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Chitando predicts boom times for coal…as investors bring new coke oven batteries on stream


Zimbabwe’s Mines minister Winston Chitando says the country is rising up to reclaim its position as one of southern Africa’s biggest coal exporters after recent huge investments into coal shafts and coke oven batteries.

Underpinned by a big push by Chinese and Russian capital, the investments are projected to raise  the country’s scaled-up production and output before miners make aggressive forays into the region, according to Chitando, who spoke exclusively to Standardbusiness last week.

After the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Hwange Colliery Company Limited ran into turbulences, Harare has opened coal mining to private investors, transforming the northwestern provinces into a hive of activity for explorers scouring for new finds through swaths of untapped coalfields.

Russian outfit Liberation Coal Mining Company and Makomo Resources are among the biggest investors that have led the rush, in addition to multimillion dollar shafts being developed by Jin-An.

The Chinese firm has also invested in a coke battery for processing coke.

Tsingshan/Afrochine has invested into another coke battery while South Mining’s coke oven battery has marked a major step towards rebuilding the sector.

Chitando said along with private investments, he was spearheading renewed efforts to tackle the headwinds that have confronted exporters after the state-run National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) ran into operational problems.

The troubled rail transporter, once the pride of southern African pride, has been affected by capital shortages that have held off investments into new locomotives and wagons.

A US$400 million deal inked with Zimbabweans in the diaspora about four years ago collapsed before they moved to inject critical funding, but government says it is exploring several options to rebuild the NRZ.

“We are working towards increasing our coal exports,” Chitando told Standardbusiness.

“We have a number of interventions we are working on together with the ministry of Transport to ensure that our coal becomes competitive, taking into account the distance from the ports. We are working on that and we have to be holistic in the long-term. It is a situation, which requires an upgraded railway system and in the short-term there are other measures that we will look at to ensure that we achieve coal exports. We will see significant amounts of coke going into the region mainly due to the commissioning of some of the coke batteries in the Hwange area. So there is a significant quantity of exports now taking place and that will continue to happen. What we are working on now is the solution which entails also an upgrade to the railway infrastructure,” Chitando added.

Rebuilding Zimbabwe’s railway network could remain a pipedream.

Zimbabwe is facing one of its biggest economic crises in a decade after radical reforms to its currency regime ignited an inflationary spiral from 2019, which has been compounded by exchange rate volatilities and foreign currency shortages.

Government, the sole shareholder in the NRZ, has struggled to fund its return for decades and had recently turned to private capital.

The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe (CoMZ) said in December some of the big coal projects had been commissioned while others were at various phases of development.

Coal output is projected to rebound by 58% to 3,8 million tonnes this year after hitting 2,8 million tonnes in 2020 , CoMZ data shows.

It predicts that the growth will be twinned by a boom in platinum group metals whose growth has been underpinned by an overflow of foreign direct investment from across the world.

Official data indicates that Zimbabwe is endowed with a resource estimated at about 25 billion tonnes, the bulk of it untapped.

Chitando said in addition to the plan revamp at the NRZ, several issues were under consideration to improve the mining sector.

“The hardware for the implementation of the Mining Cadastre System will be in sight in the next few weeks,” he told Standardbusiness.

“We believe that by latest end of June the hardware will be on site and the implementation of the Cadastre system will start immediately, essentially by data capture, which will take place throughout the provinces and we are targeting that we have that system operational as soon as possible. I am pleased to say computerisation of the mining system is now around the corner.”

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