Government gives up gold refinery to private miners

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is ceding control of the refinery of gold, offering mining companies 60% of the refining business of Fidelity Printers & Refiners (FPR).

RBZ is splitting FPR into two entities, keeping the coin minting and security printing arm, but keeping 40% of the gold refinery side while miners gain control.

“The unbundling of FPR is designed to partially privatise the gold refining business by allowing private players to acquire a stake therein and in the process secure and endear the private sector’s interests in the production and marketing of gold in Zimbabwe,” RBZ said in a statement Wednesday.

“By being part of the decision making process on gold trading, it is expected that the gold producers’ compliance levels in the trading of gold will significantly increase. Accordingly, the Bank shall retain 40% shareholding in FPR and dispose of 60% shareholding to both the large-scale and small-scale gold producers.”

Based on the average quantity of gold delivered to FPR over the past three years, large scale miners will hold a 50% shareholding in FPR, while 3% will go to gold buying agents and the remaining 7% to the small scale producers through their representative bodies.

RBZ is also disposing of Tuli Coal to the government. The mine, near Beitbridge, has been mothballed for a decade.

Gold standard?

The privatisation of FPR comes after lobbying from some players in the mining business.

It follows the model of Rand Refinery, South Africa’s biggest refinery, which is owned by the five largest gold miners Anglogold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony, Sibanye Gold and DRDGOLD.

Among the country’s biggest gold producers are RioZim and Caledonia Mining.

FPR started refining gold in 1988, and at its peak producers from abroad sent in their gold for refining at its Msasa refinery. However, FPR has not used most of its installed capacity to refine 50 tonnes of gold per year.

A worker at FPR’s Msasa refinery: miners would have to reinvest in machinery

This year, the company, which buys gold from miners from at least a dozen centres around the country, has struggled to pay miners on time for gold deliveries.

Miners want Zimbabwe to fully liberalise the marketing of gold, to allow miners to sell their own production, a suggestion that RBZ governor John Mangudya has publicly opposed, saying he feared it would worsen smuggling.

But investors say this would increase confidence.

“The ability to handle gold sales is critical to a company like ours,” according to Clive Johnson, CEO of B2Gold. “It’s an issue that would have to be clarified first for one to buy some assets and build some gold mines.”

B2Gold in 2019 was close to taking over Shamva Mine from Metallon, but walked away after disagreement over its condition that it would be allowed to sell its own output.

“Those are the conversations the authorities have to get their heads around if you want an industry to be invested in,” according to Steve Curtis, CEO of Caledonia, which runs Blanket Mine and is exploring a potential new gold acquisition near Gweru.

Zimbabwe’s mines would have to reinvest in new equipment at the refinery, which has not had any real investment in years. Mines already need around US$400 million in fresh capital for their current operations, according to a recent Chamber of Mines report.