Namibia still offers good exploration potential

23rd January 2006 By: andrew lanham

Global investment inmining in Africa is looking towards destinations such as West Africa, Tanzania and, naturally, the relatively untapped wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While these countries offer exciting opportunities for those in the business of minerals, often the lack of physical infrastructure and sociopolitical instability make these destinations for the future.

Namibia's mineral wealth is still comparatively underexplored and, in spite of a long mining history, offers good opportunities.

Importantly, it is politically stable as the ruling party, Swapo, continues to have a dominant mandate from the Namibian people.

In spite of Swapo's socialist affiliations prior to independence, the postcolonial government has not hinted at nationalisation of the country's mines.

To the contrary, the Namibian government has attractive incentives for those wishing to invest in the country's mineral industry.

Although there has been a programme of land restitution and redistribution, this process has not involved uncontrolled land grabs as has happened in Zimbabwe.

Unlike countries further north, the road, air and communications network of this sparsely-populated country are excellent.

Namibia's tax framework is investor-friendly, while physical security in the country is good.

Even though negotiations are still under way, minerals royalties have been set at 10% and royalties for dimension stone stand at only 5%.

Ministry of Mines and Energy mineral economist Maswabi Likukela explains: “Our tax regime is more competitive than other African countries.”

Attractive features associated with the EPZ status has led to many companies showing interest in investing in Namibia.

The EPZ Act permits EPZ companies exemption from corporate tax and Vat, and allows them to hold a foreign currency in local banks without the normal foreign-exchange controls.

Companies participating in the EPZ can set up at any location in Namibia, however, industrial facilities are provided by government agencies at special low rates.

The global ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, assigned Namibia ratings of long-term foreign currency BBB minus.

“Namibia's ratings are underpinned by a stable policy environment and sound macroeconomic fundamentals,” says Veronica Kalema, director in the Fitch's Sovereigns Group.

It benefits from a low public and external debt burden, high domestic savings and current account surpluses, macroeconomic stability and relatively robust growth, she explains.

“The country has the advantage of an abundance of mineral resources, which have been well managed, and is politically stable, all of which further support the ratings,” she adds.

These factors have seen foreign investment in exploration in the last decade grow considerably.

Currently, there are a number of foreign exploration companies exploring for minerals in this arid region.

The aridity of Namibia can be a challenge for mining companies requiring copious water in remote regions.

“What has had a marked effect on the performance of Namibia's mining industry has been the fact that the Namibian dollar is linked to the South African rand,”explains Likukela.

After a period in 2002, when the rand:dollar exchange rate was well into double digits, for the last two years the South African currency has remained in the R6,50 range.

“As in South Africa, the weakening of the local currency has had a marked effect on the profitability of Namibian mining operations,” he adds.

Diamonds still the major contributor
Currently, the 15 operating mines in Namibia contribute 20,8% of Namibian gross domestic product (GDP), and, after the dip in 2003, the percentage growth in the industry has been impressive (see table on page 20).

Diamonds account for more than 30% of Namibia's total exports and 10% of the nation's GDP.

Of these, Namdeb is by far the country's largest diamond-mining company. Today, this thriving organisation is one of the key drivers of Namibia's economy, being the largest private employer, exporter and taxpayer.

In 2004, the company's production of 1,86-million carats was 28% higher than in 2003, and included record marine production of 865 000 carats.

Globally, diamond prices have continued to improve building on the good price performance of 2004.

However, Namdeb is a mature operation as diamond-mining started in the region as long ago as 1920.

The emphasis is now on optimising the resources available to the company to ensure at least another 20 years of profitable operation.

In early 2003, Namdeb investedN$400-million in the Resource Extension Project at its Elizabeth Bay mine, situated 25 km to the south of the town of Luderitz.

This project will extend the life of mine by an additional 14 years, and will result in an increase in carat production for the first five years of the project life.

The diamond-miners will be investing a further N$250-million to establish what it calls a 'pocket beach' mine in its Bogenfels area.

Namdeb is focusing on itsmarine reserves and is exploring the feasibility of a project to bring a large deep-water dredger to mine the reserves in Namdeb's Chameis bay area.

