South Africa based Africa Chrome Fields (ACF) who started operating a chrome mine in the Midlands Province 18 months ago could be Zimbabwe’s answer to unlocking foreign direct investment (FDI) at a time most international investors are not keen to set up operations in the country citing a risky economic environment. ACF is set to build two electric smelting furnaces that will produce around 6 000 tonnes of low Ferro-chrome per month.
To get more details on the operations of ACF in Zimbabwe, our reporter, Lovejoy Mutongwiza (LM) spoke to the company’s National Project Liaison Director, Ashruf Kaka (AK), during a tour of the company’s mining operations and below are the excerpts from the interview.
LM: Can you tell us about African Chrome Fields on their operations in Zimbabwe and outside
AK: ACF is a company that has operations here (Zimbabwe) and we concentrate on chrome mining here in the Midlands Province and our interest is in beneficiation (of the community).
The Moti Group has diverse business interests and over the past two decades has invested in mining, beneficiation, mining technology, transport and logistics, legal compliance and governance, risk management, company secretarial, finance products, security services, aviation, property development, property [residential, commercial and industrial leasing], motor vehicles trading and finance.
We have seen the disparities between the first world countries and third world countries where the latter is disadvantaged after its resources are exploited and they are left with nothing to cater for the next generations
LM What has made ACF invest in Zimbabwe when it seems most countries are shunning away from doing so?
AK: … you have to be very versatile in the market that you are operating in. We have been quite savvy and learnt that the South African conditions and other parts of the world, that if you have a very flat managerial structures, you are able to make decisions quickly and mobilise quickly.
Zimbabwe is a neighbor to South Africa where the group has other interests in beneficiation, including chrome and platinum group of minerals.
The geographic location of Zimbabwe made sense as well as the abundance of quality resources that it has.
Resources in Zimbabwe don’t only extend to the natural resources but also extends to the people of Zimbabwe who are extremely hospitable, educated and supportive of the project. The work ethic is acceptable on international norms to allow sustainable growth of the project.
LM: Your operations are currently running on diesel because you have no electricity. How does this affect your operations and have you engaged government to have this solved?
AK: As indicated on previous occasions, electricity at the right price, allows for sustainable growth. In the absence of electricity, one is forced to use alternative energy available and in this instance, the utilization of generators is the only alternative.
We are fortunate in that we have obtained rebates from the government in regard to our diesel requirement and this to an extent alleviates the negative effects on costs.
However, the long-term solution will always be sustainable electricity supply in order to effectively compete in the world market.
LM: There has been talk of political links that necessitated you acquiring this operating license, care to shed light?
AK: All investors look for sustainability and clear direction and policy from the government but we are not politicians and we are in business and we leave politics to politicians and deal with business on its merits.
We have a long term view over Zimbabwe as a result of the relationships that we have cultivated with the people of Zimbabwe and we believe that this is sustainable in the long term as it is beneficial to both parties.
LM: And in terms of employment, how is the ratio like with regards to local empowerment and your contractors?
AK: we have about 990 employees and out of those there are about 35 who are experts that are from South Africa and the rest of the people are from Zimbabwe.
Over the past 18 months we have been here, we have changed the number because there were 80% experts and 20% workers but we have changed that.
The challenge has always been getting the managerial number in Zimbabwe to be on the increase because the transference of knowledge doesn’t take place overnight.
But we can comfortably say we have engineers and other expertise that are from Zimbabwe so in all the different structures, we always want to involve Zimbabweans because they are the beneficiaries.
I want local people to be on top because this is their project.
Resources from the third world are exploited but they do not benefit.
LM: What is your target point in beneficiation?
AK: At the moment we are looking at infrastructure, we have managed to build about 60 kilometres of a road network. We are looking to building a school or two for the children in the area,
Added to that we are looking into investing in state of the art technological equipment that is suitable for Africa. We want to be able to put up infrastructure that Africans can use because you cannot use European equipment in Africa.
We want to leave behind resources that can be used by generations to come
LM: What future plans do you have for this project and the community as well your social corporate responsibilities?
AK: we are here to stay; we have a long term vision for this project in Zimbabwe.
We have a relationship with the people of Zimbabwe and have formed formidable alliances, for a prosperous future with Zimbabwe and its people.
On corporate social responsibility is intertwined with development of the project and as such, we have a number of plans in place in this regard.
We want to build schools for the children in the area because as the Moti family, education is an enabler, it enhances your capabilities.
Once you have educated a person, you have enabled them to make informed decisions…
We want to have a sort of an apprentice system where people can have part time employment which will create a relationship between us and the community so that they start seeing us as family and a home.
We are also trying to venture into medicine so that we have our own clinic and the community’s so that people won’t have to go far to acquire medical attention. We want to be able to provide all that as part of our social responsibilities
LM: thank you for your time.
AK: my pleasure.