HARARE —Amid reports of bitter intense rivalry between Russia and China over Zimbabwean succession battles, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, has today landed in Southern Africa and teamed up with his host to try and salvage Robert Mugabe survival
Speaking to journalists in South Africa today Trutnev said he believed the ongoing political crisis in Zimbabwe would barely affect the capital flows to the countries of the region and expressed concern at the instability in the country.
As the overthrow of despot Robert Mugabe entered a stalemate Friday, eyes turned to China — Zimbabwe’s largest foreign investor and a key ally — amid speculation over its role in the military coup.
Source in Harare believe the Zimbabwean conflict is involving two rival camps within Zanu PF backed by China and Russia with both trying to protect their economic interests.
The army chief General Constantino Chiwenga, visited Beijing last week — just days before tanks rolled into the streets of Harare. President Mugabe has been been hostile to the Chinese in recent years accusing them of plundering the countries diamonds worth $15 billion.
Last month First Lady Grace Mugabe was in Russia where she represented her 93-year-old husband at a function where he was honoured with some accolade in Russia at the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) in Moscow.
“It is a BRICS internal rivalry with both Russia and South Africa on one side trying to protect their economic interests and China on the other side,” a regional think-tank in London said on Friday.
“I would like to look at the situation from the other side. In most cases, instability emerges, when people are not satisfied with their lives. That’s why, it is necessary to attract money to the country in order to ensure stability, to attract investors, to create new enterprises… If the country is developing, there will be no grounds for instability, that’s why, in order to avoid destabilization, Zimbabwe, as well as any other country, should simply develop its economy,” Russian Deputy Trutnev explained.
Russia has been investing in several projects in southern African nations, for example, the ALROSA group of diamond mining companies is engaged in several projects in Zimbabwe, while mining and steelmaking company Evraz and Severstal steel and steel-related mining company conduct their business in South Africa.
The unrest in Zimbabwe is a serious concern for neighboring countries. While the African Union stated that the crisis “seemed like a coup” and urged respect for the country’s constitution, South African President Jacob Zuma sent envoys to meet with Mugabe and the army commander on Thursday in order to find a solution to the political turmoil, saying that the situation in Zimbabwe “very shortly will be become clear.”
The upheaval in the African country began earlier this week with the the ruling party announcing that the country was in a “bloodless transition” of power from 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, who was reportedly put under heavy guard by the military and is preparing to announce his resignation. The military, however, said in a televised statement on Wednesday that there was no “military takeover of government” underway and that the president was “safe and sound.”
In the latest turn of events, Mugabe made his first public appearence since the beginning of the crisis, arriving at a university graduation ceremony in Harare.
Russia and South Africa, which together control about 80% of the world’s reserves of platinum group metals, have created a trading bloc similar to OPEC to control the flow of exports according to Bloomberg.
Zimbabwe, Canada, and the U.S. are among other major platinum group metals producers.
Russian and South African officials signed a memorandum of understanding today to cooperate in the industry.
“Our goal is to coordinate our actions accordingly to expand the markets for realization of these metals,” Russian Natural Resources Minister Sergey Donskoy said in an interview at a summit of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in Durban. “The price depends on the structure of the market, and we will form the structure of the market.”
South Africa mines about 70 percent of the world’s platinum, while Russia leads in palladium, a platinum group metal used in autocatalysts, with about 40% of output, according to a 2012 report by Johnson Matthey Plc.
According to the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe (CMZ) and geologists, Zimbabwe has far bigger platinum reserves than Russia. The country currently has the second known largest platinum reserves after South Africa. Experts say underfunding and limited exploration has over the years stifled growth of the mining sector.
Official figures show that last year Russia produced about 800 000 ounces.The Zimbabwe chamber is on record saying it seeks to increase production to the targeted 500 000 ounces per annum requires the setting up of base and precious metal smelters and refineries, investment of $2,8 billion in mines, $2 billion in processing plants and between $200 and $500 million to ensure adequate power supply. Already, the country’s major platinum miners – Zimplats, Unki and Mimosa who are currently processing the metal in neighbouring South Africa – have undertaken to construct the refinery.
Zimbabwe’s largest platinum producer, Zimplats, has invested over $30 million in carrying out a study for the establishment of the first-ever platinum group of metals refinery in the country.
Zimplats, a unit of South Africa’s Impala Platinum, is a platinum group metals mining company that currently operates three underground mines and a concentrator at Ngezi as well as the Selous metallurgical complex, which comprises a concentrator and a smelter.
The three platinum mines are this year targeting nearly 365 000 ounces of the precious metal, but experts say investment has been affected by the indigenisation and empowerment regulations which compel foreign-owned companies to sell 51% stake to locals.
China, which has enjoyed a close diplomatic and economic relationship with Zimbabwe for years, says Chiwenga’s visit was routine and part of a “normal military exchange.”
Asked if Chiwenga had briefed China on coup plans, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang would not discuss specifics.
Miles Blessing Tendi, a lecturer in African history and politics at the University of Oxford, says there is no way to be certain if China knew about Mugabe’s fate but believes China’s respect for sovereignty would make their involvement uncharacteristic.
“Above all else [China] wants stability, and a coup is a recipe for instability. So this does not sound like a Chinese move,” Tendi said. “Something like this is always going to be held in secret talks. No one is going to come out and confirm it, so we may never know for sure.”
Teddy Brett, professor of international development at the London School of Economics, said whoever ends up ruling Zimbabwe would want support from overseas, and China would be a key source of strength.
“It would not surprise me in the slightest if they would start with the country with the resources [of China] and without any commitment to democracy per se,” Brett said. “China always supports the regime in power, unconditionally, whether it has been elected or not.”
Beijing has stood with Mugabe’s government in the face of economic sanctions from the United States and other Western powers. It has backed Mugabe despite rising international criticism over his authoritarian rule and human rights violations.
China is also an important investor in Zimbabwe. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the country in 2015, reaffirming “deep and firm” friendship between the two nations and pledging $4 billion in investment deals.
Beijing said Thursday it was paying close attention to the uncertainty in Zimbabwe, and that its “friendly policy” toward the African nation would not change despite the crisis.
Brett said it was likely China will now play a waiting game to see who will come out on top.
“And once they do, I would be very surprised if they said anything other than ‘these are the internal political matters of Zimbabwe’,” he said.
In August, Zimbabwe’s government said a Chinese company planned to invest up to $2 billion to revive operations at Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO), which ceased production in 2008 at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown.
In that year, China vetoed a proposed Western-backed U.N. resolution which would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and financial and travel restrictions on Mugabe and 13 other officials, saying it would “complicate,” rather than ease, conflict.