Although Namdeb is by far the dominant force in Namibia's diamond industry, Reefton Mining NL, an ASX-listed company has exclusive prospecting licences covering 310 km of coastline on the Skeleton Coast.

Apart from diamonds, Reefton is also exploring for heavy mineral sands, tantalite, and precious and base metals in its Namibian tenement holdings.

The company announced at its September quarterlies that, at its Skeleton Coast diamond and heavy mineral (HM) sands project, HM sand occurrences had been identified over a distance of 90 km, and a prefeasibility environmental assessment was being undertaken.

An extensive air-core drilling programme is being planned at present.

At Reefton's Erongo Poly-metallic project, a preliminary evaluation of the Giftkuppe Hard Rock and Alluvial Rutile Project has been completed and a field evaluation has begun.

The demise of Namibian Minerals Corporation (Namco) presented an opportunity to diamond entrepreneur Lev Leviev to gain a significant foothold in the Namibian diamond industry.

The company formed out of the defunct Namco is Sakawe Mining Corporation (Samicor), which bought a number of the latter company's assets.

These included the Sakawe Miner, a mining airlift ship, as well as a third-generation seabedcrawler and processing plant off the chartered mining vessel, Kovambo.

For sampling Samicor bought the one-of-a-kind reverse circulation sampling drill which had been on board Namco's ship, Zacharias.

Samicor has four mining and exploration vessels which will be working the 15 000 km2 of exploration prospecting licences off the Namibian coast.

The output from Samicor is being used to supply rough diamonds to Leviev's LLD diamond-polishing factory, the largest in Namibia, which employs 560 workers.

Diamond Fields International (DFI), a Canadian operation, has completed feasibility studies over marine deposits located at its Marshall's Fork project in its Luderitz bay concession.

The company reported a net loss for the 2005 year of$3 814 248, or approximately $0,06 per share.

During July to October 2004, diamond-mining under a joint venture with Samicor produced31 910 carats (DFI's 50% share was 15 954 carats) from the Luderitz sea-diamond concession, ML111.

DFI resumed mining operations during June of 2005 with its own mining vessel, the DF Discoverer, which was acquired in late 2004.

DFI intends to increase future diamond production by improving the ship's systems and pursuing the deployment of the new Sea Diamond Miner technology, as well as undertaking sampling to identify additional areas of high-grade resource.

Another Canadian exploration company, AfriCan Marine Minerals Corp, is actively involved in the acquisition, exploration and development of major mineral properties in Namibia. Afri-Can is one of the largest marine diamond-concession holders in the area with interests in 25 exploration licences, covering 23 500 km2. The northern concession is located near Luderitz and the southern concessions are located near the mouth of the Orange river. Afri-Can's northern concession, the Woduna (Block J) concession area, is adjacent to a region where Marine & Coastal has estimated inferred diamond resources exceeding 4,25-million carats.

The Woduna (Block J) concession area represents Afri-Can's near-term production potential. Analysis of the combined data from both phase one and phase two sampling programmes by the Afri-Can technical team concluded that the diamondiferous nature of Feature number 8, has been confirmed, and the extent of the mineralisation has been well-defined within the area sampled. Follow-up phase-three sampling is designed to determine the continuity of mineralisation along and across the features, establish sufficient quantitative data to support an inferred resource, and establish preliminary data on potential mining economics.

Not all Namibian diamond interest is alluvial, as ASX-listed Mount Burgess Mining NL, while it has active projects in Australia, Botswana and Namibia, is investigating kimberlite pipes.

The company holds 90% of the Tsumkwe project, which is located 450 km northeast of Windhoek on the Botswana border and covers some 8 000 km2 held under nine exclusive prospecting licences (EPL), seven of which are in joint venture with Kimberlite Resources.

To date, the company discovered the Gura 1 kimberlite in early December 2001 and the Nxa-on kimberlite and a parakimberlite in June 2002.

Since March 2005, a number of drill holes, drilled in the western portion of the project area, have returned a significant number of very fresh kimberlitic-indicator minerals, indicating the possibility of a local kimberlite source.

