Superior, modern exploration techniques have resulted in a surge of interest in the Kalahari Copperbelt in recent years, with the uptick in the 2019 year-end copper price spurring exploration activity.
The Kalahari Copperbelt, which is regarded as one of the world’s most promising underexplored copper provinces, stretches for about 1 000 km from central Namibia to the Shinamba Hills in northern Botswana, along the south-eastern margins of the Damaran-Katangan rift basin.
It is along this belt that mining and exploration consulting firm The MSA Group hopes to focus much of its activity this year – particularly in Namibia, where exploration activity has lagged behind when compared with Botswana.
“The Kalahari Copperbelt is a most interesting play at the moment,” says The MSA Group principal consultant Mike Robertson, noting the many mining and exploration companies that are obtaining mineral rights in large swaths across the belt. These companies include UK major Rio Tinto, copper mining investment company Cupric Canyon Capital, and Australian exploration companies Sandfire Resources and Kopore Metals.
The MSA Group senior exploration geologist Luke Peters explains that the potential for significant copper discoveries is apparent along the belt, but that the deep Kalahari sand cover adds some challenges.
Mining and exploration companies have explored the Kalahari Copperbelt in the past, however, the deep cover made it historically difficult to identify and delineate deposits, Robertson adds.
Consequently, many of the companies moved on to easier targets in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.
“However, companies are now returning to the Kalahari Copperbelt, as new data and exploration techniques have allowed for better means of seeing through the deep cover.”
Robertson adds that the ability to combine modern exploration techniques – such as airborne magnetics and electromagnetics with the geochemical technique of partial leaching, and even hydro-sampling – has resulted in the generation of new datasets and, consequently, the underlying geology being mapped out much better than before.
This approach, together with recent academic studies on the Kalahari Copperbelt in both Namibia and Botswana, has led to a much better understanding of the mineral deposit model and the controls on mineralisation.
“The acquisition of these new datasets and the integrated interpretation thereof is generating targets that would have been completely missed 20 years ago.”
Peters adds that using modern and mixed techniques, such as multi-element geochemistry, allows for finding better element suites in deep cover during exploration activities.
“Although a number of exploration companies moved on in the past, it does not mean that the area lacks economic potential. With the application of these combined techniques, the Copperbelt could be a game changer.”
Within the large landholding on the Kalahari Copperbelt, Cupric Canyon’s Zone 5 deposit is under construction and Sandfire’s T3 copper/silver project is undergoing a feasibility study optimisation. Numerous other targets have been defined elsewhere along the belt and are being progressively tested.
“This is testament to the Kalahari Copperbelt’s potential,” Peters notes.
He says that, over the next decade, and as exploration techniques advance, one can expect to see new mining projects being commissioned along the Kalahari Copperbelt.
“I think it will become the new Copperbelt of interest, particularly because of the political and social complications surrounding copper operations in the DRC and Zambia,” Peters says, adding that “it is becoming difficult for mining companies to operate in those countries”.
Meanwhile, Namibian gold interests have also gained more traction.
“Gold exploration in Namibia has been picking up in the Damara orogenic belt, with gold exploration company Osino Resources achieving good intercepts of late,” says The MSA Group geology head of department David Dodd.