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SA overtakes Zim in DRC scramble

Vincent Kahiya

ZIMBABWE is calling in its war debt from the Congo’s President Joseph Kabila after losing badly in the scramble for business opportunities in the mineral-rich state, the Zimbabwe Independent e

stablished this week.

South African President Thabo Mbeki took a large business dele-gation to the DRC last week which came home with a haul of contracts worth billions of rands.

After four years of a costly mili-tary campaign to prop up the DRC government Zimbabwe has nothing to show for it despite official assurances that the country would reap a war dividend.

The Independent established ongood authority this week that Defe-nce minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Speaker of Parliament Em-merson Mnangagwa were in the DRC recently to follow up on the debt issue. The two officials visited the DRC ahead of last week’s visit to that country by Mbeki who tookabout 60 business people who secu-red substantial contracts in mining and reconstruction projects.

Sekeramayi yesterday confirmed the visit to the DRC but would not explain the exact nature of their business there.

“Yes we went to the DRC to talkabout various issues,” said Sekera-mayi. Asked if the money issue came up during the discussions, he said:

“We discussed everything that had to be discussed.”

Mnangagwa on Wednesday re-fused to discuss the trip to the DRC, referring all questions to the Defence minister.

“Even if I travelled to the DRC it does not mean I was on Defence business,” said Mnangagwa. “There is a Minister of Defence, talk to him.”

Mnangagwa has been linked in press reports to Zimbabwean business initiatives in the DRC including military-backed projects.

Former Finance minister Simba Makoni in 2000 told parliament that Zimbabwe had spent more $10 billion in the DRC. The war debt is believed to be at least five times that.

Government sources said there was apprehension among the Zimbabwean political and military elite after South Africa’s successful foray in the DRC last week.

Sources with interests in the DRC said Zimbabwe’s business ventures there had either collapsed or failed to take off the ground. Sources said despite the setting up of a joint commission between Zimbabwe and the DRC there was no evidence of the expansion of trade between the two countries. During his March 2001 visit to Zimbabwe, President Kabila promised to make the agreement work.

“The only way to thank Zimbabwe is to see the bilateral relationships, the cooperation we are trying to achieve become a reality. What I want to assure you is that what we are doing is very legitimate,” he said.

The Forestry Commission was granted logging concessions in the DRC during bilateral discussions held in 2000.

Included in the arrangements of 2001 were the marketing of minerals through a joint-venture between the Minerals Marketing Corpora-tion of Zimbabwe and Miba, thediamond marketing company in the DRC.

The DRC was due to export more power to Zimbabwe from Inga hydro-electric power station. The power was supposed to be paid for in local currency.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe, First Banking Corporation, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority were all expected tobenefit from the bilateral arrange-ment. Few have.

The Agricultural and Rural Deve-lopment Authority was allocated 200 000 hectares of land to develop and grow crops but nothing has come of the venture.

Now the South Africans are reaping the benefits of Zimbabwe’s military effort, as they did in Mozambique.

South Africa and the DRC signed a bilateral agreement worth US$10 billion last Wednesday, covering the areas of defence and security, the economy and finance, agriculture and infrastructural development.A joint commission of the two governments was tasked with imple-menting the agreement.

“The commission’s first meeting has already been set for February in South Africa over which my colleague Kabila will preside,” Mbeki told reporters in Kinshasa.

The Independent of South Africa said Mvelaphanda Holdings signed a memorandum of understanding with the Congolese government for investments worth an estimated R60 billion over the next decade.

The investments will cover the processing of gold tailings, copper and cobalt mining, logging, road building, railways and the purchase of two hotels – the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa and Hotel Karavia in Lubumbashi in the mining belt to the southeast, the paper said. The copper and cobalt mining projects should start in the next two months.

Peter Vundla’s New Seasons In-vestment Group is bidding for the rehabilitation of Kinshasa International Airport, a deal worth US$250 million

Siemens South Africa snatched a US$50-million deal with the national electricity board of the Congo to install 35 000 electricity connections in north and western Kinshasa with prepaid electricity meters, the Independent reported.

The paper said Siemens, with several partners, including Eskom, is also involved in the rehabilitation of Inga One and Two in a project worth more than US$1 billion.

Cellular phone company Vodacom is set to invest US$157 million in the DRC, and plans to push that initial investment to $500 million. It now controls 44% of the cellphone market in the Congo. Mining giant De Beers is negotiating with the Congolese government regarding diamond concessions.

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