Lithium miner heeds value addition call
Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter
GOVERNMENT’s move to ban exports of lithium ore and unpurified salts has begun to bear fruit, with a Chinese billionaire partnering a South African firm to establish a lithium processing plant in Mutoko that will see production of two million tonnes of lithium concentrate per year.
The ban, except for ore samples being sent for analysis, came into effect last month.
It requires that mineral exports be refined or beneficiated within Zimbabwe to the standard levels required for international trade, with this processing adding value to the finite mineral resources and ensuring that the value addition is done in Zimbabwe, creating jobs as well as making the export a lot more valuable.
Chairperson of Suzhou TA & A Ultra Clean Technology led by billionaire, Mr Pei Zhenhua, signed a Joint Venture with Mutoko Lithium (Private) Limited led by Mr Sybrand van de Spuy to set up a plant that will produce two million tonnes of lithium concentrate per annum.
Mr Pei’s firm already has other mining interests in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, among others.
His companies are listed on stock exchanges in China and Australia, among other countries, where he enjoys majority and minority equity.
The multi-million dollar investment is a show of continued confidence by investors in the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa, whose engagement and re-engagement thrust has unlocked many opportunities.
Briefing journalists in Harare yesterday, both parties confirmed that the investment came as a result of their confidence in the economic environment prevailing in Zimbabwe.
“Our partner has approximately 37 percent of the lithium battery world market. They have a strong demand for lithium because of a strong increase in (electric) vehicles and the whole drive for clean technology.
“We signed a contract to form a joint venture to produce two million tonnes per annum. Our negotiations have been smooth and we are committed to put the plant in production as soon as possible.
“We are also excited to invest in Zimbabwe. We particularly find Zimbabwe an attractive country; specifically, there is abundance of resources and human capital,” said Mr Spuy.
Commenting on the investment, Mr Pei said they were committed to complying with Zimbabwean laws.
“We arrived in Zimbabwe on January 11, firstly in Bulawayo, we have an investment product there. We are happy to see the product going very well. We feel that Zimbabwe is a beautiful country and we have confidence in making investments in Zimbabwe. We have successfully signed an investment contract to build a two million tonne lithium processing plant in the Mutoko area.
“We believe the investment will boost employment in the country. We have finalised the contract, which took one month. We are both very confident in the success of this project, as investors we are ready to put our capital in the project to accelerate the construction of the plant.
“We believe that this investment will contribute to the social and economic well-being of the country. As Chinese investors, we believe that it is important to comply with laws of the country, and we also believe in giving back to the community,” said Mr Pei.
Already, the company is planning to build schools and clinics for local communities.
“As an investor and as part of our social responsibility and as a good corporate citizen, we plan to employ local people and train them in mining and business ventures.”
Mr Pei said he believed in the utilisation of local people for the good of any investment.
“I would want to express our sincere thanks to our partner and Zimbabwe, for the hospitality during the visit. We now better understand this country and its people, and we have confidence in it and our investment will be a huge success,” he said.
Mr Pei could not be drawn into divulging the value of the investment, saying he was bound by Chinese Stock Exchange rules where his firm is listed.
Last Friday, Mr Pei and his team were in Insiza district, Matabeleland South Province, visiting Fort Rixon to assess progress at the site of the Zulu Lithium project.
The China-based company had a revenue of US$20,2 billion in 2021.
Mr 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.
Mr Pei, who also chairs the board of the multi-commodity mining and natural resource development company, Premier African Minerals (PAM), was assessing progress of his projects on a high-impact Zulu Lithium project in Fort Rixon.
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.
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.