Harare - China was willing to help Zimbabwe establish its first platinum refinery as the African nation attempts to boost its economy by processing the precious metal rather than exporting semi-processed ore, China’s ambassador to Zimbabwe said yesterday.

“China is not quite sophisticated in that area, but we are trying to co-operate with our Zimbabwe partners,” ambassador Lin Lin said.

Zimbabwe, which holds the biggest platinum reserves after South Africa, is demanding that companies mining the metal in the country should build a refinery there.

Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Aquarius Platinum have mining operations in Zimbabwe.

The country’s Chamber of Mines said last month that a refinery would need as much as $5.3 billion (R57bn) in investment, in building the plant and boosting output, to make it viable.

The country’s annual platinum production is about 430 000 ounces.

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa had led a delegation to China in January to seek concessional loans, Lin said. The ministry would send another delegation next week.

The delegation had met representatives of the China Credit Export & Insurance Corporation, or Sinosure, and the Export Import Bank of China, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa said.

“It’s now up to the ministry of mines to decide,” Mutsvangwa said. “We want to have a refinery here, so we said to them to show our goodwill on our relations between Zimbabwe and China we gave Global Platinum a licence” to seek platinum in the country.

Global Platinum Resources is part-owned by China’s Norinco International Co-operation.

Meanwhile, Sinosteel’s Zimbabwean unit is considering the construction of a $780 million power plant that would generate 400 megawatts using coal-bed methane gas.

The first phase of the project, costing $50m, would test its commercial viability by drilling 38 wells and building a 12MW plant, said Roger Williams, the services director at Zimasco. The project would be based in Gwayi in western Zimbabwe. “We need to do additional testing and we need to do further exploration in that area to get a far better understanding,” he said during a media briefing in Harare.

Zimbabwe is trying to develop power generating projects as insufficient electricity supply holds back developments of industries including platinum mining.

Sinosteel’s Zimasco is a producer of ferrochrome used in steelmaking. – Bloomberg