Following the closure of its major plant at Changalume in Zomba in 2002 reportedly due to dwindling limestone deposits, Portland Cement (1974) Limited is importing clinker, the crucial raw material for producing cement, from Egypt in North Africa. Portland Cement General Manager Anthony Rix confirmed the development in a written response to an inquiry that the price of clinker landed in Malawi will be competitive when all parties have worked on the logistical problems of using Nacala corridor, land-locked Malawi¹s shortest route to the sea. But Rix said despite the importation, the ex-plant price of cement in Malawi has not changed in US$ terms since before the closure of Changalume although in Malawi kwacha terms it has increased to maintain US$ parity.
³We are indeed importing clinker from Egypt to ensure that the cost of clinker is cheapest to Malawi. At present it is more expensive than obtaining it from Zimbabwe where the majority of clinker is still being obtained,² said Rix. Asked for how long the company will be importing clinker, Rix said Portland Cement will require imported clinker since any quantity that could be available from one or more small clinker operations established locally would not be sufficient for the production of enough cement to supply the market whose demand is currently estimated at just over 200,000tpa.
But Rix said subject to acceptable quality and price, Portland will undertake to buy the clinker from as many local plants as would be established which, he said, is in line with government¹s desire to get as many Malawians as possible to participate in the fledgling mineral processing sector of the economy. ³To gear up for this and to ensure the future of the company in Malawi is safeguarded, Portland Cement is currently upgrading the plant in Blantyre at a cost of over US$600,000. This will ensure that the quality of cement in maintained and cement loading is faster than at present,² he said. Rix also said Portland will continue to invest to improve the facilities at its Blantyre plant and promote the production of clinker where possible in Malawi.
Responding to a question on why Portland did not exploit limestone deposit in Balaka after closing Changalume, Rix said the Balaka deposits are made up of calcitic and dolomitic limestone and there is not enough calcitic limestone available to justify the investment required for a major cement plant. He, however, said Portland Cement together with a Malawian entrepreneur are at an advanced stage of implementing a project to produce clinker from Balaka limestone for on-processing in Blantyre.
Changalume clinker producing factory was established by Nyasaland Portland Cement Limited in 1960 which later sold all its stakes to Malawi Government through its investment arm Malawi Development Corporation (MDC) leading to the change of name to Portland Cement (1974) Limited. In 1996, government, through the Privatisation Commission, sold its 75 percent shares to Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) who also owned Chilanga Cement in Zambia and Mbeya Cement in Tanzania. But in 2001, CDC sold its plants in Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi to Lafarge who also owns Circle Cement in Zimbabwe and Lafarge continued to bring cement into Malawi from Tanzania and later opted to bring clinker and some cement from Circle Cement in Zimbabwe before eventually closing Changalume, saying it had inadequate limestone deposits. Experts however held a different view with Director of Geological Surveys Leonard Kalindekafe saying Malawi has abundant lime resources including right at Changalume.