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A US$3 billion platinum deal between Zimbabwe and Russia is now mired in controversy after it emerged this week that the funding for the project will come from African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) institutions and African Finance Corporation.

Sources in the mining sector told businessdigest this week that the platinum mining venture will not be financed by Russian capital.

According to sources, government entered into a memoranda of understanding between Afreximbank and Great Dyke Investments (Pvt) Ltd concerning the Darwendale Platinum Group Metals Project in Zimbabwe.

Another memorandum of understanding was signed between the African Finance Corporation and Great Dyke Investments (Pvt) Ltd for the Darwendale Platinum Mining Project.

"This deal is going to be funded by African money. All this talk about Russia financing this deal is just propaganda. The question we ought to ask is obviously around whether Zimbabwe needs Russia to get funding on this particular deal," a source said. "Government has basically given away platinum rights to the Russians for no monetary value."

The disclosures have brought into question Russia's contribution to the deal.

Sources say government could have gotten funding from Afreximbank and African Finance Corporation.

Great Dyke Investments chairperson Hesphina Rukato said she expected financial closure on the deal by June. 

"Working financial closure is expected to be in June and then we expect construction is going to start in July," Rukato said before requesting questions in writing last week.
At the time of going to print, Rukato had not responded to enquiries sent to her via email last week.

Rukato accompanied President Emmerson Mnangagwa on a trip to Russia last month that saw the signing of the controversial deal.

In a report back on Mnangagwa's state visit to Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan last month, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa confirmed agreements had been signed with Afreximbank and Africa Finance Corporation but did not elaborate on the actual details.

Mines minister Winston Chitando confirmed agreements with the two financial institutions had been signed, but said he did not have specifics on the deal.

"I don't have actual specifics but I know that Great Dyke entered into an agreement with the financiers and they have two separate agreements. You would need specifics from Dr Rukato," he said.

Asked what the Russians were bringing to the table, he said he did not have actual details of the deals.

"There is no project, especially one of this size, that can be funded only by equity. Such a venture would require a combination of equity and capital. I don't have the actual numbers, but projects that size normally require debt financing," Chitando said.

Additional efforts to seek a comment from Rukato were fruitless yesterday as she claimed to have been travelling since last week.

"I will get the team to look into them today as I have been travelling," she said.

Great Dyke Investments is a joint venture company between the Russians and Zimbabweans in the Darwendale platinum project. Pen East Investments and Russia's JCS Afronet are said to have commissioned the platinum mining project in 2014 but to date the deal has not moved an inch.

The project is expected to haul at least one million ounces of platinum per annum. At least 15 000 jobs are expected to be created when the company starts operating at full capacity.

Large-scale exploration works at the Darwendale deposit commenced in January 2015. GDI had planned to drill over 300 000 running metres, making it one of the biggest exploration ventures in Zimbabwe.

The scope of work was designed to prove the deposit resources in indicated category for longer than a 20-year mining period. The Darwendale deposit resources have been estimated at 40 million ounces of platinum group metals (PGMs).

The initial scope of the project entailed the phased construction of a complex for mining and concentration of 10 million tonnes of ore per annum, and a smelter to enable production of up to 800 000 ounces (25 tonnes) of PGMs in the form of converter matter as final product.

At optimum capacity, the project was expected to require an investment of up to US$4,2 billion. GDI plans to set up a refinery in line with the government's thrust on value addition. Apart from the Russian deal, government also signed an agreement with Great Dyke Investments (Pvt) Limited.

Source - The Independent

South Africa, home to almost all of the world’s rhinoceroses, said the number of the animals killed by poachers plunged by 25 percent last year as it stepped up efforts to save the endangered species.

With 769 rhinos poached, it was the first year since 2012 that less than 1,000 of the animals were killed illegally, the Department of Environmental Affairs said in a statement. The animals are targeted for their horns, which are believed in Asia to help cure cancer and boost male virility. The horns are made of keratin, a hair-like substance. The number of rhino deaths peaked at 1,215 in 2014.

