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Karo platinum project taking off in Zimbabwe with solar power tailwind

A montage of activities at Karo Platinum.

Phoevos Pouroulis (right) and Bernard Pryor (left) present Karo project update, covered by Mining Weekly’s Martin Creamer. Video: Darlene Creamer.

A montage of activities at Karo Platinum.

14th October 2022

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A multi-phased development approach is being adopted at the Karo Platinum project in Zimbabwe, where a 17-year opencast mine is to be built with a timeline to deliver its first ore to mill in July 2024.

“In July 2024, we will put the first ore in mill,” Karo Mining Holdings MD Bernard Pryor told a project update presentation covered by Mining Weekly. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

Land has been allocated for a 300 MW solar plant to serve the project, the 12-month design and construction period for which began on July 1.

The updated output is scheduled at 194 000 oz/y, which puts the project in line with  Anglo American Platinum’s Unki mine, also on Zimbabwe’s Great Dyke.

Total cost to first ore in mill is estimated at $391-million, with $20-million spent to date and with Tharisa able to provide an extra escalation reserve of $26-million should it be needed in today’s volatile world of escalation and inflation.

Under the Zimbabwean government, the project, with a total value of $686-million, has a five-year tax holiday.

Its internal rate of return is just over 26% and return on investment capital is 30%.

The earthworks contracter began clearing the site this week for earthworks terracing to begin in December.

“The accelerator is flat to the floor,” was how Pryor described the project’s pace.

Orders for ball mills and flotations cells, the two long-lead items, have been placed. The ball mills are on the critical path that defines the 24-month construction period and the advanced flotation cells are expected to lift metal recovery to 82%.

Civils contracts will be awarded this month and final negotiations are under way with the selected mining contractor, a mix between a South African mining contractor and a local Zimbabwean mining contractor, and “we should execute that in the next few weeks”.

In a country described by Pryor as having an exceptional level of education and challenged employment, there has been a nigh hundred-to-one response to the ten senior jobs advertised.

“My experience here in Zimbabwe is that the workforce is very capable, educated and has a great work ethic, which will certainly help us to bring this project in on time and on budget,” Pryor said.

A first-phase resource of just under 10-million ounces has a six-element grade of 2.04 g/t.

Typically, the reef horizons are between two and three metres thick and Karo will be targeting anywhere between three metres and five metres in terms of its mining proposition, Tharisa CEO Phoevos Pouroulis stated.

Currently Tharisa plc owns 70% and Leto Settlement the remaining 30% of Karo Mining Holdings plc, which in turn owns Karo Zimbabwe Holdings in joint venture with Generation Minerals, which is the Republic of Zimbabwe’s carried interest in the Karo Platinum project.

Pryor described environment, social and governance (ESG) as one of the project’s most important targets, along with International Finance Corporation-compliant performance standards being applied to the mining and concentrator processing plant.

“We still have the water supply and the power supply to be approved by the Zimbabwean government. Those are in process, and we see no real issues with them.

“In terms of the tailings dam, clearly a subject that is important to all miners, this is a structurally safe dam, rock built not earth or dam built, and it has been independently designed and checked by our consultants,” said Pryor.

The community is seen as key, with the two towns within 30 minutes’ drive of the project site earmarked for employee recruitment.

“We will prioritise local recruitment so that we can benefit the local communities as much as possible,” Pryor promised.

A dedicated social and environmental team of 12 people will ensure that all ESG obligations are met, he added.

Government has allocated new land for 12 households to be relocated and the new houses will be built according to laid-down standards in the next six to nine months, with previously absent power and water supply laid on.

GREEN ENERGY

Green energy and green efficiency are the other benefits of this project.

Discussions are under way with Total Eren for a 300 MW solar plant to be built on land allocated over the road from Karo’s proposed processing plant.

The power will be generated into the national grid and Karo will have a wheeling arrangement to buy back off the grid at the beneficial rates of solar power generation, which are significantly lower than the current power prices obtainable from the grid.

Needed for the processing plant will be 30 MVA, with the excess sold into the grid.

ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION

Mining contributes 10% to 14% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Zimbabwe and approximately 2% of the country’s GDP will come from Karo revenues.

The project will average 1 000 direct jobs during construction and a similar number during operations, leading to 7 000 indirect jobs creation in the community.

Regarding project execution, most of the detailed engineering has been completed and a pilot concentrator on site is treating about one ton of material an hour.

The pilot concentrator is being used to produce platinum group metals (PGMs) concentrates that it will look to for Phase 2 and it is also helping with the optimisation of flotation circuits and as a training ground for operators ahead of going on to the main plant.

CASH-FLUSH THARISA

It has been a standout year for Tharisa, which put in a record performance in the 12 months to September 30, with 64.1%-higher net cash of $78.6-million.

Starting with exploration and mine development takes time and requires strategic investment philosophies and capital needs to be patient when exploring new regions, Pouroulis emphasised.

If Karo meets its timelines to project completion, from first drill hole to first ore in mill would have taken six years.

Karo, 80 km southwest of Harare, has been awarded a special grant in the Great Dyke, which hosts the main PGMs- and base metals-rich sulphide zone in the Mashonaland West district, over an area of 23 902.9 ha.

To the south is Zimplats and to the north Zimplats’ Selous metallurgical complex. The land was originally explored by Zimplats, with the whole area having a resource of 96.4-million ounces.

In either cash or shares, Tharisa has invested $70.3-million. The first $4.5-million went in to acquire the first 26.8% shareholding in Karo Mining Holdings, $8-million was for first phase exploration, $3.4-million for technical studies, a non-fully-drawn $25-million kicked off the project in mid-year with early development funding, and the acquisition of the balance 39.5% shareholding had an equivalent share value of $29.4-million.

Exploration groundbreaking took place in 2018 and at the end of 2019, the area was demarcated as a special economic zone, which provides special privileges to new businesses entering Zimbabwe and investing into the country.

Phase 2 exploration recommenced post-Covid in the first quarter of 2020. The mining lease was received in 2021, which was basically for the life-of-mine and giving multi-phased access to all 92-million ounces.

Tharisa, which has paid dividends for six years, is committed to continuing to be a dividend payer in conjunction with the investment into Karo Platinum.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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