However, the vibrancy of the continent's mining sector has, until recently, not been commensurate with its great geological potential, says the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Nonetheless, Africa currently boasts six major greenfield mining projects – the individual development of which exceeds the R1-billion-mark – which proves that the tide may be turning.
Barrick's Bulyanhulu gold-mine is being developed at a cost of $280-million, Iscor's heavy-minerals project, IHM, at a cost of R1,9-billion, Anglo Platinum's Maandagshoek platinum-mine has a capex of R1,35-billion, and Anglo American's Skorpion zinc-mine at a cost of R3,2-billion, and Avmin's Target gold-mine with a value of R2,1-billion, and Impala Platinum's Winnaarshoek project, valued at R1,6-billion.
The fundamental problems in most African countries have been the lack of an attractive enabling environment for private-sector mining investment, a paucity of accurate and up-to-date geological information and the systems to manage the information, inadequate or non-existent environmental regulations and standards, and insufficient human skills and capacity to effectively manage the sector, maintains the IFC.
Beginning in the early 1990s, this state of affairs began to change.
Certain countries, such as Ghana, undertook significant reforms to the mining laws and organisation of the sector. Even the Democratic Republic of Congo is drafting a new mining code to this end.
Department of Minerals and Energy deputy director: industrial minerals John Duval reports that, in the 1990s, Africa attracted some 20% of the world's greenfield exploration.
"Things quietened down to some extent after that, but there are still exploration hotspots in countries such as Tanzania, Mali and Burkina Faso," he maintains. It is worth noting is that four of the five major greenfield mining projects are located in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
"The SADC is seen as a lower-risk region in terms of political stability," observes Anglovaal Mining vice-president: precious metals Gerhard Potgieter, although he insists that there are still great projects to be developed to the north of this region. South Africa, in particular, is attracting investment because it already has a well-developed mining industry, points out Chamber of Mines head of economics Roger Baxter.
He is also pleased to see that South African mining companies are using their knowledge of Africa to develop large-scale projects further north on the continent. "As far as Barrick is concerned, we find ourselves in Tanzania due to the attractive geology but, generally, the mining regulatory climate is very competitive relative to other regions in the world," points out Barrick vice-president: communications Vincent Borg. Barrick is looking to expand beyond the Americas, and Tanzania was its destination of choice due to geology, the Bulyanhulu project itself and the general investment climate, including its tax stability, he adds. The timing was in part dictated by the Canadian mining giant's ability to acquire Sutton Resources, which it did in May 1999.
"The the fact that the project was built in less than two years is a confirmation that exploration can be expeditiously undertaken and a mine could be built in a very timely fashion alongside the required governmental approvals," says Borg. Part of Barrick's strategy is to focus on specific areas, and its district development strategy is well under way in Tanzania, with the company having acquired Pangea Goldfields, giving it a significant land position from which to explore.
Although the company does not currently have any definite plans for other parts of Africa, it is always alert to opportunities, says Borg, indicating that a combination of factors would always be considered in making a decision, such as geology, political risk, investment climate and governmental policies.
Duval points out that Africa is not attracting as much greenfield project investment as Australia and South America are and that, in South Africa specifically, only the platinum industry is commanding the attention of investors.
However, he is hopeful that the resources in Central Africa will be developed in the near future once the political infrastructure has stabilised.