The fight against rhino poaching in South Africa has become emblematic of the global struggle against wildlife traffickers, with national awareness campaigns ranging from documentaries to the sale of plastic horns, which are attached to people’s cars.

The decline in rhino deaths is “a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species,” said Minister of Environmental Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane, who is also known as Mama Action.

More than half of the rhinos were killed in Kruger National Park, a reserve the size of Israel that lies on South Africa’s border with Mozambique. Poachers frequently cross the border and hunt the animals with automatic weapons and night sights before sawing off the horns.

During the year, 365 alleged poachers were arrested countrywide along with 36 horn traffickers, the department said.

 

- Bloomberg

Zimbabwe's government continues to explore avenues of attracting lines of credit from neighbouring South Africa after the continent's most prosperous nation rebuffed an earlier request by Harare for a R16 billion (US$1,129 billion) rescue facility, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has revealed.

South Africa has emerged as the only hope for President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration for a financial lifeline after several countries, including China, spurned its approaches, citing Harare's tendency to default on debt repayment.

Ncube confirmed in an interview this week that several meetings he held with his South African counterpart Tito Mboweni have so far failed to convince the regional economic giant to commit itself to rescuing Zimbabwe.

"There is no commitment, but we have ongoing discussions," Ncube said, adding government would welcome any form of financial assistance from south of the Limpopo.

"We are in constant talks with South Africa, they are our neighbour, biggest trading partner and we have a bi-national commission. So we have been interacting with them, to see whether they can be of help and support us whenever we need it," he said.

The Treasury boss said government remained hopeful in the face of shrinking sources of credit.

Although there remains a possibility of South Africa extending a US$7 million credit facility to clear part of Zimbabwe's World Bank arrears, the neighbouring country appears reluctant.

Mnangagwa told private media journalists a fortnight ago that: "We started engaging South Africa earlier this year when we had the cooking oil shortage. Then because of the nature of relations between us and South Africa, we said to South Africa can you give us lines of credit. So this is why discussions between the South African minister of finance, our own finance minister and the governor of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe started."

"Talks are therefore underway for a line of credit from South Africa Botswana has also given us line of credit worth 70 million Pula. What it means is that Zimbabwean businesses can get goods from those two countries worth that amount. We are then given a grace period and then we could be able to repay the credit within an agreed period of time, say to or five years. It is different from a bailout package in that it does not come with certain conditions attached to it," he added.

While critics in South Africa say lending to Zimbabwe would be a waste of money, President Cyril Ramaphosa has over the past week said there is need to support Harare.
However, he has not qualified the kind of support he would prefer.

Zimbabwe is desperate for lines of credit which could go a long way in fixing a tattered economy, which is on the verge of total collapse. Foreign currency shortages continue to haunt industry while the cost of living has soared.

To worsen the situation, Harare's biggest Western cheerleader Britain pulled the plug on Mnangagwa's re-engagement drive when London dissociated itself from the regime last week following the killing of an estimated 17 people during the suppression of violent protests which rocked the country last month while 78 others were injured and more than 1 000 were arrested.

Britain, a key Mnangagwa ally after the toppling of former president Robert Mugabe in the November 2017 coup, had also emerged as the only Western power supporting Zimbabwe's re-engagement with IMF, World Bank and re-joining Commonwealth.

Although Mnangagwa has denied that the country is seeking a bailout package, former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed on a trip to China last year that government was seeking a rescue package of US$2,5 billion to support the productive sectors which include tourism, mining and manufacturing.

Acting Chinese ambassador Zhao Baogang said that they will not give Zimbabwe a bailout package, focussing instead on sponsoring infrastructural development.

 

Source - The Independent

South African power utility Eskom needs a cash injection by April to survive, the country's public enterprises ministry warned in a presentation on Wednesday, although it later changed its wording to say the firm was "facing liquidity challenges".

State-owned Eskom, which supplies more than 90 percent of the power in Africa's most industrialised economy, cut electricity for a fourth straight day on Wednesday.