The project has many attributes suitable for the discovery of kimberlites in that it is locatedon the southern margin of the Congo-Angolan Craton.

Tsumkwe is situated in an area that geologically would carry a high probability of hosting kimberlite pipes.

The project is also situated in an area where seven macrodiamonds, together with significant numbers of G9 and G10 garnets, have been discovered.

Ongoing exploration work includes drilling and loam-deflation lag sampling, which has delineated a number of individual discrete kimberlitic-indicator mineral anomalies.

In addition, the company is conducting a range of geophysicalsurveys.

Gold interest grows
AngloGold Ashanti operates the only gold-mine in Namibia, the Navachab mine near Karibib.

The carbonate-hosted deposit was discovered in 1984 and is currently the only producing gold-mine in Namibia.

The smallest of the AngloGold Ashanti's operations, this operation has, during its life, contributed 80 000 gold ounces to the parent company's coffers.

The mine was destined for closure in 2004, having struggled as a marginal mine through most of its life. Owing to the upswing in the gold price and the realisation of additional resources, towards the end of 2002 the mine applied for an extension on its mining licence.

This was granted and the board approved an extension of the life of mine to 2014. An in-house initiative to change to owner mining also contributed to improving the economic viability of the additional ten years of life.

There is an optimistic view that this may even be extended for another ten years beyond that.

Fresh interest in Namibian gold is being shown by former anthracite miner AfriOre.

This company holds a 100%interest in the Capricorn gold project, five exclusive prospecting licences comprising a total of 205 414 ha.

The project is situated in the area immediately north of the town of Otjiwarongo, a commercial centre in the northern part of Namibia.

The Capricorn project holdings are adjacent to the south and east of the new Otjikoto gold project, which was discovered during the late 1990's exploration by Avdale Namibia, a subsidiary of Anglovaal Mining, now African Rainbow Minerals (ARM). Mineralisation at Otjikoto is hosted in sheeted veins within alternating pelitic and carbonate strata underlying the main Karibib Marble member of the Karibib Formation.

The Otjikoto deposit reportedly has a delineated resource of one-million ounces of gold.

Fieldwork is currently in progress to identify additional drilling targets.

Detailed soil geochemical surveys are being conducted on surveyed grids over the remaining geophysical anomalies and over selected areas of the Karibib stratigraphy in order to facilitate the discovery of mineralised targets.

Teal is a mineral development and exploration company that is currently focused on properties located in Zambia, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The new company, headed by president and CEO Rick Menell, formerly comprised the non-South African exploration portfolio of ARM.

Its Namibian project is situated at Otjikoto, which is located within the Otavi Exploration Area in north-central Namibia where Teal made a new discovery of vein-hosted gold mineralisation.

Resource estimation work is being undertaken and an inferred mineral resource of approximately 870 000 oz of gold has been defined to date at a grade of 1,06 g/t.

Teal's management believes the resource is open-ended and has the potential for the delineation of further resources.

The company has started resource extension and delineation drilling in the build-up to completing a prefeasibility study on a possible new gold-mining operation.

Further drilling should lead to resource definition within a year.

Two drillrigs are currently operational and a ground magnetic survey will commence over the next three months, after which this information will be combined with existing geophysical data.

Bafex Exploration has been exploring iron-oxide copper-gold (IOCG) projects in an area some 150 km north of Windhoek.

In November 2004, Helio Resource Corp completed aqualifying transaction, through the acquisition of all of the shares of Bafex Holdings, Bafex Exploration's holding company.

In Namibia, Helio has four properties subject to earn-in option agreements:
- with Teck Cominco on the Vredelus gold project;
- with Boulder Mining Corp on the Tevrede Iron-Oxide Copper-Gold (IOCG) project; and
- with Yale Resources on the Leicester IOCG project and on the Otjimakuru gold project.

Geologically, these projects have much in common with the deposit currently being mined at Navachab.

Base metals resurgent
The Namibian mining industry suffered a grievous setback in 1998 when Gold Fields Namibia embarked on the closure process.

Gold Fields Namibia controlled the former Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL) which operated mines at Tsumeb, Kombat and Otjihase, as well as a 30 000 t/ycopper and lead smelter at the town of Tsumeb.

