This week, as part of our ‘New Horizons’ series, MiningIR joined the audience at a panel seminar hosted by Mayer Brown and the Association of Mining Analysts, the topic: Zimbabwe, past present, future; mining, investment, politics, safety and all.
The meeting opened with a fairly sombre talk of Zimbabwe’s prospects, based on tales of past despair as the British tried to operate in the country in the 1990s, tales of colleagues sharing predictions and plans for Mugabe’s demise some 10 years before it came to fruition. Most lost hope or were forced to leave the country, but stayed engaged remotely, doing what they could to learn and engage in the country.
It was suggested that the country’s future, even without Mugabe, will be troubled, citing an overwhelming entanglement of historic military and political figures still present, with those who presided over genocidal events still holding significant positions in the regime.
One current minister is known best for having termed the term ‘cockroaches’ which spread across the region with disastrous consequences in the 1980s and furthermore were complicit or supportive of the Zimbabwean interventions in the DRC in the late 90s when opponents of President Laurent Kabila fought to overthrow him, resulting again in monumental casualties in what has been termed the African World war with 5.4 million deaths attributed to the conflict (Read more about this HERE).
This upcoming election will be simple, said one speaker, with the opposition having little time to mobilise and the wave of excitement following Mugabe’s departure still flowing, resulting in a short term continuation of the status quo. Problems however may come at the next elections, which will predictably be monitored by the military and will come at a time when opponents and parties have had time to prepare responses, potentially armed responses.
The closing words from this opening exchange stated that investment and business in Zimbabwe wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but to be very careful of your partners, their connections and their past as it may come back to haunt in future elections and events across the country.
The discussion then moved onto the people of Zimbabwe, a key part of the industry’s future. Our second speaker told a story of a group of young (<40) Zimbabweans who he had met at a Victoria Falls conference on his first visit to Zimbabwe, each of them with business ideas for payment services and technology from across the country.
Together with a group of investors they helped the keen businesses to raise funds despite the risks of working in the country. He said, they believed in the people, that they would overcome their surroundings and make their ideas work.
These businesses survived through the Mugabe years through the strength and skill of these entrepreneurial Zimbabwean people and the time is coming soon for these young people to be in power and they will bring big change from the generation before, it could even be now.
We took another step up the positivity ladder with a story of strength. We heard about a project in the Middle East that had faced considerable setbacks. Employing geologists from Zimbabwe, whose high level of training, familiarity with the political instability and challenging lifestyle, had made them excellent matches for the project and turned it around. The skill base in Zimbabwe, we were told, is very high with plenty of Ni, Li, Au and Cr in the ground ready to come out when the right investment comes calling.
The presentation encouraged cautious optimism when it comes to investment in the country
It should be looking up for the people there, although, it could be a long road, not the quick transition proposed by the current government
It was noted that changes probably won’t come from the UK, USA or Canada who have no significant political or economic influence in the region any more, with China and Russia accounting for large amounts of current interest and some potential hostility still remaining towards the UK in particular. Nonetheless, some majors are taking interest including Anglo American.
Rounding up the evening, we heard a case study of the successful Gwanda Blanket Mine. The company have faced setbacks, with a 6 month close down in 2008, but have remained active and productive since, for which they praise the local, 100% Zimbabwean, workforce for their commitment.
The mine has produced over 50,000Oz of gold a year and are targeting 56,000Oz for 2018 with a 14 years of proposed current mine life. Caledonia are planning to sink a new 6m wide shaft, taking their exploration and production potential down from 750m to 1300m with work underway as we write. This is predicted to give the company a big boost in terms of mine life and increase its handling efficiency on site.
Caledonia have achieved a highly cash positive business despite the difficulties faced in the jurisdiction. They claim there are widespread opportunities to work in Zimbabwe, with many of the mines that closed during the country’s turmoil now available for operation once again and a somewhat more positive global outlook at the downfall of Mugabe.
Another company representative for Caledonia said in a proactive investors meeting the following night that while they may have opinions and hopes, the company was remaining a-political and that had served it well for business, they pay their taxes and do their job, not interfere. This had ensured continuing support from the people of the region and the necessary powers. This may be good advice to follow for future operators in the country if it can be achieved.
As the meeting rounded off, we thanked the participants and opened the floor to questions and comments which covered China’s influence in the country and the ‘awakening’ of Zimbabweans to the industry and potential profits to be made. The discussion also moved to the need for Zimbabwe to develop rugged laws and regulations for any new industry, to ensure it benefits the people and the environment for future generations.
Having met with a range of Zimbabwean businessmen and companies at this year’s Indaba, I was very impressed at the level of organisation and ambition across the country, from mine expansion to provision of employment in a country that sorely needs it.
Unfortunately, the destiny of the country will lie in its ability to organise and control its future elections and politics, whether it becomes more progressive or remains at a stand-still. We may not have any answers tomorrow, or in 10 years, but we might see some big names venturing into the country quite soon, so, now might be a great time to take a gamble.
Liam Hardy writing in London for MiningIR.com
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