Eskom is laden with more than $30 billion (23 billion pounds) of debt and is battling a shortage of capacity that threatens to derail government plans to lift the sluggish economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that the government would support Eskom's balance sheet but said details would be announced in a budget speech by the finance minister on Feb. 20.

The department of public enterprises, which oversees Eskom, said in a presentation to parliament that Eskom was technically insolvent and would "cease to exist" at the current trajectory by April, unless it gets a bailout.

The ministry later sent a version of the same presentation to journalists which it said had been corrected, which removed the timeframe and in which it substituted the words "will cease to exist" with "is facing liquidity challenges". A ministry spokesman did not answer calls seeking an explanation.

Analysts say Eskom no longer generates enough cashflow or earnings to meet its debt-servicing costs, putting it at risk of default.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, however, ruled out privatisation of the utility.

Fears over Eskom's financial viability drove the rand 1.5 percent weaker against the U.S. dollar.

The yield on the benchmark government bond, which moves inversely to its price, was up 2.5 basis points as investors fretted about the economic impact of a crisis which could see South Africa lose its remaining investment grade credit rating.

"With Eskom in the midst of trying to find a solution to its financing needs, investors are more nervous as to what this means to (rating agency) Moody's," Citi economist Gina Schoeman said in a note.

"Markets are highly sensitive to even a negative outlook decision because of how close this places South Africa to a WGBI-exit and inevitable ZAR depreciation and increased vulnerabilities," she added, referring to the World Government Bond Index (WGBI).

Moody's, the only one of the "big three" agencies to rate South Africa at investment grade, is scheduled to review the sovereign on March 29.

South Africa is rated "junk" by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch and if Moody's joins them, the country will be booted out of the WGBI, which may prompt investors to dump its assets.

FRUSTRATION

The public enterprises department said on Wednesday that Eskom was struggling to keep its mainly coal-fired plants running due to coal shortages and poor maintenance, with 40 percent of breakdowns a result of human error.

The cash-strapped company said it would cut 3,000 megawatts (MW) of power from the national grid from 0600 GMT on Wednesday, likely until 2100 GMT. This follows a similar cut on Tuesday and 4,000 MW on Monday in the worst power cuts seen in several years that drove the rand currency down on Monday.

The power cuts have led to frustration among ordinary South Africans with traffic gridlock in major cities during rush hours as traffic lights stop working and some mothers struggling to feed their children.

"I have a baby, so making her bottles was a challenge because I had nowhere to boil water, which resulted in me having to go to a restaurant that has a generator just to get boiling water," 28-year old Anazi Zote, mother of a 10 month-old daughter, told Reuters.

Business owners with no access to backup power sources have also been hit.

"From work to home to everywhere. At the moment the lights are off and we are using the stairs because the elevator isn't working, and I'm on the 11th floor … it's frustrating," Leroy Erasmus, 25, a risk and surveying consultant, told Reuters. 

Firms in the mining sector, the backbone of the country's economy, are looking at alternatives to reduce their dependence on Eskom and monitoring the situation closely.

"Extended load-shedding (power cuts) would have a severe impact on the viability of mines, particularly deep-level gold and platinum mines," said Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for South Africa's mining body.

Harmony Gold said on Tuesday that it was in talks to build a 30 MW solar plant to supply power to some of its assets, in an effort to cut its electricity costs and dependence on Eskom.

Gordhan said the government was worried about the impact the power outages could have.

"The Eskom board is taking steps to ensure that load shedding (power cuts) doesn't become a permanent feature of South Africa this year," he said.

 

- Reuters

Twitter might just make it a little easier to silence unwanted attention from strangers -- or to forge a new friendship. It's testing profile previews in its iOS app that show more about a user without taking you away from your timeline.

If you're included in the test, tapping on a user's @ handle in a tweet will show a card with their basic details and give you an option to follow or mute them. You can either return to your usual browsing or view their full profile if you need more details.

