* Mugabe has threatened to stop raw exports of platinum
* Minister: platinum mines would have shares in refinery
By MacDonald Dzirutwe
NGEZI, Zimbabwe, Nov 28 Zimbabwe is willing to
let foreign-owned platinum mining firms own majority shares in
their local operations if they build a refinery in the country,
the mines minister said on Thursday.
The southern African country has the world's second largest
known platinum reserves but mining companies send the raw
product to neighbouring South Africa for processing.
President Robert Mugabe has already forced the world's two
largest platinum producers, Anglo American Platinum and
Impala Platinum Holdings, to agree to sell 51 percent
of shares in their local units to black investors.
New mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa said that if platinum
producers came together and established a refinery, which the
local mining chamber says will cost at least $2 billion to
build, the government could allow the mines to own more shares.
Chidhakwa said there was room for negotiation with mines,
pointing to a deal signed in 2010 that allowed the African unit
of India's Essar Group to own 54 percent of Zimbabwe Iron and
Steel Company (ZISCO) as an example of Harare's flexibility.
"The government is simply saying that the guiding principle
is 51/49 percent but if the investment does something to this
country that can convince us to graduate or move away from the
51/49 percent, we will do so," Chidhakwa told Reuters in an
"And I think that in so far as in establishing a platinum
refinery in Zimbabwe is concerned, yes, I think there is that
flexibility," Chidhakwa said during a visit to mines owned by
Implats unit Zimplats in Ngezi, 150 km southwest of
Chidhakwa's comments contrast those of new youth economic
and empowerment minister Francis Nhema. He told Reuters last
week that Zimbabwe was not softening its empowerment drive
against foreign-owned mines, although it could be flexible with
banks if they agreed to lend more.
The 89-year-old Mugabe, president since Zimbabwe's
independence in 1980 and re-elected in July, has said the
country may halt exports of raw platinum to South Africa to
force mining companies to build a local refinery as a two-year
deadline has expired.
Zimbabwe produced 350,000 ounces of refined platinum in 2012
- 6 percent of world production, according to the Chamber of
Mines, the country's mining industry lobby group.
The Chamber has said Zimbabwe would need to raise platinum
output to 500,000 ounces a year to justify a refinery.
Chidhakwa said the platinum refinery would be a national
project that should be jointly build and owned by platinum
mining companies as well as the government.
"Because we want it as a national project, we also have to
think about ways of supporting it, facilitating it, whether in
financial terms or in tax terms," said Chidhakwa.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)