Although Groupe Forrest International (GFI) and the Congolese state-owned company Gecamines officially put an end to their dispute over the Lubumbashi slag heap on 2 May, the two companies did not specify how the production site will be managed in the future. GFI’s grievance dates back to 23 March 2017, when Gecamines prevented the company founded by the Belgian-Congolese magnate George Forrest from accessing the slag heap, despite the fact that it had been operating at the site since 2001 (AMI 401).
Contacted by Africa Mining Intelligence, GFI stated that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that at some point the company would once again be involved in operations at the site, though no agreement has yet been reached in that respect. There reportedly has been some interest from Chinese investors acquiring a stakeholding. One firm based in Zhejiang, Huayou Cobalt, is already very active in the Congolese cobalt sector via its subsidiaryCongo Dongfang International Mining (AMI 414).
However, the South African firm Shamrock Global Group, which claims to have signed an agreement with Gecamines in 2016 to mine part of the slag at the Lubumbashi site, has not yet thrown in the towel. The deal never came into force and Shamrock was not granted access to the slag heap, and so in late 2017 the company took its grievance against Gecamines to arbitration at theInternational Chamber of Commerce (ICC – AMI 403). In 2018, Shamrock also initiated legal proceedings against GFI at the Brussels commercial court, claiming that GFI had damaged its business interests by delaying and hindering the implementation of its deal with Gecamines.
However, before operations can resume at the Lubumbashi slag heap, the main furnace needs to be repaired, and this is likely to take many months. It will take around a month to dismantle the current furnace and then at least eight months to manufacture the various parts for the replacement, using raw materials imported from India and China and drawing on Austrian technical expertise. The parts will then need to be transported to Lubumbashi and assembled on site. GFI, which is tasked with these repairs, is understood to have created a new entity to coordinate the works, all of its shares in the slag heap factory and in STL (Societe congolaise pour le traitement du terril de Lubumbashi) having been transferred to Gecamines.