The company's safety team elaborated on just why it's experimenting with these previews: they make it that much easier to figure out who's involved with an account. You may have a better sense of who's a bot or creep and deal with them accordingly. This could add an extra step to viewing full profiles, but it could also encourage more people to check profiles before they respond to unfamiliar people.

 

Source: Twitter

Zimbabwean gold miner RioZim said it had suspended production at its three mines for the second time in four months because the central bank had failed to pay it in U.S. dollars for part of its gold deliveries.

Gold producers in the southern African country sell their output to central bank subsidiary Fidelity Printers and Refiners and are supposed to be paid 55 percent of their earnings in U.S. dollars. The remainder is paid via electronic dollars into their bank accounts.

RioZim, which is 95-percent owned by local shareholders, is Zimbabwe’s second biggest gold producer and last October threatened legal action to force the Reserve Bank to pay it more dollars for part of its output.

The gold miner said since December, it had experienced “significant and persistent” delays in dollar payments, affecting its viability.

“Consequently, the company has recently been forced, once again, to involuntarily suspend production across all its three gold mines pending full payment of its foreign exchange proceeds,” RioZim said in a statement.

The company said it continued to engage the Reserve Bank but if negotiations failed, it would shut its mines indefinitely.

Central bank Governor John Mangudya did not respond to calls for a comment.

Zibmabwe adopted the U.S. dollar in 2009 to tame hyperinflation, but is facing acute dollar shortages and that has sent prices of basic goods spiralling and inflation rising to double digits. 

Mines Minister Winston Chitando said on Monday Mangudya would soon introduce a monetary policy tool to alleviate the foreign currency shortages that have affected miners.

Gold is the country’s single largest export earner and production reached an all time high of 33 tonnes in 2018 from 27 tonnes the year before, official data shows, driven by record output from small scale producers.

Big mining companies say the acute shortage of dollars, which has also sapped supplies of fuel and medicines, hampers their ability to expand production and start new projects.

 

- Reuters

Nigeria is preparing for its general election. But will it be credible? Nigerian voters are well aware that the elections will not be won solely by votes or popular consensus. There are several other variables that influence election results.

These include the incumbent’s control of state security apparatuses, grassroots structures, and control of institutions such as market traders associations, and the National Union for Road Transport Workers.

The road transport workers’ union, which acts as a canopy for bus drivers, conductors, and motor park touts in Southwestern Nigeria, has a history of providing foot soldiers for employment as election thugs with skills in ballot box snatching and voter intimidation tactics.

In addition, the possibility that the election could be rigged cannot be ignored.

Questions around the credibility of elections in post-independence Nigeria can be traced as far back as the “First Republic” which lasted from 1960 - 1966. After allegations of massive rigging in the 1965 elections the country’s western region was engulfed in the infamous “Operation Wet-ie” riots.

The riots pitted rival political groups against each other leading to Nigeria’s first military coup in 1966. From then on the country experienced a series of coups. Between 1966 and 1999, when the country made a decisive break with military politics, Nigeria experienced eight military coups. In that same time period three general elections were conducted.

Tumultuous past

The years outside of military rule were comparatively brief and arguably overshadowed by the spectre of the military. When elections did happen they were plagued by strong allegations of electoral fraud. Since 1999, when the country broke with military rule, five elections have been conducted all of which have been tainted by controversy.

It’s clear to see that Nigeria has survived a tumultuous political history. Going into this next election, questions still remain about the credibility of the country’s electoral system, and the viability of it’s governance structures. Looking back things have often gone wrong, but are there instances where things have worked out well for the electorate?

I would argue that there have at least two instances when voters got what they asked for. One is the June 1993 presidential election, which is considered to have been relatively free and fair in its conduct, its eventual annulment notwithstanding. Another is the presidential election of May 2015 when the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, gracefully accepted defeat by conceding to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Yet I still feel that Nigeria’s electoral system needs a complete overhaul if it’s to perform its functions with as little external interference as possible.

