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Zambezi Valley may contain oil treasure



THE sharp curves down a steep slope into the Mbire valley is a path that leads to what could be Zimbabwe’s newfound wealth.


A few kilometres before the bus carefully glided onto the narrow slope, vendors by the roadside yelled to attract excitable commuters who craved to have a piece of the village goodies — groundnuts and wild fruits.

“A dollar for a packet of groundnuts,” a woman shouts and the touring journalists could hardly believe the bargain right before their eyes.

If any of the women make at least US$10, they would have made more than they ordinarily earn in two days.

“It is visitors like you who make our sitting in the sun worthwhile,” a middle-aged woman said as she poured groundnuts into a plastic bag.

“Tomorrow, we have mukando (stokvel). I did not know where I was going to get the money,” she added.

Amid a hunger crisis in this arid region, their only hope is income from hawking wild fruits to visitors, mainly those enroute to the Invictus Energy rig about 40 kilometres down the road.

As the sweltering heat beats mercilessly on the vast swathes of land on the border of Mbire and Muzarabani, herdsmen drive cattle onto richer grazing lands in the sunparched grasslands. 

About five years ago, no one here had the slightest clue that Muzarabani and Mbire could be sitting on vast gas or oil deposits.

Situated just 60km from Mozambique where conflict has erupted in northern Cabo Delgado region due to extremist insurgents fighting for control of gas fields, Muzarabani-Mbire is on the cusp of a major breakthrough that could transform lives.

Perennially, its inhabitants have survived on cotton farming while others chose to rear cattle.

Unbeknown to many was that Mobil Energy had since the early 1990s begun studying the area for potential gas and oil deposits.

Although Mobil did not eventually prospect for the presence of these commodities in Mbire-Muzarabani, its work, as now seen through vast seismic data available to Invictus, it paved way to a project that could contribute to the country’s energy requirements.

For a community whose highest ambition was to farm cotton and tobacco, a more lucrative business could be on the horizon.

As the bus screeches to a halt at a security checkpoint, it becomes apparent that work has already begun far afield.

Mukuyu 1 is the first prospecting well set for drilling this month-end or early September.

Mukuyu contains the largest undrilled structure in onshore Africa, Invictus says on its website. The company reached an agreement with Zimbabwe’s government in March to increase the exploration area sevenfold to 1.77 million acres (716,300 hectares).

“All things being equal, we will start (at the) end of this month or first week of September,” Paul Chimbodza, managing director of the Australian company’s local subsidiary Geo Associates, said.

Inside, the fortress, enclosed in an electric fence, is a lofty gas drilling rig already set in place to prospect for the resource here.

It will take another eight weeks to ascertain if gas is actually a possibility, company officials said.

The authorities and local leadership, believes this would help revive the fortunes of the poor regions of Muzarabani and Mbire.

With employment prospects on the horizon, maybe the women who vend their wares by the roadside will find jobs or, at the very least, have their husbands providing labour here.

“The whole community is looking forward to this project. We hope this will help us and change our lives,” Maud Kanyora (39) said as she packed wild fruits into a plastic bag.

“When we saw trucks moving past this place everyday, it stirred hope that something could be brewing,” Kanyora said.

Many families have abandoned cotton farming as it is no longer lucrative.

“The community is happy because there is potential for jobs. This area is mainly known for cotton, but it is no longer paying that much. People are no longer farming the crop. So people are happy because they will get jobs,” the local traditional leader, Chief Muzarabani, who was born Onias Hwata, said.

The discovery of oil and gas in the country could be a boost for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. Zimbabwe stands to receive as much as 60% of the project’s output under a production agreement still being finalised, said Joe Mtizwa, deputy chairperson of Invictus Energy.

“If we are successful, this project will be transformational, a game-changer for Zimbabwe,” Mutizwa said.

But for thousands here, mere talk will not suffice; it is a matter of survival and all hopes are pinned on this rig.

“Everyone is looking to this project, maybe something will come up. It is our only hope,” Chief Muzarabani said.

One hopes that Muzarabani-Mbire will not fall victim to Zimbabwe’s notorious resource curse, which has seen communities fail to enjoy the benefits of their local resources.

Just like Kanyora who sits by the roadside daily anticipating elusive customers, the whole community impatiently awaits a project that could change lives for the better.

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