Modern Mining: Featured News

There are two mining conferences each year that I make sure I never miss. One, of course, is the Mining Indaba in Cape Town. The other is the Botswana Resource Sector Conference (BRSC) in Gaborone, which is a much smaller affair – it typically attracts between 300 and 400 delegates – but always very enjoyable and informative. This year it is to be held on 6/7 June at the normal venue, the Gaborone International Convention Centre.

Arthur Tassell commentIt will be interesting to see the mood of delegates at this year’s event. The mining industry in Botswana is, after all, going through some rather tough times with several mining operations in the country having closed down over the past 18 months, including the BCL nickel/copper mine in Selebi-Phikwe, Tati Nickel near Francistown, the Lerala diamond mine near the Martin’s Drift border post with South Africa, and the Ghaghoo diamond mine in the central Kalahari.

Of course, none of these closures is necessarily permanent and one imagines that at least two of these mines, Ghaghoo and Lerala, will, at some point, restart.

Ghaghoo is under care and maintenance and will be an excellent asset if market conditions improve. Gem Diamonds, the owner, did report last year that it was in discussions with an unidentified potential buyer but these fell through. The company remains committed, however, to disposing of the asset and says in its latest annual report, released in March this year, that “efforts are now under way to identify potential buyers for Ghaghoo.”

The situation with Lerala is less clear cut. Its owner, Australia’s Kimberley Diamonds, went into administration in the middle of last year and its Botswanan subsidiary was liquidated a couple of months later. Lerala, which started up in 2008, has always been something of a marginal operation but it does have a plant which is only 10 years old (and which was, in any event, extensively upgraded by Kimberley) and it could well be revived. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong with Lerala but one does hear that the highly abrasive ore from one of the pits played havoc with the processing facility, leading to a disastrous mismatch between mining production and plant throughput.

As regards the BCL mine (and Tati Nickel, which BCL bought from Norilsk shortly before going under), there have been reports of potential buyers but nothing has come of negotiations. One of the problems with the Selebi-Phikwe operation – according to the Botswana media – is that any buyer would have to take on some very onerous environmental rehabilitation obligations. Whatever the truth of this, it is clear that the mine is very close to the end of its life and unlikely to ever be returned to its previous status as a pillar of Botswana’s mining industry.

Tati Nickel, however, potentially has some life left with the Selkirk deposit (previously the site of an underground mine) offering the prospect of a new opencast operation to take over from the mined-out Phoenix pit.

So, is there any good news regarding mining in Botswana? Certainly there is. Copper mining in the country is in the process of being revived, with the Mowana copper mine once again producing (albeit at a low level, so far), as we report elsewhere in this issue, and Australia’s MOD Resources making great progress with its T3 (or Motheo) copper deposit in the Kalahari, now in the feasibility stage with MOD targeting an investment decision sometime next year.

Also on the horizon is Cupric Canyon’s Khoemacau project which would be an underground mine. This project – which would involve a very substantial investment– has gone off the radar in recent months and indeed the press in Botswana reported in August last year that Cupric Canyon – or, more precisely, its subsidiary in Botswana, Khoemacau Copper Mining Company – had slashed its workforce. One is hopeful, however, that the project is still on course and I’m expecting to get more clarity on this at the upcoming BRSC.

The coal sector is also looking promising, with at least two juniors – Maatla Energy and Minergy, both with South African connections – planning start-ups in the near-term. Maatla’s asset is Mmamabula and it says it is on track to start mine construction this year with first coal sales in 2019. Minergy appears even more advanced and its CEO, Andre Bojé, has said that its Masama project will start delivering saleable coal as early as September this year.

Readers wanting to learn more about mining in Botswana should consider attending the BRSC. Not all the mining companies and explorers active in the country will be presenting at the conference but my experience is that most of them are at least represented and one can pick up a great deal of information just by the usual ‘networking’. Further details, for those who are interested, are available from the organisers on e-mail brsc@capconferences.com or by visiting the website www.capconferences.com.

Arthur Tassell

Contact Modern Mining

Title: Editor
Name: Arthur Tassell
Email: mining@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Bennie Venter
Email: benniev@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

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