JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Emerging gold-mining company Blyvoor Gold, which is targeting a resumption of mining at the old Blyvooruitzicht gold mine in the last quarter of this year, is winning overwhelming support from the once liquidated mine’s former employees, as well as the members of the nearby mine community.
Employees and community members are proudly displaying Blyvoor Gold pledge badges on their chests and spokesperson Joseph Rammusa, who worked for Blyvooruitzicht for 34 years prior to its closure, heaped praise on the new management’s open, transparent and inclusive way of building a modern, innovative and well-protected operational footprint in the Carletonville area of the West Rand.
“After Village Main Reef’s liquidation three years ago, our lives stopped, but we never gave up hoping that the mine would some day be reopened,” Rammusa told Mining Weekly Online.
That day did come when Blyvoor Gold executive chairperson and seasoned campaigner Peter Skeat and Blyvoor Gold deputy chairperson and fund raiser Richard Floyd came forward to rescue the operation.
They chose to work with the people in an open, transparent and cooperative way while putting an abundance of their own skin in the game prior to securing funding of R1-billion from an international investor.
Today, Blyvoor Gold is turning heartbroken former employees into enthusiastic, black economically empowered (BEE) shareholders, who own 26% of the company. Former employees interviewed this week by Mining Weekly Online displayed impressive verve about applying their skills again to generate a potential 2 000 new jobs for the benefit of the community as a whole.
It is affording them an opportunity to resurrect their shattered careers and look forward to earning what Mining Weekly Online calculates could translate into quite significant remuneration.
This is because Blyvoor Gold has a sky-is-the-limit monthly dividend-linked remuneration programme that does not stop at a 9 m monthly face advance but continues uncapped. The mine’s all-in sustaining cost is an amazing $600/oz.
Former mine overseer Wels Sempe, who is a spokesperson for the BEE of Blyvoor, as well as experienced former mineworker Johannes Tala, who is the spokesperson for the Community of Blyvoor, expressed huge delight at the new deal being offered to employees, who will be able to double their R10 000 a month basic salary simply by achieving a face advance of 9 m a month, which is considered conservative, given the mine’s history of monthly face advances of double that length.
“We want to show the country and the world that we can succeed,” said Tala.
Sempe, who worked for East Rand Proprietary Mines and Blyvooruitzicht for 32 years, has the distinction of being South Africa’s first black miner to receive a blasting certificate in 1989.
“I started at the bottom and worked myself up and I was the last man out when the company went into liquidation. I know what is underground and I know the great potential that this mine has. When Blyvoor Gold came on board, it was a great thing for us,” Sempe told Mining Weekly Online.
He was the first to meet Skeat and Floyd and to present to them the underground opportunities.
“I was happy to do this for the benefit of all my colleagues and our community as a whole,” he said.
Sempe counted himself as being blessed in that the BEE partnership was not just about a few individuals but all employees and he was blissful about the company’s inclusive ethos.
“In my long experience in mining, I’ve never known a company to communicate so directly with the community and the employees. I found it mind-boggling,” he added.
Mass meetings are held at which the community members are free to ask questions in face-to-face assemblies, with SMSes sent daily to ensure that there is ongoing contact with stakeholders.
“Daily, the community knows what’s happening, and this openness is building enormous trust because they are finding that what is said in the SMSes is the truth and that there are no hidden agendas,” he added.
“The fundamental change between all gold mining in the past and the start of Blyvoor is the pledge. We all understood that if we signed and agreed to the pledge, it would define Blyvoor’s way forward, which would be contrary to all other gold mining in the past,” said Skeat.
Every employee has a pledge badge with a pledge number and the employees are forming a union that will be mandated to put the mine first, in line with the pledge.
The painful experience of having worked for years, only to lose pensions and jobs, as well as the mine, has resulted in the mine-first approach gaining widespread appeal.
The mine’s deprived village community members, who were left in the lurch after the mine’s closure, are coming out in numbers to back the reopening of what was once deemed the Rolls Royce of global gold mines.
