Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – In his memoirs The Great Betrayal, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, speaks about an “interesting brief” pertaining to Southern Africa’s strategic importance.
The briefing was provided by Rhodesia’s Security Council and was within the context of “the communist plan for Africa, as part of their overall scheme for world domination”.
Smith highlighted an annexe to the brief, which was a map that purportedly showed the “communists had firmly established themselves in a number of countries in North Africa, methodically moving on to new ground once a base had been secured”.
He wrote: “The ultimate target was South Africa, which was not only the industrial giant of Africa, but was one of the most richly mineralised parts of our world… It was a few years later that I was pleased to receive a report that the United States had been alerted to this development and, as a result, their Congress Committee on Strategic Minerals and Mining had sent a mission to investigate.
“After visiting Zaire (now the DRC), Zambia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, they produced a commendable report and in most expressive language termed the area ‘the Persian Gulf of strategic minerals of our earth’.
“Apart from the greatest world deposits of gold, diamonds, platinum and chrome, they itemised a list of other strategic minerals in which many countries, including the USA and Canada, are deficient.
“The only other country where one could find a similar conglomerate of these minerals was the USSR (now Russia); if the Soviets could have gained control of this area, therefore, they would have had a virtual world monopoly.
“The report warned the American Congress and the nation of this potential danger, and urged them to rouse themselves from their complacency.”
Another account – in a 1982 US Congressional Budget Office report titled “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral” – says cobalt alloys are critical to the Western world’s aerospace and weapons industries.
More than 60 percent of the global cobalt supply is found in a belt stretching from Katanga in the DRC to northern Zambia.
That is not all.
Nearly 20 percent of global uranium supply is from Africa, with Namibia and Malawi significant players in the value chain. The continent produces about 10 percent of the world’s oil, and in Southern Africa the major player is Angola (two percent of global supply).
Southern Africa has more than 50 percent of the world’s diamonds (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe being major producers), nearly 75 percent of platinum (South Africa and Zimbabwe), and a significant amount of gold.
There are also huge reserves of chromite, lithium and other vital metals and minerals.
And now Mozambique has a major gas development, Namibia and Zimbabwe are doing exploratory work in oil, and there is growing interest in Lake Malawi’s and Tanzania hydrocarbons potential.
The battle to control Southern Africa’s resources predates the current instability in the DRC and Mozambique by decades.
By any measure, Southern Africa is the Persian Gulf of Strategic Resources, and the region should be concerned – and proactive – when it comes to ensuring the region is not destabilised by elements seeking to exploit its resources for themselves.
The following is a snapshot of what is at stake.
Bots: The Standard Bearer
While Botswana is famed for its diamonds, few know that the country is home to numerous other strategic resources, including gold.
In fact, when Karl Mauch stumbled on the Tati goldfield in 1866, he triggered the first European gold rush in Southern Africa.
Since then, Botswana has given the world many other minerals, most notably diamonds.
Jwaneng Mine is the richest diamond mine in the world in terms of value. Botswana’s diamonds are generally larger and have better quality than those mined in Russia (world’s top producer). In terms of value, Botswana is the world’s top diamond producer, and by value it ranks second globally.
Other major resources include gypsum, iron, asbestos, feldspar, chromium, graphite, manganese, copper, nickel and soda ash.
Decades of political stability, and a more recent government determination to have greater local control in strategic value chains such as those of diamonds, make the country – like Namibia – a standard bearer for Southern Africa in terms of safeguarding national assets for internal development.
DRC: Jewel in the Crown
Potentially one of the richest countries on earth, the DRC’s development has since Independence been arrested by unending conflicts, often financed from abroad for the purposes of allowing looting of the country’s resources.
The second largest country in Africa, the DRC’s treasure trove consists of minerals ranging from cobalt (45 percent of global reserves), gold (10th biggest reserves in the world), diamonds (25 percent of global reserves, third globally in terms of annual volume output), other gemstones, copper (biggest reserve in Africa), iron and nickel. There is also immense forestry cover, and the proposed Grand Inga Hydro has the potential to power the whole continent.
Estimates suggest that the DRC is sitting on over US$20 trillion worth of known raw minerals, including 85 percent of the world’s coltan, a mineral used in the manufacture of ICT gadgets.
According to a country mining guide by KPMG, the DRC’s most important minerals are cobalt, copper, and diamonds.
“The DRC is the largest producer of cobalt globally, accounting for about 55 percent of the global output in 2012 according to the US Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013 report. It was the second largest producer of industrial diamonds in 2012, contributing about 21 percent of global production behind only Botswana, which accounted for about 31 percent of global industrial diamond output.
“Furthermore, the country boasts some of the highest quality copper reserves globally, with some of the mines estimated to contain grades above three percent, significantly higher than the global average of 0.6 percent – 0.8 percent,” the report said.
“Estimates by the USGS suggest that the DRC produced 55 percent of the world’s cobalt in 2012, and boasts around 3.4 million tonnes in reserves.”
By any measure, the DRC is the jewel in the Persian Gulf of Strategic Resources. With all these riches, is it any wonder that rich countries and giant multinationals are taking turns to stir the waters in the DRC?
Moza: Plague of Crazy Greed
Up until a decade ago, Mozambique was hailed as a post-conflict success story.
The country pulled itself up by the bootstraps after the 1975-1992 civil war, and enjoyed peace and stability.
