Thursday, August 18, 2022

Khoemacau Copper Mine pioneers mechanized mining in Southern Africa

Located in the Ngamiland District, Khoemacau Copper Mine (KCM) is one of the latest underground copper silver mines in Botswana as it began full operations in June 2021. What sets the mine apart from the rest in region is that it has fully mechanized mining as part of its plans to be sustainable. KCM has sub-contracted Barminco an Australian company to conduct its underground mining activities. Barminco brought with it, the mining mechanization technology and experts who are currently transferring skills to local employees.

 The company has automatic (self controlled) and semi-automatic equipment (controlled by humans from surface or control room) that does work underground. One such interesting equipment includes the loader and the Jumbo Machine (drill). This is all part of mechanized mining.

According to mining research, mechanized mining improves overall productivity and the safety of employees. It has however been criticized in some quarters for taking jobs done by humans as they are replaced by machines. Mechanized mining involves machines operated by remote controls removing human labour from risks especially in underground mining, an environment which is risky. This method of mining however requires skilled labor to operate such machines which can also be costly. It is however perceived as a good devil as it saves costs, time and helps recover more minerals in a short period of time helping the mines to be sustainable and stand the test of time.

Briefing the media after a tour of the mine last week the Chief Executive Officer of Khoemacau Copper Mine Johan Ferreira emphasized that they have embraced mechanized mining as part of their sustainability strategies.

“Mechanized mining has already been adopted in other countries for a long time. Everyone in Botswana will have to realize that at some time there is need to go through that paradigm shift,” he said.

He said it is important to note that open pit mines will somehow come to the end of their lives compelling mining companies to pursue underground mining. He said mechanization is the method that best suits underground mining. He also said as time goes on, open pit mines become expensive to mine. He said their sub-contracted company; Barminco has brought along a wealth of experience in mechanized mining and mining experts to transfer skills to local employees.

“Barminco showed a long time commitment to Botswana by establishing a training facility here in the mine for the future. This is skills transfer as the local employees will be ready for mechanized mining and are also equipped with skills to service the machines. Maintenance is critical. You cannot continue with this operation without maintaining the machines,” cautioned Ferreira.

While he could not disclose the exact amount invested in this technology at the time, he said the prices run into hundreds of millions. He said KCM as the main contractor works hand in hand with Barminco to acquire the equipment of their specification depending on the needs of the job to be done. The equipment is sourced from abroad. He emphasized that their mine was designed in such a way that no person should do hard physical labour but machines would do.

Meanwhile he said the mine has a number of other sustainability priorities. He emphasized that one of their main priorities is safety and health. He said the mine is on a journey to zero harm. While there are two incidents where two mine employees lost their lives in May this year due to accidents in the mines, he said such incidents were unheard at the mine before.

“We had an unfortunate incident where two of our employees lost their lives due to mine accidents. Prior to the incidents were never recorded such accidents. Investigations are still being done by the Department of Mines, once complete we will share the report with our stakeholders. We are on a journey to zero harm. We are working according to standards and procedures to make sure that we mine safely,” he said

 He also emphasized they have great safety and health management systems in place. Ferreira further explained that they have visible leadership which often engages and communicates with employees to get their mindset right in relation to health and safety in the workplace.

“We have high level of emergency preparedness and comprehensive health monitoring,” he said

Touching on environment issues, he said the same principle in terms of safety and health is applied on the environment; which is zero harm on the environment, looking after water and waste management. He also said it is critical for them to look at biodiversity to ensure that they maintain or improve what they found in their mining environment. On governance as part of sustainability priorities, he said every leader and manager at the mine is held accountable.

“We do not tolerate any bribery or corruption in our mine. We have got specific measures on how we manage that to make sure that we do not have such happening. We do our business in an ethical manner using the best business practices,” he said.

On employment practices Ferreira said it is all about protecting human rights. He said they shun bad practices that happen in other countries especially child labour. He also said they are committed to Botswana and its people and their focus is to expand their operation within the country. Ferreira also explained that when they started the mining project, they engaged with all the stakeholders including the communities in the vicinity of the mine.

“Our people are the business and the business is our people. Our business cannot run without people. The communities that we do business in are our important stakeholders,” he said.

He said they more often engage with the communities that they do business in. He said when the mining project was started; a feasibility study was done so that the mine does not affect the lives of these communities. He said most of the people in these communities typically undertake low productivity cattle farming. He also said the mine has a number of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) projects where it gives support to the local communities to sustain themselves.

“Community projects are delivered by partnering with mine contractors focusing on real community needs and opportunities. We have established a community brooder and new classroom developments, local female school ablutions and completed a medical clinic,” he said.

KCM is a copper silver mine which currently produces 60 000 tonnes of copper and 2 million ounces of silver metal in concentrate annually. The estimated mine life for current operations is 22 years. The mine currently has a total of 1 500 employees, with 1 350 being locals while 150 are foreigners.

KCM is also owned by an Australian company, Cupric Canyon Capital LP.

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