It’s that time again on a Friday when Update At Noon presents another Update From The Coal-Face with Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.
Sakina Kamwendo: South Africa’s Northern Cape is becoming our country’s next big mining frontier.
Martin Creamer: Yes, you know we had the great Wits Basin, we’ve got our big platinum complex but the Northern Cape is coming in at a later date in terms of modern technology and we see that just about every week now, the new announcements coming through.
You know, Orion Minerals has some exploration there in copper and zinc, but even in old areas, people are stumbling across opportunities. We see that the surface dumps there that were regarded as waste, people are taking that into account because there is copper in that waste.
This would have occurred in the 18th century and in the past when people were active there, but all of a sudden, the value is being seen and I think that the country must put a spotlight on this because it can earn a lot for us in terms of not only the copper and the zinc that they are finding now, but there is manganese there, there is iron-ore and I’m sure that the new critical metals, if they do proper research on it, can be found there as well.
The Northern Cape is becoming a new frontier, and we need to explore that very well because I think we don’t know enough about it, even though people have been working there for decades, and in some cases, centuries. We are really where Australia was about two decades ago in terms of researching what we’ve got in the ground, and now we need to turn it to account with a good spotlight, because the demand for things like copper, particularly, is absolutely soaring and the price is really good at the moment.
This is the time that people must really get those surface dumps going, like one company, Blue Tree Copper, is doing now, to extract faster, and profitably.
Sakina Kamwendo: South Africa’s first woman mining industry president this week made a strong call for more mines to listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
Martin Creamer: Yes, it’s Nolitha Fakude. It’s a great achievement historically because the industry has had this association – Minerals Council South Africa – and it’s 131 years old, and it has never had a woman president and that changed this week when Nolitha Fakude became the first woman president of the Minerals Council South Africa.
She was articulate from the start, wanting to use mining to boost South Africa’s economy as the multiplier effect of mining is huge. Once you go into mining, there are so many other ancillary industries and support services that it creates, a lot of economic activity.
We’re sitting here in Johannesburg because of all we’ve discovered in the gold mines. That’s what happens – you get big cities and I’m also thinking of San Francisco, and the discovery of gold there, and what it did for the economy there. Nolitha Fakude is very conscious of this and she is also conscious of the fact that South Africa’s mining companies are not listing as they used to on the JSE, and it’s so important for these companies to do so.
Mining companies must be listed. We’ve seen since the MPRDA mining legislation, which came in in the early 2000’s, there’s just been a decline of listed mining companies and with that, there comes a lack of information – you don’t know what’s going on environmentally, socially and you don’t know whether there’s good governance.
We’ve seen some governance slips in companies that are not listed, they’ve borrowed the money and haven’t repaid their debt. This is not good for South Africa to have situations like that.
So, Nolitha Fakude, the new president of Minerals Council South Africa, is saying that there must be a focus on trying to encourage more companies to get on to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and we know that the African National Congress’ own Economic Transformation Committee has put out a document saying that this is what must happen. Mining companies must go on the exchange so we can see what they are doing, and they must also be incentivised if they’re juniors to get on to the exchange, in the way it happens in Canada and Australia.
In Canada, there are 1 000 mines listed, and in Australia it’s 600. We’ve got 12 juniors here and only about 40 mining companies listed, which is far too few.
Sakina Kamwendo: Foreign investors will this year spend millions of dollars searching for lithium in South Africa.
Martin Creamer: We don’t associate lithium with South Africa, and this is one of our drawbacks. We haven’t been exploring the way the other mining jurisdictions have been exploring.
Now, we have these new critical metals coming in, something like lithium, which is part of the new electricity age, is in huge demand. This is because the world is going to have electricity everywhere, and that electricity is also going to have to be stored in batteries but to store that electricity you need some of these critical metals.
One of them is lithium, and it’s good news that it’s pursuit in South Africa is coming through foreign investment now, and not local investment. It’s certainly not a huge investment at the moment, but in terms of South African rands it’s like R50-million into lithium discovery.
They are looking for lithium and that’s going to be very good for us if they do discover that, because there is a sense that we have a lot of these critical metals in South Africa, but they have never been searched for, and if you get someone that’s prepared to come in from another country and spend their money when things are so difficult in terms of the regulatory environment to explore – we still don’t have a friendly approach to exploration and to mining – it shows you how strongly they believe that that metal is here, and I think we should have that same belief that these critical metals are here and we need to get them out the ground.
They are in such huge demand; we can earn so much foreign exchange for the country if we really concentrate on this now.
The Minister is saying that the government will come through with an exploration plan, it’s being worked on with the private sector and the Minerals Council South Africa.
Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. He’ll be back At The Coal-Face at the same time next Friday.