"Mining is already creating the foundation for an African Renaissance in several countries on the continent, as it is the only industry with the critical mass needed to stimulate the development of a country's infrastructure," concludes Baxter.Name: Bulyanhulu gold-mine Location: South of Lake Victoria on the Victorian Greenstone Belt in Tanzania, East Africa Products: Gold Cost of development: $280-million Major contracts: RUC joint venture responsible for mine-shaft development and underground lateral development, which is still in progress, along with input from Burncut, of Australia Progress to date: The mine was built in just under two years. First gold ore was poured in April 2001, but with official opening this month. Cash costs are expected to decline to less than $130/oz, from $160/oz, with completion of shaft in 2003. Possible expansion of process facilities to 4 000 t a day, from 2 500 t a day, at a cost of $25-million Brief history: In May 1999 Barrick acquired Sutton Resources, which owned the Bulyanhulu property Project timetable: Development of the mine initiated in late-1999 and commissioned in second quarter of 2001 Mining method: 45% long-hole, 35% drift-and-fill stoping, and 20% lateral development Reserves: Ten-million ounces in reserves and 4,5-million ounces in resources. Average grade of 14,55 g/t over entire deposit, increasing with depth Expected output: 260 000 oz in 2001, 380 000 oz in 2002, and escalating to 500 000 oz produced yearly over the mine's life Geology: Orebody extends two kilometres in depth and five kilometres along strike, with a geology similar to that of the Ontario and Quebec greenstone belts. Mining will take place from three areas along Reef 1 – the main, east and west zones. The main zone is the original zone and hosts the bulk of the reserves, with a high grade of 16,1 g/t. The east zone, only discovered in 2000, is close to surface and contains 1,46-million ounces, and has a grading of 12 g/t. West zone is deeper and hosts about two-million ounces at 13,8 g/t Major infrastructure and equipment: Shaft – 1 090 m deep by 2003 – is located at the centre of the orebody to hoist ore and waste. A 2 500-t-a-day processing plant consisting of a 4 000-t-a-day crushing and grinding circuit, a copper–gold–silver flotation circuit, a tailings thickening and filtration circuit and tailings disposal Future prospects: 20-year life Controlling company: Barrick, of Canada, with a 100% interest Unique features: Bulyanhulu is the largest deposit and underground mine on the Victorian Greenstone Belt Name: IHM heavy minerals Location: Hillendale heavy-minerals mine is situated 20 km south-west of Richards Bay, in Kwazulu-Natal, while the central processing complex is situated in the vicinity of Empangeni, also in Kwazulu-Natal Products: Ilmenite, zircon, leucoxene, rutile, titanium dioxide (TiO2) slag and pig-iron Cost of development: R1,9-billion – phase one: stage one (mine and mineral separation plant) will cost R738-million, while stage two (smelter) will cost R880-million Major contractors: Kwazulu-Natal firm Grinaker LTA Earthworks awarded contract for the construction of the R32-million Hillendale residue dam; Group Five Projects awarded the R50-million contract for the mechanical, electrical and instrumentation (MEI) installation at the mineral-separation plant; the R21-million MEI installation at the primary wet plant was awarded to Grinaker Sydcor; the R20-million roaster went to Lurgi South Africa; and the R9-million fluidised bed-dryers and preheater contract, was scooped up by Svedala Pyrotherm. A R55-million MEI contract went to Exclusive Technical Services, a R25-million contract went to Group Five Roads for bulk earthworks, roads and services, with Group Five Civils performing civil works to the value of R29-million at both sites. Grinaker Building Kwazulu-Natal was awarded an R11-million contract for non-process buildings Progress to date: Stage one is is 98% complete, while construction of stage two is still to be announced Brief history: Five years of feasibility studies and pilot plant developments into the mining and processing of heavy minerals prior to project receiving the go-ahead Project timetable: Construction began in April last year, and the mine produced the first heavy-minerals concentrate on April 24 this year – two weeks ahead of schedule. The mineral-separation plant is currently being commissioned (a month ahead of schedule), meaning that stage one will be completed within budget and ahead of schedule.
Mining method: Opencast mining through high-pressure hydraulic monitors Reserves: The Hillendale reserve has an economically mineable reserve of 73-million tons and a valuable heavy minerals (VHM) grade of 5,6%, but will only be mined as a high-grade option. As the grade drops, a mine will be commissioned at the nearby Fairbreeze reserve of 138-million tons with its VHM grade of 4,33%.