Shadow of military rule

The country has been ruled by military administrators more than it has by democratically elected leaders. For 29 years of Nigeria’s independent history military dictators have had a grip on its leadership. This is compared to just 20 years of democracy. The result has been that electoral rigging and malpractice are rife within Nigeria’s electoral process.

Since 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, both of whom were previously military dictators spent a combined 12 years in power. President Buhari is now seeking a second term. As a result, there are still those who argue that the country’s transition from military rule to democracy is not quite complete.

The executive arm, for example, still maintains certain authoritarian characteristics that are reminiscent of the military era. One of these is the use of the armed forces to manipulate election processes. For instance, during the recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states voter intimidation by the security forces was rife. This was done to scare away opposition voters and give the ruling All Progressives Congress an edge.

The electoral commission

Another factor to consider is the supposed independence and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission which is in charge of running the elections. Critics point to the fact that the commission chairperson and others in the commission are nominated by the president. This calls into question the credibility of the entire electoral commission.

Further, Buhari has just appointed Amina Zakari as the new collation officer. Zakari will oversee the committee responsible for the national collation centre from where results of the presidential election will be announced. But Zakari has been alleged to have a family relationship with the president. This has raised suspicion within opposition circles that the government intends to rig the polls.

To make matters worse, the behaviour of the electoral commission in previous elections hasn’t always been above reproach. This has lent credence to the criticisms bout the body’s impartiality. In the run up to the 2007 general for example, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had no power to disqualify candidates in the eleventh hour as it had purported to do in the case of opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar.

The opaque nature in which recent gubernatorial elections have been held has also added to the fears of a rigged presidential poll. The September 2018 gubernatorial election in Osun, for example, was panned by election observers as being riddled with voting irregularities like voter harassment, and interference by “inappropriate persons”. These irregularities were reinforced by the high number of security officers deployed to the state during the election period.

The involvement of the security apparatus in tilting this tightly contested election in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress is considered to be an indicator of how things could pan out in the general election.

Role of outsiders

Observers like the European Union and the US also exert a measure of influence on Nigerian elections. By ramping up the rhetoric on the importance of free and fair elections they play into the hands of the opposition who have historically appealed to foreign powers to umpire the electoral process.

Incumbent governments, on the other hand, have typically been on the other side of the argument. Nigerian governments have often cited what they call the “neo-imperialism” of countries like the UK and the US and decried their interference in Nigeria’s sovereignty. This resistance to foreign interference was most recently evidenced in comments made by Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who threatened foreign observers with death if they engaged with local politicians.

Former president Goodluck Jonathan also trotted out the “foreign interference” trope when he claimed in his recently published memoir that the US played a hand in ensuring that he lost the 2015 election.

And a few weeks ago the ruling All Progressives Congress joined the bandwagon when they issued a statement telling the EU to not undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty.

Not all grim

Despite all of the above, it’s not all grim. There are some positive precedents that can be built on.

For example, despite predictions that there would election violence during the 2015 poll, Jonathan did the honourable thing by conceding defeat to Buhari.

His concession reinforced the notion that elections need not be a “do or die” affair. This peaceful transition after just one presidential term in office also set a positive trend for elections across Africa.

But with the slim margin between the incumbent, Buhari, and his main contender Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party – this narrative might need to be reinforced when Nigeria goes to the polls again on February 16.The Conversation

 

Ini Dele-Adedeji, Teaching Fellow, Politics & Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An early 2019 meme called #10yearchallenge, that involved someone sharing an image from 2008 or 2009 next to one from 2018 or 2019, gained tremendous popular traction and within days spread like a virus across social media.

It’s unclear where it started, but was probably prompted by Facebook’s feature that brings back old memories (including pictures) on users’ walls. Initially it was called #HowHardDidAgingHitYou as it was supposed to show just that. It evolved to #GlowingUp to show how well many aged, before it became known as the #10yearchallenge. Soon it was also all over Twitter and Instagram. Celebrities dined out on it, ordinary people across the world followed suit and participated enthusiastically.