Then there was talk of oil potential, and natural gas was discovered. And instead of these resources ushering in an extended age of prosperity, they incited conflict.
The discovery of one of the biggest offshore natural gas reserves in the world in the north of that country, complemented by the exploitation of huge deposits of coal, rubies and gold are being used to fuel discontent and recruit insurgents.
The mega gas reserves are driving the greedy crazy.
“In 2011, US-based Anadarko Petroleum estimated that its natural gas reserves in Mozambican reserve bloc fields might reach 850 billion cubic meters of recoverable natural gas,” a country mining report by KPMG notes.
“In February 2012, Eni SpA, Italy’s largest oil company, announced a second natural gas field discovery near the Mamba South Gas Field that the company discovered in 2011 in Cabo Delgado province. The new discovery of 212.5 billion cubic metres of gas in Mamba South is expected to increase the natural gas resource in Mozambique to 850 billion cubic metres.”
With gold aplenty, significant coking coal reserves in Tete Province, and untold riches in the Zambezi Basin, SADC would do well to quickly stabilise the country, and the government would equally do well to rein in the greedy local and foreign plunderers.
Nam: A Beacon of Hope
Exciting developments in the country’s oil exploration programme have raised hopes that commercial production could soon be added to the country’s already impressive resource portfolio.
Last week, Canadian firm Reconnaissance Energy Africa announced it had successfully drilled the first of three wells in the Okavango Basin. In addition, Qatar Petroleum confirmed an agreement with Shell for the development of two exploration blocks in the country’s Atlantic waters.
Furthermore, Namibia accounts for a full 10 percent of the world’s uranium production; not to mention significant output of diamonds, zinc, magnesium, gold, silver, semi-precious stones and copper.
“Namibia is the fourth-largest exporter of non-fuel minerals in Africa. However, diamonds and uranium still represent the country’s most salient commodities from an export revenue point of view. Namibia is amongst the world’s top 10 diamond producers,” says the KPMG Namibia’s mining guide.
“The mid-western regions of Namibia have a large number of uranium deposits and prospects, with many of these first discovered in the 1960s – and have been made economically viable to mine on the back of higher uranium prices. In the recent past, the country’s uranium output has been largely sold to power utilities in Central Europe, North America and South-East Asia.
“The World Nuclear Association believes Namibia’s mines are capable of providing at least 10 percent of global supply from its proven five percent of global recoverable resources, and believes that authorities remain committed to expanding the sector.”
Fortunately, Namibia has remained stable and peaceful, and could provide a beacon to the region on strategic resources management.
TZ: Another Gas Explosion?
The problems in northern Mozambique cannot be divorced from Tanzania.
The rebels wreaking havoc in Mozambique have carried out raids in Tanzania. There have also been reports that some recruits to the ranks of the insurgents have transited through, or originated from, Tanzania.
And Tanzania, like Mozambique, is in the process of unlocking recently discovered natural gas potential. Projections are that Tanzania’s LNG exports could be worth up to US$4.3 billion per year from a resource based on a resource estimate of a whooping 16 trillion cubic feet.
In addition, the country is the fourth largest gold producer in Africa (with output sometimes reaching two percent of global supply), and it has diamonds, gemstones, tanzanite, nickel, copper, helium, titanium, cobalt, coal, platinum, uranium and kaolin, among other resources.
Tanzania, realising potential problems from poor management of these resources, has been revamping the extractive sector since 2017, and mineral revenues have grown from US$84.5 million in 2015/16 to over US$200 million in 2019/20.
Zim: Troubled, Key Cog
According to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, Zimbabwe has a highly diversified mineral resource base characterised by about 60 commercially viable minerals.
The Great Dyke, a layered igneous complex extending north-south for about 550km is host of the world’s largest high-grade chromite resource base (over 80 percent of the world’s resource of metallurgical chrome) and also the world’s second largest resource of platinum group metals (PGMs) after South Africa. Estimates suggest that the Great Dyke holds about 2.8 billion tonnes of PGMs ore and approximately 10 billion tonnes of chrome reserves.
Other strategic minerals found in Zimbabwe include gold, diamonds, and coal (estimated at more than 26 billion tonnes, and suitable for both thermal power generation and coking).
“There are over 4,000 recorded gold deposits, nearly all of them located on ancient workings. The country remains under-explored to discover new deposits as well as realising full potential of known deposits. More than 90 percent of gold deposits in Zimbabwe are associated with greenstone belts which are some of the richest and comparable to those in some leading gold producing countries in the world like Australia, South Africa and Canada,” the Mines Ministry says.
“The country has about 160 known kimberlites with kimberlite hosted diamond mining taking place at Murowa Mine in Zvishavane, Midlands Province and River Ranche Mine in Beitbridge in Matabeleland South Province.”
Recently, there has been a scramble for new lithium discoveries, which are being described as among the world’s largest.
And then there is talk of significant oil deposits in the Muzarabani area, with exploration being undertaken by Australian firm Invictus Energy
The country has also signed a co-operation agreement with Russia to explore potential exploitation of uranium resources in the north of the country for nuclear energy.
Zimbabwe has largely stabilised politically in recent years. But fears remain that this key cog in the Persian Gulf of Strategic Resources is at risk of being destabilised for purposes of looting of its resources to the detriment of the nation and the region.