When Mr Sergey Lavrov stepped off a chartered airplane clad in blue jeans and white sneakers last Wednesday, the laid-back look belied the seminal nature of his assignment to Zimbabwe.
His visit was one of the most significant deputations by a foreign delegation to Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa was inaugurated late last year.
It should not be lost to many that the Zimbabwe-Russia Joint Venture – Great Dyke Platinum Investment project in Darwendale – is the largest investment project on track in the country right now.
The visit by Mr Lavrov was yet another seal of approval for the venture, which was first launched in 2014 but whose progress had been stifled thus far.
That Russian investors led by Mr Vitali Mashitskii agreed to immediately invest US$400 million to kick-start actual mining is proof that the mega deal is alive and well.
Sources close to the developments say since the launch of the project in 2014, there had been some grumbling from both the Russian and Zimbabwean sides over terms and implementation, but these apprehensions appear to be dead and buried following Mr Lavrov’s visit.
Speaking to journalists soon after meeting President Mnangagwa last Thursday, Mr Lavrov spoke of the high priority that Russia places on the Great Dyke investment.
“We placed particular emphasis on the implementation of the joint project of exploring the Darwendale platinum deposit, one of the largest in the world, which is currently operated by a joint venture between Zimbabwe and Russia,” he said.
The deal heralds exciting times for the people of Darwendale, Norton and surrounding areas who are going to witness considerable development in coming months.
Norton legislator Mr Themba Mliswa noted the same when he tweeted that there would be massive benefits for people from his constituency.
In an interview, Great Dyke CEO Mr Igor Higer said the presence of the investor in the Great Dyke deal, Mr Mashitskii, was a strong statement in itself.
Mr Mashitskii’s globally recognised Vimetco company has interests in several countries spanning Africa, Asia and Europe.
It was not only the Darwendale project that should leave Zimbabweans licking the lips in anticipation as three memoranda of understanding signed between the two countries also give a firm platform for greater co-operation.
One MoU was on mutual co-operation in industry signed, between Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development Minister Dr Mike Bimha and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade.
According to the MoU, which was availed to The Sunday Mail, the two countries have set nine priority areas for co-operation.
“The parties aim to develop co-operation in the field of industry, within the following priority points: aviation; metallurgy; ship building; chemical industries; transport and special machinery; light industry; standardisation, metrology, and compliance assessment; agriculture, agri-business and horticulture; and industrial special economic zones,” reads part of the MOU.
It was followed by another one on implementation of the project on the establishment of the Russian Industrial Zone in Zimbabwe, likely in Norton/Darwendale.
“The Russian party, based on the options proposed by the Zimbabwean party, will consider a possibility of developing RIZ on one of the sites located in the vicinity of the cities of Norton and Darwendale areas or another place in the Republic of Zimbabwe, co-ordinated by the parties, to be connected to highways and railways and have electricity and gas distribution networks along the perimeter of the RIZ,” states that MoU.
The third MoU is on modernisation of Zimbabwe’s agricultural industry, signed between Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Perrance Shiri and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Georgy Kalamanov.
Areas of co-operation envisaged under this MoU include “supply of Russian agricultural machinery and equipment for food and processing industry, spare parts and components; repair and modernisation of existing and construction of new granaries; organisation of machine and tractor stations to provide Russian agricultural machinery and equipment for rent and supply of mineral fertilisers, crop protection chemicals and vaccines for livestock”.
Relations between Russia and Zimbabwe date back to the liberation struggle when the former Soviet state provided military and technical support to combatants fighting the settler regime.
In 2008, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, thus protecting the Southern African country from what would have been catastrophic ramifications.
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