Former SA Treasury boss is to lead Moti’s ambitious billion-dollar Zimbabwe lithium battery plan

The former head of South Africa’s National Treasury has been tasked with cleaning up a scandal-dogged company that’s contemplating partnering a Chinese battery maker in a US$1 billion lithium operation in Zimbabwe.

Dondo Mogajane aims to restructure and improve compliance at Johannesburg’s Moti Group. Founder Zunaid Moti says his reputation is hindering the fortunes of a company that has a venture with Anglo American Platinum, chrome and lithium assets and property development businesses. He has stepped back from management.

Moti, 48, spent five months in a German jail in 2018 and 2019 after being arrested on an Interpol diffusion notice issued by Russia in connection with the alleged theft of a pink diamond. In 2012, he was charged with conspiracy to commit murder before the case was thrown out of court.

Moti, who was represented by Cherie Blair in the Interpol case, said he was arrested improperly on bogus charges engineered by a disgruntled businessman and a letter he showed Bloomberg from Interpol shows that he’s no longer subject to a notice from the organisation.

“Everyone would not be associated with someone whom when you Google you just see is depicted as this gangster who drives Ferraris,” Mogajane said in an interview this month at Moti’s headquarters, which forms part of a complex upon which a decommissioned Mirage jet fighter has been mounted.

Mogajane, who was courted for the position for over a year, said he was aware it came with “reputational risk” and told Moti: “We will have to run a proper business without you being there.”

Battery factory

The former Treasury director-general is the chairman of South Africa’s Government Employees Pension Fund, which has R2.3 trillion under management. He’s also a board member at the New Development Bank, a multilateral lender founded by the BRICS group of countries.

Mogajane, who took up the Moti post in July, is reorganising the company at a crucial time as it negotiates a venture based on its 10 000-hectare lithium concession in Zimbabwe with the Chinese company. An initial mining operation may lead to the establishment of a battery factory at a cost of more than US$1 billion. The Moti group plans to retain 30% of the venture.

The deal will be a “game-changer” for Zimbabwe, he said.

“We are negotiating with a well known electric-vehicle battery-manufacturing company, with clients that range from Tesla to BMW,” he said, declining to identify the firm because of confidentiality agreements.

Last year, Zimbabwe signed an MoU with Eagle Canyon International of Hong Kong and Pacific Goal Investment to develop an industrial park to process battery minerals such as lithium and nickel.

The park, to be located at Mapinga in Mashonaland West, would be home to lithium-salt and nickel-sulphate plants, a nickel-chromium alloy smelter, solar and energy storage plants, as well as two thermal power plants of 300MW each. It would sit on 30-50 square kilometres.

The project will not mine on its own. The plan is to bring lithium concentrates from Prospect Resources, Bikita and Chengxin’s Sabi Mine. It would then turn this into battery-grade lithium.

Lithium reserves

Zimbabwe, which has some of the world’s biggest reserves of the green metal, is banking on it to help revive a moribund economy. The price of lithium carbonate, the benchmark product, surged more than six-fold over the past two years to as much as US$66,500 per ton, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence data. The metal has pared back those gains in recent months as supply started to catch up with demand.

Moti said his time in prison gave him time to reset his priorities. The closing of his accounts with Absa Group after his release from jail despite him having banked with them since he was a teenager showed him that retaining control wasn’t in the best interests of his family. Absa declined to comment.

“My reputation was hurting my children and it was not allowing my business to move forward,” Moti said in an interview at his house in an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg. “We don’t want to end up where my children are victimized because of my history.”

Moti still plans to run African Chrome Fields, in which Moti Group once had a venture with Zimbabwean businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei, who has been sanctioned by the US and UK on corruption allegations. It will be separated from the group.

“I am going from the Moti Group,” he said. “I would rather now just get out of the boxing ring.”

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