ZIMBABWE is holding discussions with Russia for the supply of military helicopters in exchange for platinum deposits, a privately-owned Russian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The helicopters would be supplied by the state-owned Russian Technologies, Kommersant – a business daily – reported, quoting sources in the Russian Presidency.
“Russian Technologies has already secured preliminary support from Zimbabwe’s official representatives during its visit to the country in April,” a source told the paper, adding the Zimbabwean authorities were interested in the supply of Russian arms, in particular military helicopters.
“The issue being discussed is the transfer to Russian Technologies of the rights to develop the platinum deposits (at Darwendale) in exchange for the supply of helicopters,” the source said.
Zimbabwe's Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, reached by telephone on Wednesday, said: "Let me check. Call me back tomorrow."
Darwendale is said to have proven platinum reserves of 19 tons and total resources of 755 tons taking into account other metals, such as palladium, gold, nickel and copper. Total capital investment in the deposit development from 2011-2055 is estimated at $2.8 billion.
The project will be developed by Ruschrome Mining - a joint venture company between the Defence Ministry and the Russian center for business cooperation with foreign countries. Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary for Defence is the company’s chairman while Andrei Shutov heads the Russian consortium of investors.
The deal is said to have been finalised in January this year with Ruschrome securing a 25 year licence for the exploration and development of the project.
Annual production is estimated at two million tonnes of ore, rivaling the Zvishavane-based Mimosa Mine, currently the country’s second biggest platinum mine after the Zimplats operations.
Zimbabwe has been looking for alternative sources for military hardware after its largely British-equipped army was hit by sanctions imposed by the European Union over allegations of rights abuses and electoral fraud.
Military jets acquired from the UK have since been grounded due to a lack of spare parts forcing the country to look to China for new aircraft.
The government may have been forced to consider using the country’s platinum resources to help re-equip the army because of crippling budgetary constraints as the economy struggles to recover from a decade long recession.
Mnangagwa reportedly clashed with his Finance counterpart Tendai Biti at a recent meeting over funding for the army amid reports soldiers were going hungry in the country’s barracks.
But Biti is said to have expressed concern over reports of continued army recruitment even as the government struggles to pay soldiers already in service.