Located at approximately 30 kilometers South East of Francistown city, Mupane Gold Mine is the only gold mine that exists in Botswana. This follows the now defunct historic Monarch Gold Mine in the same city of Francistown. The mine has been in existence since 2005. Interestingly it is also among a few mines that never closed business when several mines in the country folded and shed off jobs two years ago.
Mupane Gold Mine is owned by a Canadian Company, Galane Gold which was bought through its company Gallery Gold Pty Ltd from IAMGOLD Corp, in August 2011. Gallery Gold Pty Ltd was the 100% owner of Mupane Gold Mining (Pty) Ltd, a Botswana company that has been producing gold from the Mupane operation since 2005.Galane Gold also has an underground mine Galaxy Gold in South Africa, Mpumalanga province. Galane Gold is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canada.
General Manager of Mupane Gold Mine, Wayne Hatton- Jones says that just like any other mining operations they have been through a lot of hurdles but survived because they had to strategize and were optimistic. He says that one of their best strategies was to move from open pit mining to underground mining in 2014.
“One of our best strategies is that in 2014, Mupane Gold Mine decided to pursue underground mining to try and increase its mine life. To be honest we battled for the 12 first months as we were still doing the developments for such an undertaking which was not easy,” he said.
He said that they had to take a $5 million dollar (USD) loan and managed to re-pay it in full. Jones emphasizes that Mupane Gold Mine is just a marginal mine which is affected by fluctuating gold prices.
“As you know that we are supposed to pay royalties to government, in 2014 we asked the government not to pay back the royalties just yet and we were allowed to make a deferred payment. Luckily the government heeded our call and was given a three year grace period. The government could see from our business plan that we had predicaments,” Jones said.
He lauded the government for being lenient to them adding that the underground mining strategy has added yet another 4 year mine life to the mine which is giving them much hope. He said they are optimistic that the mine will increase its mine life as they continue to explore for more gold in the area. Jones revealed that the mine is looking at producing 30 000 ounces of gold per annum as per their plan going forward.
“We are currently in the process of acquiring the old Monarch Gold Mine tailings in Francistown and we are still waiting for the Department of Mines to grant us a license. We hope this will also increase the mine life of Mupane Gold Mine,” he said.
Jones said that an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is already complete and added that such an undertaking will also help them remove the tailings and water at the site which is hazardous to the community of Monarch location.
“We should start mining from these tailings by the end of the year hopefully,” he said.
Among some of the challenges they are facing, Jones says they have challenges with the acquisition of trained personnel. He explained that gold mining is different from a number of mining operations as it requires special skills. He said although there were equally affected by the worldwide recession, they only retrenched 13 employees in 2015 and only four employees volunteered to leave the organization.
The mine currently has 135 direct employees and 205 from its sub-contractors. Asked on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), he said the mine has often taken part in such over its years of operation.
“Over the years we have supported the SOS Orphanage in Francistown with funds and we have built a house for the needy in Matsiloje village,” he explained
He also said that the mine has a cordial working relationship with Botswana Miners Workers Union (BMWU) and the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development regarding the welfare of employees.
Taking the Sunday Standard team on tour of their underground mining operation, the Mining Manager at Mupane Gold Mine Cedric Sam said they have since started rehabilitating most of the waste dumps of the old open pits which have reached their mine life. He said since beginning their underground mining operation in 2014 there has been an improvement of mining as it stands at 400 000 tons per annum at around 2.5 grams of gold per tonne.
“With the current underground mining operation, we have extended the mine life to 2020 but the other extension will depend on the discovery of more resources as we continue to explore. We work on a five year rolling plan and then announce our extension when the need arises,” Sam said.
He revealed that the underground mining operation is currently being undertaken by a sub contractor SVU which is a local contractor.
He further said that they process around 850 000 tonnes per annum at their processing plant and on average retrieving 1.7 grams per ton of gold on average.
“The other 450 000 tonnes we process comes from the low grade stock piles from the old open pit operations,” he said.
Sam made it clear that unlike open pit mining, underground mining is very risky therefore they uphold high standards of health and safety for employees. He explained that ever since they undertook underground mining they have never had any fatalities but registered a few lost time injuries.
“We have around 100 employees working in the underground operation. We have drilling, blasting, loading, hauling, construction and maintenance sections,” he said.
For his part the Processing Plant Manager at Mupane Gold Mine, Lucas Ntsipe said that their processing plant is well maintained and runs 24 hours and 365 days a year. He said despite the challenges such as the current prolonged rains or storms they have measures in place to process their gold smoothly. He said they get water for their processing plant from Shashe dam and part of it is recycled and retrieved from their mining pits.
“The processing at our plant entails crushing, grinding, floatation, thickening, carbon and leach, elusion and smelting. We however stop our operations on monthly basis for maintenance,” he said.
He said when the processing is finished, they dispatch their gold through a security company through the assistance of the police where it is escorted and taken to Francistown International Airport for export. Ntsipe said they dispatch their gold for export twice a month.