Largely through the efforts ofits current MD, Andre Neethling, TCL was resuscitated as Ongopolo Mining and Processing, in the process rescuing 2 000 jobs.

Stringent fiscal disciplines were introduced to cut costs, while Ongopolo set about restoring the production and consequent cash flow.

Since then, Ongopolo has increased its production largely through brownfields expansions to its existing operations.

In 2004, it restarted mining at the long-closed Matchless copper-mine near Windhoek.

Apart from processing concentrates from its own mines, Ongopolo is toll-smelting for other copper producers such as Anvil Mining's Dikulushi mine in the DRC.

The smelter is being returned to its former capacity of 60 000 t/y of copper production.

The town of Tsumeb is located strategically in northern Namibia and, as such, Neethling sees Ongopolo playing a key role in growing the natural trading route that exists from Walvis Bay, through Zambia, and on the DRC.

This cooperation would involve the various copper-mines and smelters of the three countries involved.

Ongopolo is also exploring the possibilities of erecting a copper refinery, which would then open up the possibility of a copper cable and wire factory.

To the south, the major news in Namibia's mining industry was Anglo American's Skorpionzinc-mine situated 25 km north the town of Rosh Pinah.

Construction was started in 2001 and included both an open-pit mine, and a technologically-advanced refinery to handle the zinc-oxide ore.

The mine, which was built at a cost of $450-million, is now producing at its full capacity of150 000 t/y of zinc.

After some initial technical setbacks, the mine reached full production for the first time in December 2004.

At current production levels, the operation is expected to have a life of mine of 15 years.

Importantly, Skorpion zinc issolely responsible for a 4% contribution to Namibia's annual GDP.

Near to Skorpion, Kumba Resources' Rosh Pinah mine was started in 1970 with the intention of the mine being a short-lived operation.

However, successive finds of ore kept this poor cousin in the Iscor stable going as a feeder mine to the parent's steel operations.

While 2003 was a record zinc production year for Rosh Pinah Zinc with 91 229 t produced, this record was eclipsed again in 2004.

In a 33% improvement, the mine managed to produce 121 000 zinc tons while lead production stayed constant at some 30 000 t.

Three years ago, the mine embarked on a strategy to improve profitability of the operation.

Rosh Pinah also embarked on a two-year strategy to maximise the run-of-mine (Rom) tons to a level that the mine calculated would make a profit.

This plan covered the first two years and was accompanied by a programme to increase the mine reserves to more than cover the depletion rate.

The focus for the next two years is going to be to add considerably more resources, so that the mine will have a life of eight to ten years.

While the mine is seeking to improve production to a certain extent, the focus will be on increasing the reserve base very significantly.

This two-year programme is the first step on the road toward what the mine terms its 'Vision 2030 programme'.

This initiative, which is still in the planning stage, will have the aim of keeping the mine operating until the year 2030.

Also in the south of Namibia, is the Haib River copper-sulphide-porphyry project, which is currently held by Afri-Can Marine Minerals Corp. The Haib copper project contains a large porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit hosted within quartz-feldspar porphyry.

An Afri-Can technical report confirms that the historic indicated resource in the high-grade section of the deposit totals 292-million tons at 0,46% Cu, which is in excess of 2,9-billion pounds of copper in situ.

Since its discovery in 1948,extensive work has been carried out on the Haib deposit by various mining companies, and more recently by Mintek of South Africa.

Renewed uranium interest
The improved uranium price has sparked fresh interest in this potential fuel source.

Among these is Paladin Resources, which expects its planned uranium-mine in Namibia will be bigger and better than previously thought after significantly upgrading the size of the resource.

Paladin Resources is currently constructing a mine and plant at its Langer Heinrich project.

The resource upgrade was the result of a drilling programme and a decision to use a lower cut-off grade to delineate the resource.

The Langer Heinrich project now hosts total resources of40-million tons grading 0,06%uranium, for 23 800 tons of uranium. The mine is forecast to start producing in September 2006 with further development of other nearby deposits to be considered in due course.

Namibia's existing uranium producer, Rio Tinto's R