Australians gamble big on Zimbabwe

Philipa Jaja and Abel Karowangoro

Zimbabwe’s abundant lithium deposits and untapped oil reserves have attracted game-changing interest from Australia, with companies from down under sinking millions of dollars into projects, Review & Mail has been briefed.

The ventures in lithium and oil are putting Zimbabwe on the global map, and their success is seen as key to unlocking more investments at a time the country has been a pariah in traditional markets, while economic policies in the Southern African country have wavered between resource nationalism and being “open for business”.

But two Australian companies, Invictus Energy and Prospect Resources, have taken a huge gamble.

In briefings received by this paper last week, company representatives exclusively told us about the big plans – and challenges – that will likely define new investment frontiers.

Invictus’ Paul Chimbodza, a geology expert who ha been involved in both lithium and oil explorations, said the two ventures have been a leap of faith, and involved lots of investment, with Arcadia costing around US$50 million in exploration and mine development.

“This is money spent at risk,” he said.

“So, if I move on to the Muzarabani oil and gas project, again, in the last year up to drilling, we spent close to US$25-30 million.
That’s not a small change by any measure in Zimbabwe.

I don’t know, outside Prospect and Invictus, which are both ASX listed, any other mining house that’s spending that amount of money on exploration.
“And remember, exploration is money spent at risk; there’s no guarantee that you’re going to find or not,” he explained.

Chimbodza said currently Invictus was injecting more capital to “de-risk” the project and attract more partners. He explained that because of the enormity of oil and gas projects, no one player could go it alone, much less “junior” ones like Invictus.

He dismissed notions that Invictus was planning “to sell”, per recent reporecause it allegedly had no money.

“There is a concept that’s called farming-in,” he explained. “The risk takers . . . like us, go in at a low level to go there and de-risk the project.”

“The issue of farming in or bringing in another partner, or what is now being called to sell, is not a new phenomenon.

We have always been very open and public, even to our principals in Government, to say at the right time we will need to go in for a farming-in partner.”

 

Sam Hosack, Prospect Resources managing director, revealed that funding the Arcadia exploration had been done in Australia as it was difficult to raise capital in Zimbabwe.

 

“In fact, in 2018 and the year that I joined, foreign direct investment into Zimbabwe was $112,000.

Do you remember that period?

Okay, so we needed $200 million,” he explained.

He said the company had to do a partnership, leading to them eventually to settle for Chinese funding.

The Chinese company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt – a leading new energy materials giant-eventually bought them out for US$422 million in April 2022.

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