Zimbabwe army, Chinese row over platinum

HARARE – A mining venture involving the army and a Chinese firm, Wanbao Rexco, has failed to take off amid claims the Asian company is siphoning resources from the mine, Business Times heard this week.

The military and Wanbao Rexco are partners in Global Platinum Resources (GPR) which was established in 2004 and sits on over 520 million ounces of platinum resources along the Great Dyke.

Wanbao Rexco has spent over US$80m in exploration and feasibility studies and the dispute centres on allegations that the company only employed Chinese explorers to carry out pre-feasibility and feasibility studies at inflated prices. A recent audit also stoked suspicions after US$20m was unaccounted for.

The Chinese company postponed operations at GPR in 2018 and is understood to be spending US$1m yearly in care and maintenance.

Business Times understands that the government of Zimbabwe through Zimbabwe Defence Forces entered an agreement to get fire arms in 2008 with the Chinese government through Wanbao Rexco in exchange of platinum resources.

Harare is now mulling cancelling the deal and looking for another joint venture partner. GPR technical manager, Retired Brigadier General Livingstone Chineka, told Business Times that there are fed up by the antics of the Chinese firm.

“We are fed up with Wanbao Rexco since they came here in 2004 employing their own people and exploiting the country’s platinum resources for absolutely nothing, we can’t accept that,” Chineka said.

“It has suspended the operations until now [2020, a year which it said it will begin real mining] because we refused them to continue more feasibility studies after we realised that the prefeasibility study they carried out cost US$25m against our feasibility study which cost US$15m which mainly comprised of local personnel.”

He added: “As GPR we have stopped operations; we now want to meet Vice-President Chiwenga to map the way forward.”

The deal was consummated when Chiwenga was still in charge of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. GPR is said to have untapped platinum claims of 86,7km2 which is way bigger than those controlled by Ngezi, Mimosa and Unki mines combined. Chineka said their partners have suspended operations based on false interpretation of the feasibility study.

“We are convinced that the argument about the project is not based on the economic viability of the project but completely driven by financial difficulties on the part of our partners or that they don’t want us to be the part of the operations at GPR as they have realised that we can do the same or better job at reduced costs,” he said.

He said the problems arose after Wanbao Rexco failed to respect and honour the local community as all personnel and materials came from China without any benefit to the local population.

Chineka said exercise books, tissues and all stationery material came from China. Efforts to get comment from Wanbao Rexco were fruitless as calls to their numbers went unanswered.

Zimbabwe holds the world’s largest deposits of platinum after South Africa and has been pushing mining firms operating in the country to build refineries to stop the export of raw platinum ore to earn more foreign currency.

Zimbabwe sees China as an all-weather friend after it looked East at the turn of the millennium due to problems with the western countries. Chinese companies are accused of allegedly ill-treating locals, a charge Beijing has refuted. – Source: Business Times