On the surface this phenomenon was simply superficial fun. In fact it’s provided an interesting window on society. There are two particular insights I’ve drawn from the explosion of interest in #10yearchallenge.

The first is how well people who posted images of themselves have aged. In some cases, there was hardly any change in the participants’ faces, hair, weight or bearing. Take global celebrities like Jessica Biel and Rihanna as examples.

The second is the issue of sharing images that could be used for nefarious reasons. A number of alert technology watchers have warned that the #10yearchallenge may be more than harmless fun. Viewed sceptically, participants in the challenge could be playing into the hands of surveillance agencies or companies precisely because all the images can easily be mined for data.

Longevity

It could be argued that the #10yearchallenge is providing people with the opportunity to show off their longevity. With mottoes such as “50 is the new 30”, not only is the ageing population, particularly in developed countries, growing in numbers, they are becoming younger looking judged by appearances.

This obsession with youthfulness, of the older generation looking younger in a distorted inversion of age and youth, reminded me of German director Damir Lukacevic’s science fiction film Transfer (2010). It took this future scenario to a potentially dystopian conclusion.

It shows how the rich elderly have the opportunity to become “immortal” by swapping bodies with youthful refugees and other marginalised youths. The one group has money and power but time is running out, while the other only have youthfulness on their side. Youthfulness becomes the transferable and highly sought-after commodity. And it highlights how the haves can buy anything, including longevity.

But there is a demographic twist to this narrative.

Clearly, people are ageing better these days. If one had to compare images of our fairly recent ancestors over 10 years intervals, the ageing process might have been more obvious and dramatic in the past. It may just be that all the Bantings, Ketos, Botox and creams are working! And in some cases, social media filters and photoshopping as well.

The #10yearchallenge told the world about the improving age, welfare and health of a particular cohort of people: those who use social media. The number of internet users worldwide in 2018 was 3.196 billion. But a recent Pew research survey showed that for example, just one-in-five adults in India and Tanzania use social networks, and all five sub-Saharan African countries surveyed report social media is much lower.

Due to this massive digital divide we don’t know how the biggest part of the poorer global south aged. We can, however, safely assume that it’s nowhere as well as the north.

The #10yearchallenge went beyond showing off, fun, irony and wit. A few social media users posted images that illustrated the sharp contrast between the good-looking ageing human population and the deteriorating environment.

Images of rain forests in 2009 compared to 2019, places where rivers once flowed, or forward projections of extinct or near extinct animals in 2019 compared with 2029. Nature seems to be disappearing while we are thriving.

The sinister end of the spectrum

Technology author Kate O’Neil has explained that the #10yearchallenge provides the perfect raw material for setting up a facial recognition algorithm. The then-and-now photographs are ideal for such an exercise – they are clean, simple and helpfully labelled.

Facebook denied that the #10yearchallenge was a form of social engineering. But O'Neill reminded us of the mass data extraction of more than 70 million US Facebook users by data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. It harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters and used them to build a powerful software programme to predict and influence choices at the US ballot box.

O’Neil suggests three plausible scenarios for the use of facial recognition.

In the benign scenario it could help find missing kids, especially when they’ve been missing for a while.

On the mundane side, facial recognition could be useful for targeted advertising.

But there’s a more sinister side to facial recognition uses, raising major privacy concerns. As O'Neill cautions:

the police could use the technology not only to track people who are suspected of having committed crimes, but also people who are not committing crimes, such as protesters and others whom the police deem a nuisance.
She goes on to say:
The broader message, removed from the specifics of any one meme or even any one social platform, is that humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world. We should know this, and proceed with due diligence and sophistication.

For those who still consider memes as harmless and innocent information sharing perhaps it is time to reconsider. Memes like the #10yearchallenge have become ideological barometers that carry social meaning and context. Whether viewed as bait to put our faces and information online for algorithmic mining or interpreted as signifiers of human ageing - the #10yearchallenge meme says a lot about what it means to be human in a digital age.The Conversation

 

Amanda du Preez, Professor in Visual Culture Studies, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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