Being condemned in the strongest terms is the potential encroachment of illegal zama-zama opportunists into the Carletonville area. A plea to the police to adopt an effective counter-strategy has been made in an urgent open letter to Gauteng provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General E Mawela. The letter was jointly compiled and sent out by the management, employee and community representatives. Mawela has since directed the matter to the District Commissioner of West Rand, Major General Kekana.
NEW MINING METHOD
The new mining method that will be implemented is something the industry should consider emulating because it enhances safety and health, while significantly decreasing costs.
A key part of the new mining method is to use a 120% charge to electronically blast waste burden into the stope as backfill, and carry out a second blast three seconds later, which leaves a high-grade stockpile in the area cleared by the first blast.
Blyvoor Gold executives described the grade as a "very conservative" 20 g/t and they calculate mining costs at 4 g/t and overheads of 1 g/t, to yield a very healthy margin of 15 g/t.
The span is never greater than 4 m, which lowers rockburst risk.
As Blyvoor Gold CEO Alan Smith explained to Mining Weekly Online, the innovative mining method will take the operation to a new high, with blasting ensuring that waste provides support in the stopes as backfill.
Employees will have the benefit of being able to stand up in the stope, with better lighting and surface-to-underground communication enabled.
Overall, the steps taken will slash the cutoff grade to less than 4 g/t.
Large blocks of ore, with grades of 20 g/t, 15 g/t and 10 g/t, are available to be mined, reflecting the high historical cutoff grades of the past.
While the carbon leader reef will be mined, 75% of the shallower Middelvlei reef remains available for mining.
Whereas the air was previously pumped into an open stope and diluted, the backfill keeps it in a 4 m gap. In this way, the air velocity rises and the amount of air needed is reduced. The upshot is cooler and cleaner air and lower electricity costs.
The mine’s initial 15-year life-of-mine (LoM) plan is deceiving. A 50-year LoM plan could already be drawn up and a 100-year add-up is a likely horizon.
“The mine will come first in whatever we do. That’s our pledge, which also means making sure that we all work safely,” said Rammusa.
Although Blyoor Gold inherited a wreck of a mine two years ago, it is well on the way to its first gold pour in its brand new gold plant.
“We spent most of our own half-a-billion rand getting the mine ready for funding. So, what you’re seeing now is the new Blyvoor,” said Skeat, as he showed a video of the reconstruction programme.
Pictures taken two months ago and handed to Mining Weekly Online show:
the No 5 shaft winder, powered by a new Eskom yard and transformer station, all on aluminium cable to avoid theft;
a brand new ABB digital control bank for No 5 Shaft winders and winder motors, and recomissioned drums, cables, personnel carriage and rock skips;
a six-metre-high reinforced concrete wall around the complex, with facilities for security guards on the inside of the upper level of the wall, which is bulletproof and, thus, secures the complex. The outside of the wall is painted with Sotho and Xhosa colour schemes of choice;
a Liebherr 964 excavator loading a Bell 40 t articulated dump truck, active in the rehabilitation and repair of Blyvoor tailings dam No 6, and a Komatsu 155-3 dozer, stockpiling the same tailings material;
brand new girth gear for the No 1 mill of the two-mill plants in a South African fabrication facility for mounting on the mill;
a 25 MVA diesel power station to ensure the safety of underground workers, should State electricity utility Eskom fail to generate power;
a 40 000 t/m carbon-in-pulp cell in the Blyvoor process plant that treats any carbonaceous or ‘preg-robbing’ material that preferentially absorbs gold;
another 40 000 t/m carbon-in-leach tank for the non-preg-robbing ores;
the foundation for the two mills, which will each be able to process 20 000 t/m, totalling 40 000 t/m; and
the primary storage silo at the Blyvoor No 5 shaft, surrounded by the partly constructed six-metre-high security wall, ahead of which is a six-metre-high razor-wire fence and ahead of that, a 4 m moat to thwart illegal mining.
For 130 years, underground mining in South Africa has been based overwhelmingly on conventional drill-and-blast techniques. Now Blyvoor Gold is on the cusp of trailblazing a modified version of that, which remains people-centred but cuts costs and enhances safety in a way that is likely to be considered for possible emulation.