The Sunday Mail
Kuda Bwititi and Wallace Ruzvidzo
ZIMBABWE is set to achieve massive economic development underpinned by rapid lithium production after a Chinese investor started construction of a US$300 million mega lithium processing plant a few weeks ago, while President Mnangagwa on Friday commissioned another such investment at Bikita Minerals.
By next year, lithium is expected to be at the centre of the mining industry’s growth as production of the multi-purpose mineral will be on course.
Annual revenue from the Bikita plant is expected to be US$500 million, with Arcadia’s Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe (PLZ) venture, recently acquired by Chinese investor Huayou Cobalt, set to reach similar targets.
Hundreds of jobs set to be created while communities living in the two areas are expected to reap huge benefits from this.
Lithium is currently one of the most sought-after minerals globally owing to its versatile properties including production of electric cars, heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lithium grease lubricants, flux additives for iron, steel and aluminium production and air treatment. Responding to questions from The Sunday Mail on Friday, PLZ said factory construction will be fast-paced.
“We are now constructing our processing plant riding on the success of the pilot plant. At the moment, contractors are on the ground doing the construction works that include, among other key fixtures, the mining contractor area base, plant area, warehouse, workshop, administration block, worker dormitories and recreational areas.”
The mine is set to be commissioned by March next year, while production is set to commence next June.
At full-throttle, 4, 5 million tonnes of lithium ore will be produced, while close to 1 000 jobs will be created.
“At peak the process plant that is being constructed has a capacity to treat around 4,5 million tons of ore and produce 400 000 tonnes of lithium concentrate per annum. More than 600 Zimbabweans will be employed during the construction phase while the direct employment during the production phase will be between 700 and 900 employees,” said PLZ.
The company expressed satisfaction with the support that is has received from Government so far, including getting Special Economic Zone status
“The status accorded us with an extensive list of benefits that include; tax relief and exemptions, as well as exemptions and reductions of costs and trade barriers associated with the import of raw materials and capital goods through to the exportation of the concentrates. This is an example of Government implementing the ease of doing business.”
A workable matrix has been adopted to ensure that locals from Goromonzi get the majority of job opportunities created.
“Priority has been given to employ people from the local community around the mine site and job application registers have been distributed to all the 25 ward councillors through the Goromonzi Rural District Council (RDC) there will be a focus on training and development as well as finding suitable graduate candidates from universities in Zimbabwe for attachment programmes,” said PLZ.
In terms of value addition and beneficiation, PLZ said:
“We have commissioned two professional agencies to conduct thorough research into the beneficiation process in order to improve the resource utilisation. Deep processing is subject to planning and we wait until production and then we will immediately embark on the related research work, and informed by objective conditions, start the project approval as soon as possible.”
Some miners operating in Zimbabwe have been accused of shunning communities under which they operate in.
PLZ said it has already started implementing a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme that mapped the needs of communities as low, medium and high priority areas.
The company said unemployment, lack of skills and entrepreneurship training; incomplete or inaccessible health infrastructure and environmental degradation were identified as some of the high priority areas.
Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Bikita Minerals Spodumene project, President Mnangagwa said development of the lithium mining sector in Zimbabwe will lead to growth of value chain linkages in manufacturing.
“This should translate into expanded local production of renewable energy technologies, ceramics, glass, lubricants and polymers, among other products. The investment by Sinomine Resource Group should, thus, not only end in the production of spodumene, but should graduate to the production of battery grade lithium and ultimately lithium ion battery manufacturing entities”.