Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Khoemacau Mine retells the forgotten ‘Kalahari Copperbelt’ story

TOTENG – For many decades the Kalahari Copperbelt has been classified as one of the world’s most promising yet underexplored copper provinces in southern Africa. But now a story of ‘persistence and determination’ is being re-written by miners at this province in a development that could re-establish Botswana as copper producer.

The Kalahari Copperbelt stretches for about 1 000 km from central Namibia to North West Botswana where companies such as Khoemacau Copper Mining have started their operations. Tshukudu Metals – which is transitioning from copper exploration into developing a substantial 12-year open pit mine and ore processing operation in Ghanzi is another significant player within the Kalahari Copperbelt.

Khoemacau Copper Mining Company which owns the BOSETO operations near Bothatogo, Sehithwa and Toteng (BOSETO) villages is amongst the authors of the Kalahari Copperbelt’s forgotten story.

“There is a great future”, said Boikobo Paya – executive director at Khoemacau Copper Mining.

Paya was speaking to journalist at the BOSETO mining operations this past week where the company is preparing to host the President – Mokgweetsi Masisi for the commissioning of the mine on Friday.

Paya said the key and latest developments at BOSETO come at the right time in terms of market and prices.

“The copper prices are looking good”.

But before he speaks on the bright future ahead, Paya and other Khoemacau executives spoke at length and with passion about the humble beginning of the BOSETO operations.

The BOSETO mine was initially owned by Australian miner Discovery Metal Limited which eventually liquidated in June 2015. The demise of DML, as it was known within the business circles meant setbacks for the BOSETO operations and in turn the development of the entire Kalahari Copperbelt.

The ray of hope however came in the form of Cuprous Capital Limited and Resource Capital Fund which bought the mining operations from DML and subsequently renaming it ‘Khoemacau’ – an acronym of three hills – Khwebe, Mabeleapudi and Cau (pronounced Tsau). The name was coined by a student during a naming competition ran by the company some few years ago.

The company together with its sub-contractors now operates three separates but interlinked underground operations – Tlou, Tau and Nkwe, with each having its own independent ramp access.

Mompati Babusi – Process Plant Manager at the mine explained to journalists that the Zone 5 mine which lies at the heart of the project is entirely a Greenfield development.

“The ore produced at Zone 5 is trucked to the BOSETO concentrator which has been upgraded to a capacity of 3.6 Mtpa”, Babusi said.

Babusi further shared that their operations have an annual production capacity of between 155 and 165 000 t of high-grade concentrate containing approximately 60 000 t of copper metal and 1.9 Moz of silver.

In sharing the story of how the current phase of the mine came into being, Babusi demonstrated the innovative aspects of its design which include a centralised pumping system, parallel return air systems – to allow ventilation on demand, twin electrical networks and an ore-pass system designed to improve stope productivity.

During the last of the two days media tour, Company Chief Executive – CEO Johan Ferreira explained to journalists that it took eight years to get the BOSETO operations ‘off’ the ground and turn it into the most mechanised underground mines on the continent.

“After almost 8 years of exploration work, we went through the project of funding raising. We raised a significant amount of money which helped us get off the ground”, Ferreira said.

He however shared that the journey to the first shipment has not been an easy one for both the current owners and those who came before. The mine faced high operational costs due to absence of electricity in the area. It was then forced to rely solely on diesel powered electricity until recently when the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) commissioned its North West Grid power supply line running from Orapa into Maun and all the way to Gantsi areas.

Apart from BPC, Ferreira paid tribute to other stakeholders who were key in ensuring that the BOSETO operation comes to live.

“We are grateful to our stakeholders including local communities, the various levels of Northwest district leadership, the National Government, in particular the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology, and Energy Security, and government departments such as the Departments of Mines, Environmental Affairs, Transport, Wildlife, Labour and Immigration, for their support, guidance and co-operation to bring this national asset to fruition”,

He emphasised that the project will unlock the potential of the Kalahari Copperbelt and stimulate confidence in Botswana in terms of diversifying the mining sector. In addition, Khoemacau executives revealed that community development initiatives have been established as part of the company’s efforts to ensure that dwellers of nearby villages benefit from the mining operations.

[Time line]

2012 – Zone 5 discovered

2014 – Feasibility Study completed, Mining license application

2015 – Mining license awarded

2018 – Early works begins

2019 – Full project Funding & Approval

2020 – Ore Extraction began, national grid supply commenced

2021 – Shipment of first concentrate

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