Construction at Australia-based mineral sands company Mineral Commodities Limited’s (MRC’s) new Tormin mineral sands mine will start in April, with first production expected within eight months, towards the beginning of the fourth quarter, reports CEO Andrew Lashbrooke.
The mine, located on the West Coast, about 400 km north of Cape Town, has active beach deposits of heavy minerals zircon, rutile and ilmenite, used in the manufacturing of ceramics and in the production of paint, paper and plastic, respectively.
Black economic-empowerment partner Blue Bantry holds a 50% share of the mine.
Lashbrooke tells Mining Weekly that, although the expected life-of-mine (LoM) is currently five years, the company is nevertheless confident that the offshore area – the source of the minerals for which MRC was awarded prospecting rights – will replenish the beach and extend the LoM by at least another five years.
Although the company was awarded the mining rights in 2008, it only received its environmental approvals towards the end of last year, hence, full production at the mine starting only at the end of this year.
This mining right stretches between the low- and high-water mark, along a 12 km stretch of beach, whereas the latest prospecting right, awarded in December last year, includes the area below the low-water mark, which spans a kilometre into the ocean.
The company intends to start with prospecting activity in this area within the next few months.
The predominant minerals of value at Tormin mine include zircon and titanium-dioxide rich rutile, which are contained in a high-grade beach placer deposit, north of the Olifants river outfall, says Lashbrooke.
A definitive feasibility study (DFS), commissioned by MRC in 2006, was undertaken by Perth-based resource development consultant MSP Engineering. The DFS demonstrated that Tormin can produce an enriched nonmagnetic saleable concentrate containing the two minerals.
Lashbrooke explains that, where these minerals would usually be separated completely, MRC will only separate the magnetic material from the nonmagnetic material.
“The nonmagnetic material will be used to produce just under 50 000 t/y of non- magnetic concentrate, comprising about 80% zircon and just under 12% rutile. We will send that product to China, where it will be processed further into a final product,” he says.
As the DFS illustrates, the mineral sands deposits will be mined hydraulically and concentrated through spiral plants on the beach.
The concentrate will then be transferred to a secondary concentration plant, where it will be further upgraded by spirals, wet magnetic separation and screens, before being bagged for shipment to the destination market.
Lashbrooke reports that MRC will also produce a finished ilmenite from the magnetic fraction. This product will be processed locally and is expected to amount to 100 000 t/y. China is also the probable destination market for the ilmenite, he adds.
Meanwhile, the building phase of Tormin mine will create 40 local jobs and, there- after, 100 people will be employed during the life of the mine. The gross domestic product benefit of the Tormin mine will be worth R1-billion a year for the Western Cape economy.
Lashbrooke assures Mining Weekly that no community protests flared against the construction of Tormin mine.
“We are actively engaging with local interest groups and community leaders to attempt to mitigate any issues arising from the development of the project,” he says.
Lashbrooke adds that a full environmental- impact assessment was undertaken, in accordance with the Department of Mineral Resources and the National Environmental Management Act.
“All approvals have been obtained and all interested and affected parties, including the local community, had the opportunity to participate in the process,” he asserts.
Last month, MRC’s new board visited Tormin mine, an event that coincided with the Investing in African Mining Indaba, which took place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from February 4 to 7.
New executive directors Guy Walker and James Leahy, as well as director Peter Torre and Lashbrooke took local government members, representatives from the Department of Mineral Resources, stakeholders and members of the media on a tour of the Tormin site.
“With the company evolving from an explor- ation phase into a development and operational phase, the MRC board was bolstered at the end of last year. Therefore, the purpose of this visit was for the new board members to hold their first meeting, engage with stakeholders and see Tormin first-hand,” he says, adding that the site visit was a great success.
In the Eastern Cape, MRC has reapplied for prospecting rights for the Kwanyana block of the Xolobeni project, which is regarded as one of the largest undeveloped mineral sands resources in the world, containing more than 9-millions tons of ilmenite.
This renewal follows Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu’s revocation of MRC subsidiary Transworld Energy & Minerals’ conditional mining right for the Kwanyana block in 2011, owing to environmental issues. The prospecting licences for the four other blocks in the Xolobeni region were renewed around the same time.
“In time, we hope to join the Kwanyana block to the prospecting work being under- taken on the remainder of the Xolobeni tenement and, ultimately, to investigate the potential of bringing a mining right applications for the entire Xolobeni project,” says Lashbrooke.
Meanwhile, African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe last year called on mayors and councillors in the Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape to unite behind the granting of licences for mining in the area to unlock the development potential and benefit poverty-stricken communities.
Lashbrooke reports that, if the Xolobeni project were to come into production, about R2-billion would be invested in local infrastructure, 300 people would be employed for two years to build the mine and 600 people during its 25-year life cycle.
Further, on a standard 1:5 ratio for job creation on projects of this nature, Xolobeni would create about 3 000 direct and indirect jobs in one of the poorest regions in South Africa, says Lashbrooke.
“More than R1-billion would also be realised by the local community, the AmaDiba people, who are 26% shareholders in the Xolobeni project.”
This means the AmaDiba people, who have established their own wholly owned subsidiary called XolCo – the Xolobeni Empowerment Company – will benefit from the dividend flow from Tormin and, eventually, from the Xolobeni project.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported early last month that members of the AmaDiba clan, which comprises 45 000 people, have laid allegations against MRC, stating that the company breached OECD guideline provisions “through co-option, intimidation and subversion of the indigenous peoples to obtain their manipulated consent to the issuing of a mining licence for mining rights over their ancestral land”.
The disputing clan members allege adverse environmental impacts, loss of livelihood, inadequate disclosure of project plans and impact assessments and the breach of bribery provisions.
However, Lashbrooke assures Mining Weekly that MRC has engaged with the traditional leadership of the AmaDiba community, involved them in projects and supported them in establishing investment vehicles for the Tormin and Xolobeni projects.
“We have, therefore, consulted with the local people and believe that the leadership and the vast majority of residents are in favour of the project,” he counters, adding that, with a community of that size, it is inevitable that certain people do not want mining to proceed.
“This would be for many reasons, ranging from a strong philosophical standpoint against mining, to a mildly negative standpoint due to a lack of understanding of the project, or its relative merits,” says Lashbrooke.
He advances that MRC would like to have the support of a united and unanimous community, but says he does not believe it will be possible.
“We will, however, keep working with the community and will keep consulting with them to ensure that the leadership, community and individuals have the best possible information available to them.”
Lashbrooke maintains that Tormin presents the AmaDiba community with an “excellent” case study for them to witness and assess the impact and benefits that mining could offer them.