum project in Mhondoro-Mubaira, a massive project that is set to employ a combined 90 000 people directly and indirectly at its peak in a few years’ time.
Some three weeks ago, another Australian mining firm, Invictus Energy announced that it will scale up work that should result in it investing $20 million drilling for natural gas in Muzarabani, Mashonaland Central.
Mr Groundbreaking was back to his ways on Wednesday, breaking the ground for the development of Arcadia Lithium Mine in Goromonzi, Mashonaland East. Prospect Resources, an Australian company, will pour $165 million in the first phase of mine development. This will create 700 jobs and will see infrastructure like roads, houses and schools being built.
Phase one of the Arcadia lithium project, is expected to earn Zimbabwe $3 billion over a 12-year life of mine and go into full production in the next 12 to 14 months.
Zimbabwe has a long history of lithium mining. Bikita Minerals, the country’s sole lithium mine, has been operating for six decades. It is not a large operation really, perhaps less well known in a country whose mining industry is dominated by gold, platinum, coal, diamond and iron.
However, lithium has gained more global appeal in recent years particularly in the vehicle manufacturing sector. The mineral is an essential component in the manufacture of long life batteries that auto makers want for the vehicles.
The growing interest has seen more exploration work across the country, hence the investment we are seeing at Arcadia Mine. A lot of exploration work has been done at Kamativi Mine. There is also Premier African Minerals’ Zulu Lithium and Tantalum Project near Bulawayo. More lithium deposits are known to exist in Mberengwa, Mutoko and other areas around Harare.
Although the country has just one mine, it ranks as the fifth biggest lithium producer in the world after Australia, Chile, Argentina and China. As such, Zimbabwe is Africa’s biggest lithium producer. According to Lithium Today, Zimbabwe is the richest country in Africa in terms of lithium deposits. The global ranking should therefore improve in the next 12 to 14 months as Arcadia comes on stream.
The launch of the Arcadia lithium project is yet another endorsement of the investor-friendly economic conditions that President Mnangagwa’s administration has created over the past 12 months. He is reaching out to investors that were shunning our country before November 2017. The Government has relaxed the indigenisation law that scared away investment in the extractive industry. Processing of investment proposals is now being done at a faster pace and requirements are being simplified.
The 700 jobs that have been created at Arcadia add on to the 800 000 that the National Social Security Authority announced had been created since January. More will be created as more investment proposals are concretised.
It is gratifying that high quality investment is flowing into the country. This trend is seen continuing, even intensifying as time goes on. Measures to further improve the investment climate are ongoing, which is a big plus. In addition to that, Zimbabwe is an irresistible place to do business because of the existence of a myriad of minerals, some of which only exist here in world-class abundance. Lithium is one mineral that is abounding in the country and should help us dominate the global trade in it. Platinum reserves are already known to be worldclass as well, only bettered by South Africa’s. Gold deposits are effectively everywhere. The Muzarabani hydrocarbon prospect is held as the biggest undrilled onshore resource in Africa. Diamonds are in abundance in Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Midlands.
But Zimbabwe’s wealth is not just about minerals. Massive opportunities exist in manufacturing as well. There is also a strong skills base that for now is not fully exploited as a result of the downturn in the economy.
The challenging part, however, is that the projects that are coming up will take some time to begin to roll for the promised economic benefits to be felt across the economy. We acknowledge the element of impatience that is among some of us, but a few months from now Zimbabwe will be a new country with lots of job opportunities, improved average household incomes, better standards of living and working infrastructure. The wait can be taxing a little bit, but our people will soon realise it was worth it.