President Emmerson Mnangagwa has broken ground at the site of a steel plant being built at Manhize, near Chivhu.
Officials are touting it as one of the biggest private investments in Zimbabwe. Once a steel producer, Zimbabwe ran its steel company Ziscosteel into the ground and now imports virtually all its steel. Zimbabwe in 2021 spent US$400 million on iron and steel imports, according to official trade data. The country is hoping to change that with the new plant.
Who owns the Manhize project? How big is it really? Can Zimbabwe’s notoriously poor infrastructure support a project of this scale?
Here are some facts on the project.
Who owns it?
The project is funded by Dinson Iron and Steel, a unit of Tsingshan Holdings. Tsingshan is the world’s biggest stainless-steel company and became the top nickel producer in the world in 2018. The company had annual revenue of US$53 billion in 2021. Tsingshan’s major operations are in Indonesia, the world’s second-biggest nickel supplier.
What else do they run in Zimbabwe?
Tsingshan already owns Afrochine, which produces 100,000 tonnes of ferrochrome in Selous. The company also runs a 350,000-tonne-per-year coke plant in Hwange.
How much steel will it produce?
The company targets 1.2 million tonnes of steel per year under its first phase. The project will include a carbon and steel plant, an iron ore mine, and a ferrochrome plant.
The first phase will have five furnaces, while in the future the company says it may expand to as many as 12 furnaces, more than doubling the initial output. The processing plant will be 1.5 kilometres long and 600 metres wide.
How will they power it?
Stainless steel plants are energy hungry, which is a major hurdle for the project in power-starved Zimbabwe. Tsingshan’s Indonesia unit is low-cost partly because it produces its own power.
According to ZESA boss Sydney Gata: “It (Manhize) will be the largest customer project for ZESA, requiring up to 500MW in the next two years, which is equivalent to almost a third of today’s national consumption.”
Dinson has claimed plans to build a 300MW power station at the site. But it will also need grid power from ZESA. It has an immediate need for 100MW. The company’s energy mix includes a planned 100MW wind power plant, which would be a first in Zimbabwe. The company also says it has new tech to recycle heat from the plant to create power.
Dinson and ZESA in 2022 signed a public-private partnership to run a 97km high-voltage power line that will connect Manhize to the Sherwood substation, the main grid interchange near Kwekwe. The substation, according to an update from the Zimbabwe Power Company, is undergoing expansion which is expected to be complete in 2023, in time for the completion of Hwange’s new Unit 8 power plant.
By mid-2022, ZESA said it had built 27km of the power Manhize power line.
Who pays for the power lines?
Normally, ZESA would have built the installation, but the utility does not have the money to roll out such projects, especially given Dinson’s tight timelines. So, Dinson is providing a US$66 million loan to ZESA, secured through Stanbic Bank and Ecobank. The loan will be repaid through offsets on Dinson’s power bills.
In 2021, facing some initial resistance from ZESA to the prepayment deal, Dinson wrote to the government saying it would need the same arrangement for the next phase of the project. The company wrote: “On the second phase, we will have a similar power line from Selous, Chegutu District to provide additional to provide additional power in line with our production. Dinson has undertaken to pre-finance the construction of the power line in case ZESA does not have the capacity to do so.”
The company that has been contracted to run the new power lines is TBEA Co. Listed in Shangai, TBEA is one of the world’s largest builders of transformers and power networks. TBEA is one of the Chinese companies that Mnangagwa held meetings with at the 2018 Forum on China and Africa Cooperation.
Where will they get the iron ore?
To make steel, Dinson will need iron ore. It has been a special grant to mine the Mwanesi iron ore fields, which sit on a range near the plant. They are believed to be the richest iron ore reserves in the country.
This would not be the first time an international steel major takes a liking to Mwanesi.
Mwanesi once belonged to Ziscosteel, the collapsed steel plant. Zisco has reserves at Buchwa and Ripple Creek. When Essar, the Indian steel company, tried to take over Zisco, they found the resources at Buchwa “too deep” and those at Ripple Creek not up to the required grade.
Essar needed Mwanesi to build an iron ore plant with a processing capacity of 25 million tonnes of ore per year, to feed Zisco. When the government refused, Essar walked away from the Zisco deal.
Dinson estimates that Mwanesi holds up to 45 billion tonnes of iron ore, with a grading of 43% iron metal. The Chamber of Mines estimates most Zimbabwean iron ore at 40% grade. How big are these reserves? At the projected production rate at Manhize, it would take over 200 years to use up the iron ore at Mwanesi.
Little has been reported by Dinson or the government on the mining front of the project.
To produce 1.2 million metric tonnes of pig iron and carbon steel per year, Dinson will need 500 000 metric tonnes of ferrochrome per year. This is about five times what Afrochine is producing currently. Dinson will also need a million metric tonnes of coke per year. Coke, made from coal, is needed in steel manufacturing. The company plans to bring in the coke from Dinson Colliery in Hwange.
In 2018, government and Tsingshan officials said the new plant would also need a feed of about 200 000 tonnes of nickel, the metal used in the manufacture of stainless steel.
How to get the product to market?
A major piece of the puzzle is how the new plant would export the product, given Zimbabwe’s poor rail system.
When Tsingshan and the government signed their MoU in 2018, the company said it was in talks to partner with other investors for the rail line to the port in Mozambique.
According to the Dinson Project Manager, the current plan would mean upgrading the railway line from the site to Mvuma, to Gweru, and then onward to Rutenga and Mozambique. Long term, a new railway line would have to be run from Mvuma to Harare, Mutare, and then Beira.
The company, in 2018, also said it would consider building a dedicated port to handle production from various operations in Zimbabwe. There has been no update yet on this.
How does it measure up on size?
Zimbabwe officials often tout Manhize as the largest steel plant in Africa. It will certainly not be the biggest – at least not until it ramps up well beyond 1.2 million tonnes a year – but it will be among some of the largest steel plants on the continent.
ArcelorMittal’s steel plant in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, has two blast furnaces with capacities of 1.3 million tonnes and 1.9 million each. The largest steel mill in Egypt, Al Ezz Dekheila Steel, has a total capacity of 3.2 million tonnes per annum. Manhize’s 1.2 million tonnes per year would place it at par with Uganda’s Tembo Steels.
In mid 2022, the company employed 600 people, mostly construction workers. Of these, 40 were foreign.