From NewsDay By Blessed Mhlanga
African Chrome Fields (ACF) has ploughed $250 million into mining. ACF national project liaison director Ashruf Kaka (AK) (pictured) tells NewsDay (ND) reporter Blessed Mhlanga about the company’s operations and the outlook. Find excerpts below.
ND: Have you carried exploration works since buying Africa Chrome Fields?
AK: We have done those exercises and continue to do so. We are in constant acquisition agreements with private partners to purchase more claims and to do contract mining agreements. We have sufficient resources to cover us for the next 50 years comfortably. We know it’s more than that, but we are absolutely comfortable for the next 50 years, but as we go with the acquisition of more claims, we are engaging the ministry to review the policy on claims and special grants on how they are granted and how they are kept all of that needs to be revisited or relooked because the benefit, the scale at which you do mining for example, they have to be all contagious to be able to commercially mine. Currently, as an example, the three of us might own five claims in one area, then one might own 100 claims; we stunt his growth to be able to mine because we own claims in the middle of his claims, yet we don’t have the infrastructure or the money to be able to mine. We then hold him hostage on his ability to be able to exploit those claims. We look at the ministry of Mines to be able to step in and say we think these claims can be beneficially mined by this company.
ND: These challenges you talk about of people getting claims in the middle of a bigger claim, will these in your view be resolved, especially knowing the fact that the ministry of Mines has been at the centre of claim disputes fuelled by corruption?
AK: I am quite confident. I think Honourable Winston Chitando is the right person for the job. I had a brief chance meeting him in Cape Town at the mining indaba, he appears to be a level headed person, he understands the industry and these challenges and I think his applicability to those issues, the requirements, the fiscal aspect of mining is all in place and he is the person to be able to give direction in the ministry. His performance will be measured by his deliverables and that I cannot say because he is new there, but from his past performances and companies he has operated, I have not met anyone who has spoken negatively about him.
ND: The world over there is concern on how miners go about their operations particularly environmental degradation, pollution and interaction with their communities. What is your policy around these issues?
AK: If I tell you as an example that what you eat everyday will determine the health of a person you will agree with me. The same thing applies on how you extract the minerals from the ground. If you do it in a healthy manner, means the community left behind will be left with a progeny to follow. If you don’t do it right, it means you leave an unhealthy environment. If you care for the people that are around you, you have to work with an environment that is in a shape that you found it. Now African Chrome Fields we are proud to say when we bought it and we moved to Chenyika, a lot of work that was done there left the place substantially not rehabilitated. We rehabilitated that and we have taken it one step forward. A lot of our research and development work goes towards rehabilitation. The reason is we want to ensure that the area which we are on or the area in which we operate will leave in a pristine condition. This is important because when we leave, we want trees to grow there, food to grow there.
ND: How do you relate with the community which you work around. Do you have any corporate social responsibility programmes?
AK: We have taken a number of interventions; our presence alone in Chenyika created employment for about 1 200 workers. Of that, only 35 are expatriates. Immediately from the income, if you calculate the average income and the number of people that depend on that income, you are looking at 3 000 to 5 000 people. So, you have created a local economy, the people who were not earning anything or were not having food on the table are now dependent on a consistent salary to improve their lives. We are putting up containerised schools, which will be open to around 250 kids. This school is movable when for instance we have to move to a new plant and also for maintenance purposes it’s also free of maintenance. We also have a mobile clinic. We are busy setting up the IT requirements to connect those children to the rest of the world.
ND: You are in a rural part of Zimbabwe where connectivity is low and access to the internet is virtually low…?
AK: We are well aware of that challenge and we are busy with an IT requirement which will see people having access to ICT and computers and connect to the rest of the world. We would like to see those kids connecting to other parts of the world. When the rest of the world pressed the fast forward button on ICTs and catapulted themselves into a different generation and passed like 50 generations ahead very quickly, Zimbabwe pressed the pause button. In the past 20 years, Zimbabwe has done absolutely nothing and now you have released the pause button and that will bring foreign direct investment into the country when the people take advantage of connectivity and ICT skills. Companies invest in skill with people and not resources alone; resources are in part a by-product of a reason for me to invest. If the people are right, you will see investment, where there are good resources but the people are not good and there is uncertainty in the country people will not invest.
ND: What is your interest as you have been funding investment drive programmes in support of the Zimbabwe is open for business campaign such as the breakfast meetings to lure investors to Zimbabwe in Cape Town and the Zimbabwe mining investment conference?
AK: Zimbabwe is a free economy. If you are a sprinter running a 100m race on your own, you can run on your own everyday. Will that improve your record? No you won’t. If you run with competitors, soon you will become a better runner because you know there are others trying to be better than you. So, competition is good for us to assess and have introspection as to how we perform, we want to see Zimbabwe grow. Part of that means our investment in Zimbabwe also grows and this is the time not to think of ourselves but to think of the country in which are.
ND: Zimbabwe has been labelled a bad investment destination but you through the Moti group ploughed in $250 million at that time when the risk was high. What motivated you to make that decision?
AK: The thing with entrepreneurs is that you look for an opportunity and you make it work, at the time that we came here we realised that despite the risk factors already mentioned in newspapers and all over, the risk factors were not actually that high, there are certain areas like in farming were the risk factors were that high but in as far as the mining industry is concerned, by and large there was a consistency of policy overall. It was worth a risk to take, after we met the then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, now His Excellency, in the region that we operate from. He gave us confidence in what we were doing because his instruction to us was to surpass the risk factors. We gave him definitive plan with the employment of people and bringing in of machinery and he gave us his support. We had to earn our points, we had to make sure that we deliver and we did all of that and once we had that kind of relationship with the government a transparent and open one.
ND: How does the revision of the Indigenisation legislation affect your company?
AK: In the chrome industry it’s beneficial, but we are not particularly concerned about that because our new indigenisation partner who has been part of us since December has been Sakunda Holdings. Sakunda is quite widespread in their investment profile in Zimbabwe and that goes well with us in our diversification of our investments. We have now partnered them in the command agriculture project, in relation to the supply of inputs in agriculture, so the growth trajectory is going to be linked with our local partner. It gives true essence to local empowerment and development of the industry.