Meet the two British aristocrats targeting one of Zimbabwe’s biggest lithium assets

Michael Spencer, backing Cluff in minerals push (pic: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Over drinks back in 2019, two British tycoons, Algy Cluff and Michael Spencer, agreed to set up a company to buy into African resources. They have explored mines in Ghana, Mali and Tanzania. Now their next target is one of Zimbabwe’s biggest lithium assets.

Cluff, 84, had made money in the 1970s with an oil find in the North Sea. In 1980, as Zimbabwe became independent, he flew to Harare and set up Freda Rebecca mine, through Cluff Resources, which became the country’s biggest gold producer. Now, over four decades later, Cluff seems ready to make another play on Zimbabwe mining, this time with a deal to partner government on the Sandawana lithium mine.

Cluff wants to buy a 65% shareholding in Sandawana, with the Mutapa Investment Fund taking the remainder.

“The project which we have done our due diligence into and are anxious to start work on, production from, will produce a substantial cash flow for the country for 30 or 40 years if it is as large as we believe it to be,” Cluff told reporters after meeting Foreign Affairs Minister Frederick Shava Monday.

Cluff, far right, accompanied by wife Blondel, meets Foreign Affairs Min. Shava

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There are no further details on Cluff’s proposal. Sandawana is under Kuvimba Mining, which is held by government through the Mutapa Investment Fund. The mine was once an emerald mine, and Kuvimba has been seeking funding of up to US$220 million to develop what company officials say may be the country’s biggest lithium deposit. Kuvimba is one of a group of Mutapa investments that were controversially exempted from procurement regulations that apply to state firms. Officials said this was necessary to allow companies under Mutapa to be quicker when investing or attracting investments.

In 1996, Cluff left Zimbabwe after his Cluff Resources sold Freda to Ashanti Goldfields. In 2021, his energy company, Cluff Energy, announced it had agreed to fund 33.33% of the costs of a two-well exploration campaign by Invictus Energy, in exchange for a potential future stake in the project. Last October, Cluff led a group of British businesspeople who met President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

HIs Lordship’s backing

Cluff owns 60% of Cluff Energy Africa. The remaining 40% is owned by Mike Spencer, the billionaire who owns London-based investment firm IPGL.

Spencer turned to angel investing after selling his company, NEX, for US$5.4 billion in 2018. Last year, he hit a jackpot; after investing about US$74 million into a Singapore insurance business, he sold it to a Japanese investor for US$260 million late in 2023. He is a shareholder in Deltic Energy, which was recently awarded new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.

He is also influential in the Conservative party. Spencer sits in the House of Lords, where he goes by the title “Baron Spencer of Alresford”. He was appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020. Spencer is a top Conservative party donor, and has previously served as a Tory treasurer. He is said to be a close friend of David Cameron, the UK Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister. Spencer is also a director of the Conservative Party Foundation, the party’s multi-million pound endowment fund, and chairs the Centre for Policy Studies, an influential Conservative think tank.

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