Smart says global decarbonisation journey will benefit Northern Cape base metals hub

3rd November 2020 By: Simone Liedtke - Writer

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Growing global demand for zinc, copper and tin minerals will place South Africa’s Northern Cape in a favourable position as the world continues to decarbonise the global economy, says Orion Minerals MD and CEO Errol Smart.

The use of battery metals, of which copper is a main component, will continue to drive appetite for the commodity. Smart is, therefore, encouraging the use of modern exploration technologies, like electromagnetic techniques. to further explore the region, which has not seen copper production in over 40 years.

This delay in exploration and production is not owing to a lack of copper, but rather because major mining companies stopped exploration as they had “exhausted the available economic reserve” in the region, subsequent to which mines shut down and mining companies left the area in search of greener pastures, explains Smart.

However, owing to the Northern Cape’s style of mineralisation, he says the region is “very productive for exploration” once successful and modern tools are applied.

Orion is developing its Prieska copper/zinc project in the province.

The province is also “infrastructure rich”, says Smart, adding that while the roads, rail infrastructure and ports “need some help”, these have an increased development potential with increasing exploration activity in the region, which will be further boosted by the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to help the economy recovery post-Covid-19.

Smart says the province is perfectly positioned for a number of reasons, one of which is that it has the metals that are required to become a sustainable green metal production hub, which is where the “real attraction” for Orion is.

With sustainability high on everyone’s agenda, he believes the Northern Cape is “the one place in the world” where a project or operation could start with a sustainable outlook from the start, and then “build on that”.

Smart further encourages local investors to get involved in the region but laments the “limited pool of finance available in South Africa”, as well as the country’s low appetite for risk.

This limited availability of finances is the rationale behind Orion’s dual listing on the JSE and the ASX, which has assisted the miner in sourcing offshore investment for its Northern Cape operation.

Investment in the province is “slowly but surely” increasing, with more participation from South African investors showing promise.

“We think the future, and hopefully with all the incentive schemes that are being discussed, while trying to bring the free flow tax incentive to [fruition], will unlock a lot of South African investment money,” Smart explains, adding that Orion has ensured it is well positioned to capitalise on the natural channel of investment, should these incentives prove successful.

While “there’s a lot of great exploration opportunities” in the Northern Cape, Smart elaborates on the company’s business plan – to operate in a sustainable way, while providing modern investors with “what they want”.

Dubbing the province’s stream of minerals as the “perfect” option for Orion, he adds that South Africa has the skills and suppliers available, which have, to date, “borne fruit” as Orion is “starting to make a difference” in the region.

Additionally, with government “starting to see there’s an opportunity” in the Northern Cape, Smart looks forward to “unlocking a lot of value”.

“It’s not just about mining the minerals, but all the related industries,” he comments.

Smart spoke to Mining Weekly following his presentations at this year’s virtual Junior Indaba, on November 3.