Amplats’ CEO would like “to bottle” Zimbabwe efficiency and “sprinkle through group”

Amplats' Unki mine, Zimbabwe

ANGLO American Platinum (Amplats) CEO, Natascha Viljoen, would like to “bottle” the productivity standards of the group’s Zimbabwean operations and “distribute them throughout the company”.

Asked at the Joburg Indaba PGM conference earlier this month whether it was still viable to remain invested in Zimbabwe, Viljoen said: “From a humanity point of view, we can’t stop operations. We have a slight expansion there, but that is self-funded”.

She added: “I very often wish I could bottle what they have and distribute it across the company. The quality of work and efficiency is absolutely extraordinary”.

Amplats operates the Unki mine in Zimbabwe which was one of only two operations owned by the group where production was 100% restored as of end-June following Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. It produced 80,300 ounces of PGMs in the six month period, a year-on-year decline of 16%.

Nico Muller, CEO of Impala Platinum (Implats), commented earlier during the conference there was no question of Implats reviewing its Zimbabwean operations despite “… questions about the political backdrop”. The company has an 87% stake in Zimplats which increased 6E PGM concentrate production to 597,000 oz from 572,000 oz in the firm’s 2020 financial year ended-June.

“The surprising thing is that it’s our most stable operation, funnily enough,” said Muller. “Even since 2000, through the ups and downs (of the Robert Mugabe era), there was not one single lost day or lost production; and not one during Covid-19. In spite of the news headlines, it’s a very important jurisdiction for us.”

Zimbabwe’s national crisis is precipitous as the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa struggles to keep the economy afloat. It will default on a World Bank loan whilst goods, and power are in short supply. Accusations of human rights abuses have also been levelled against the government.

“It would be almost immoral if we discontinued operations,” said Muller. “We play a vital role, but we also call on South African government and the SADC region to help improve the broader social-political situation”.

Despite Zimbabwe’s economic problems, Great Dyke Investments (GDI) is pressing ahead with plans to raise $500m for the development of the Darwendale PGM project which is south of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

“The project funding structure envisages participation of various types of equity investors as well as lenders,” said Alex Ivanov, CEO of GDI in a Reuters article on Tuesday. “The specific stake to be acquired by potential investors would largely depend on their overall appetite for the project.”