Hit by late payments for gold remittances delivered to Zimbabwe's central bank, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), RioZim - Zimbabwe's leading mining conglomerate - has diversified its portfolio and interest into coal mining and a nickel refinery.

RioZim - whose operations at the Renco gold mine have been hampered by operational constraints - has renewed interest in nickel refining as well as coal mining, the company's CEO, Eric Kahari told shareholders at the company's AGM early this week.

The surge in prices and demand for nickel and copper has made the Empress Nickel Refinery (ENR) a very worthwhile asset, Kahari said.

He revealed that RioZim was considering allowing ENR to accept alternative nickel feeds, a development that could lead to a modest expansion of the plant's capacity.

Zimbabwe's power supply difficulties impacted upon Empress Refinery, Kahari notes in the address. The mining firm, Kahari said, will also be forging ahead with coal exploration work at the company's Sengwa coal deposits.

Exploration at the company's lease at the Sengwa has commenced aimed at locating a viable area of the known coal reserves for development, he said. Kahari said RioZim would continue working and investing in broad exploration programmes although the lack of skills could stall progress.

Gold has over the past year dimmed for RioZim as the firm's flagship gold producing mine, Renco has been severely hit by constraints on the operational front. However, Kahari remains buoyant of the gold mine's future prospects: Renco has many years of operation ahead of it.

At a time when global prices of the precious mineral have surged, Kahari said Renco - which is approaching 30 years of operation - would be a significant value creator for the company in the future.

Kahari also noted in his address to the shareholders that to ensure that RioZim realizes further profits from the mine in the future, a lot of reinvestment towards the mine's sustainability is needed. If sourced, the reinvestment will enable the mine to maintain production and even expand its operations.

Chairman Kahari's report at the AGM comes at a time when mining firms inside Zimbabwe are struggling to maintain operations.

Kahari highlighted the principle difficulties that his firm - together with other mining corporates are facing: principal amongst the problems was the (non) availability of foreign currency.

We were unable to receive our own foreign currency, he underscored. He conceded that the previous year was a difficult one and regrettably added that most of the problems have continued into 2008.