Expected output: 6,7-million tons run-of-mine-production in first year of operation (July 2001 to June 2002), 8,8-million tons run-of-mine-production at full capacity, 55 000 t/month of product for the first three years of operation Geology: The sediments have undergone intense weathering, including leaching of shell fragments and decomposition of feldspars. The mafic silicate minerals have been oxidised to giving a red pigment which has led to sediments being known as Berea-type red sands. The sediments are characterised by high silt-content which is thought to be associated with decomposed minerals. The heavy minerals, derived from inland rocks and sediments, concentrated as a result of progressive enrichment in the swash zones of several beaches which developed along the large coastal beach/dunal system. Ilmenite, zircon, rutile and leucoxene form the VHMs of this deposit Major infrastructure and equipment: Opencast mine and concentrator plant at Hillendale, and a mineral separation plant further inland at Empangeni Future prospects: Hillendale, Fairbreeze and Gravelotte – a combined 20-year life Controlling company: Iscor Name: Maandagshoek platinum-mine Location: The mineral lease area covers the farms Winterveld, Onverwacht and Hendriksplaats, in Mpumalanga, and Maandagshoek and Driekop, in the Northern Province, in South Africa Products: Platinum-group metals, such as platinum, palladium and rhodium Cost of development: R1,35-billion Major contracts: Shaft-sinking and initial underground development contract worth R270-million awarded to Brandrill Torrex; contract for supply and maintenance of the mine's permanent fleet of underground equipment – comprising drillrigs, load-haul-dumpers (LHDs) and trucks – valued at R65-million awarded to Tamrock; civil infrastructure work, concentrator plant civils and all building work awarded to Group 5 Civils in a R115-million contract; contract for plant earthworks and Onverwacht Hill access worth R10-million awarded to G4; steelwork supply by Cosira for the concentrator plant valued at R40-million; mills valued at R44-million to be supplied by Fuller Vecor; flotation cells valued at R27-million to be supplied by Outokumpu Progress to date: Project started on site in October 2000 with the construction of access roads and infrastructure. Shaft-sinking started in March 2001 after approval of the mining licence. Construction of the concentrator plant started in March 2001 and will be commissioned in March next year. To achieve this, all design and construction work has been fast-tracked and, apart from the North and South Shaft complexes a short life, but easily accessed, hill mining section has been added Brief history: The farm Maandagshoek was the original site of Dr Hans Merensky and Andrew Lombard's 1924 discovery of platinum deposits contained within the Merensky and UG2 reef Project timetable: The mine will come into operation in 2004 Mining method: Mining is by the narrow-reef downdip-stoping method, the ore being scraped into muck bays from where it is loaded into 50-ton trucks by LHD and taken to the decline shaft where it is conveyed to surface Reserves: Initially Maandagshoek and Onverwacht will be mined where there are probable and indicated UG2 reserves of 140-million tons Expected output: The feasibility study envisages a mine producing 200 000 t of UG2 ore a month, and a yearly production of 162 000 oz of platinum by 2003 Geology: Tabular orebody to be mined at a 900 mm stoping width, generally dipping at nine degrees Major infrastructure and equipment: On-surface overland conveyors take the ore to the plant, where it is crushed, milled, floated and dewatered and then sent to the smelter for downstream processing. Initially the smelter facility chosen is in Rustenburg until such time as the new multimillion-rand facility near Pietersburg is commissioned Future prospects: Life of more than 30 years on proved reserves Controlling company: Joint venture project between Anglo Platinum and African Rainbow Minerals Name: Skorpion zinc-mine Location: About 85 km north-east of Oranjemund and 25 km north of Rosh Pinah, in southern Namibia Products: Zinc Cost of development: $454-million, or R3,2-billion Major contracts: Joint venture between Bateman and SNC-Lavalin for basic engineering, detailed design, procurement and construction management for development of mine and refinery; Namibian Water Corporation for new water-supply scheme for mine and refinery Progress to date: Project is 7% complete, though 50% of capital has been committed Brief history: The deposit was discovered by Anglo American in 1976. Reunion Mining earned a 60% interest by conducting a feasibility study on the project in 1997. In 1999, Anglo American acquired Reunion to take 100% ownership of the project Project timetable: Construction of the mine started in 2001, and early mining is set to begin in the third quarter of 2001 Mining method: Conventional open-pit mining Reserves: The orebody comprises reserves of about 21,4-million tons with a zinc grading of approximately 11% Expected output: Skorpion will produce 150 000 t a year throughout its life Geology: An unconventional silicate carbonate oxide deposit Major infrastructure and equipment: An open-pit mine and a refinery, which will begin producing zinc metal at the end of 2002. The ore contains zinc silicate/oxide which will be leached under atmospheric conditions. Resultant leach liquors will be purified and concentrated using a novel solvent-extraction technique prior to electrowinning and production of high-grade cast zinc metal Future prospects: 15-year life Controlling company: Anglo American Unique features: Largest new mining project in Namibia, and the first non-diamond mine in Diamond Area No 1 in the Sperrgebiet Name: Target gold-mine Location: Situated on the northern extent of the Welkom goldfields, some 35 km north of Welkom. Mineral rights holdings, totalling 4 237 ha, are in the south-western margin of the Witwatersrand basin. Products: Gold Cost of development: R2,1-billion Progress to date: Project is 91% complete Major contracts: Signet was awarded the R180-million contract for the surface metallurgy plant; Grinaker Mining was awarded a R35-million contract for the narrow-reef mining; and Cementation Mining was awarded a R12-million contract for the back-fill plant Brief history: During the 1980s, extensive surface exploration was done in the broader Sun area to the north of Target. The results of this programme refuted the so-called Bothaville gap in the basin and indicated the extension of the Welkom goldfields to the north. Avgold became focused on the Target area to the north of Lorraine gold-mines and, by 1993, had drilled a total of 23 surface boreholes in the area, obtaining encouraging results. In 1996 the decision was made to increase the scope of the project, with the approval of a new intake-ventilation decline system from 50-level No 1 main shaft Lorraine to connect up with the existing exploration declines Project timetable: Feasibility study initiated in 1993, and project is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2002 Mining method: 70% longhole open stoping, 15% cut-and-fill, and 15% drift-and-fill Reserves: Resources total 5,015-million ounces and reserves 4-million ounces Expected output:Production is expected to reach 100 000 t a month during the first quarter of 2002, with an eventual output of 350 000 oz a year Geology: The reefs at Target are generally located along the western edge of the Witwatersrand basin. The extension of the Elsberg reefs, and newly-discovered overlying Dreyerskuil reefs provide the major initial ore deposit at Target. Sedimentological studies of the Eldorado reef mineralisation have indicated that the deposition of gold was controlled by a series of alluvial fans. A surface borehole intersected such a fan between 2 194 m and 2 353 m below surface, yielding a gold grade of 6,42 g/t over a true interval of 128,63 m. From the exploration declines this package of superimposed conglomerates is being drilled out on a high-density pattern Major infrastructure and equipment: Metallurgical process plant – to be completed in November, and a back-fill plant – in the process of being commissioned Future prospects: 13-year life Controlling company: Avgold Unique features: Mine extends to 2,5 km below surface, making it one of the deepest mines in the Free State. Massive mining at this depth necessitated the mining of a destress cut. The depth of mining has also resulted in increasing underground temperatures, necessitating 28 mW of refrigeration capacity Name: Winnaarshoek platinum-mine Location: The Winnaarshoek project is situated in the Northern Province about 30 km north-west of Steelpoort and Burgersfort, within a distance of eight kilometres west of the Pietersburg–Burgersfort road Products: The mine will produce the common platinum-group metals, such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, rhuthenium, and some nickel, copper, gold and silver. Production on the mine will be milled, floated and concentrated on the property. The concentrate will be vacuum- filtered before dispatching a filter cake to Impala Platinum for smelting in Rustenburg and refining at Impala Refining Services, in Springs Cost of development: Some R1,6-billion Major contracts awarded and outstanding: Exploration drilling was done by Drillcorp, GeoActiv was engaged for geological services, a prospect boxcut of 30 m depth is currently being done by MCC Contracts, initial portal establishment and development to obtain a bulk sample for metallurgical testing has been awarded to BTX. Plant design and surface infrastructure planning has been awarded to Dowding Reynard & Associates, while the mining planning is being completed by Ralph Morris & Associates. The contract for an EMPR has been placed with Pulles Howard and Delange. Major contracts outstanding will include trackless mining equipment and mineral-processing plant, which are in the planning stages Progress to date: Currently completing the capital budget estimate to be presented to the board of directors for acceptance by November 2001. Fast-tracking the project has resulted in up-front approvals having been granted by the board which allows uninterrupted work to continue in the meantime. Work as contracted above is in progress. On-site, there is the initial prospect boxcut which is due for completion at the end of July, with the cutting of portals and development to produce a bulk sample Brief history: Impala bought the Winnaarshoek project in December 2000, as a result of its acquisition of Toronto-listed Platexco Project timetable: Sinking of the main decline spines will begin early in 2002, together with the building of the processing plant and other surface infrastructure. The mine is scheduled to mill its designed capacity of 240 000 t a month by December 2003 Mining method: Bord-and-pillar, similar to that used by some chrome-mining companies Reserves: Reserves have not yet been finalised, but estimates are in the region of 100-million tons of mineable ore from the Merensky and UG2 reefs Expected Output: 175 000 oz/y at full production Geology: Both the Merensky and UG2 reefs are present in the area, situated about 400 m vertically apart. The reefs have an average dip of about 12