Chinese billionaire investor Zhang Li – worth $3,9 billion according to Forbes – is back in Zimbabwe to pursue the deal to acquire government-run iron processor, Ziscosteel (Zisco).
Zhang Li co-chairs real estate developer Guangzhou R&F — which has massive properties in 28 cities, mostly in China — with Hong Kong-based billionaire, Li Sze Lim, with whom he founded the company in 1994.
An authoritative Chinese Embassy official told the Daily News yesterday: “Zhang Li is back in the country. R&F has strong interests in the revival of Zisco.”
“Discussions are on-going with the Zimbabwe government. R&F plans to make investments totalling $1 billion,” the official said, adding “the investment is divided into two phases”.
“If an agreement is reached, then the money will arrive in Zimbabwe.”
“Zhang Li is a private investor,” the official said, adding that “he will be targeting to supply steel to both local and foreign markets”.
“More Chinese businesspeople have strong interest in Zimbabwe, and R&F is an example.”
The official further said “a few months ago I visited the (Zisco) site and it was shabby”.
Once one of Africa’s largest steel factories, and a strategic national asset that contributed significantly to Zimbabwe’s fiscus, the 75-year-old plant has been moribund — or almost obsolete — for years.
In August last year, Zhang Li was in Zimbabwe, when he met former deposed president Robert Mugabe and initiated the Zisco takeover talks together with then Industry minister Mike Bimha.
According to Bimha, speaking back then, the deal, if consummated, would see investment of up to $2 billion.
“When all these phases have been completed, we are looking at an initial injection of over US$1 billion and probably it will come to US$2 billion as we proceed,” he said, after a meeting at State House between Zhang Li and Mugabe.
Bimha has admitted that “much of what is there at Zisco won’t be used and their (R&F) engineers have proved that probably it is about 15 to 20 percent of what is there that they will be able to use. Much of it is no longer in a state to be used”.
Zisco has been on the market for years now, and many bidders have made offers.
Countless times, the Zimbabwe government has introduced, with zeal, investors it said were keen and serious on reviving the iron and steel manufacturer.
Following bids by 12 companies in 2009, including steel giant Arcelor Mittal, an upbeat government announced that it was partnering Essar Africa (Essar) in a $750 million deal, which was eventually finalised in 2011 but the deal later collapsed.
It is hoped that Zisco’s revival would provide a boon for struggling National Railways of Zimbabwe — also government-run — as 60 percent of the rail company’s revenue came from transporting coal to the Kwekwe-based steel manufacturer.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy official said newly-installed President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was set to meet the Asian economic giant’s leader Xi Jinping during his visit early next month. DailyNews