In the middle of nowhere in northern Mozambique’s hellish heat is Tete, a city that is coming to prominence because it is where international mining companies are eyeing 23 billion tons of coal reserves.

On the eve of the start of exploitation of the world’s largest untapped coal reserves, foreigners have flocked to the booming city not only to work at mining companies, but to provide the other services that come with the developments.

“It’s different and it’s growing, china (meaning friend),” says Steve Classe, a 50-something Zimbabwean, who plays in the local band Tetsticles with his mate Brian Moore.

“I was in Tete for two years, went down to grow bananas in Manica (in central Mozambique), and I came back. Why do you think is that?” asks Moore, as a Mozambican waitress makes jokes in perfect English while taking orders.

Three international mining companies are gearing up to start exploiting part of Mozambique’s coal resources, with more than $2 billion (R14bn) already invested to dig up the rocks from the red earth between the baobabs.

Brazilian company Vale opened its mine early this month, and Australia’s Riversdale will follow suit soon.

At the peak of preparations the two companies will have employed about 9 000 people.

Together with India’s Jindal Steel and Power, the large mining houses hope to export close to 30 million tons a year when operations reach a high point.

Locals hope the mining will boost Mozambique’s already impressive 6.5 percent economic growth and give a much-needed cash injection to one of the world’s poorest countries.

Mozambique is slowly recovering from the decimation of its 17-year civil war, which ended in 1992.

Since the start of mining exploration in 2004, the preparations have brought a string of secondary industries to the sleepy city, like Classe and Moore’s refrigeration and electrical company.

“Businesses have just sprung up, people selling out of a hole in the wall,” explains Moore. “It’s a hyper market.” The growing international community has even drawn a reggae festival to the town.

“We had reggae guys from Mozambique, Barbados, Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe,” says Moore. “They went down fine. That was unbelievable.”

People stream to Tete not only for jobs, but to study at its university. There are not enough houses for everyone, and infrastructure has taken strain, says Moore.

“Your internet availability, your electricity availability – there’s more cuts than before.”

Deputy mayor Arnaldo Morais laments: “Tete has to build lots of hotels because the hotels cannot handle it.

“There are many cars, but the roads are too small.”

Transport channels are the big headache for the mining companies as well.

Coal mining had to wait for the reconstruction of the railway. The Sena line, which connects Tete with the port of Beira 600km away, is almost ready, over a year behind schedule, and the coal terminal at the port has yet to be completed.

Expatriates are employed in the reconstruction activities.

South African electrician Izak Minnaar works at Electricidade de Mocambique, the national energy provider, to light up Tete at night.

The father of two cannot wait to see his family in Pretoria every three months.

“Only money. It’s all about the money” in Mozambique, he says as a Britney Spears music video plays on a television.

“There’s just not money in South Africa. I would go back any time. You just want some take-aways, proper houses. To drink water from a tap.” - Sapa