Known to contain millions of tonnes of copper and silver resources, the 1,000-kilometre belt running south west to north east, thus far remains an untapped treasure, sealed off by a lack of infrastructure. Recent developments, however, are set to unlock the Copperbelt’s value. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports
The 422 workers who were offloaded unceremoniously in February 2015 when Boseto Mine closed down, have become the cautionary tale of attempting to extract value from the Kalahari Copperbelt.
Discovery Metals Limited spent US$175 million developing Boseto Mine, ran it for three years and watched it fall to its knees, weighed down in part by astronomical operating costs associated with the use of diesel power generation.
While a collapse in copper prices dealt Boseto’s deathblow, the mine was already compromised by its reliance on diesel generation, which accounted for 35% of its operating costs.
In 2014, the year before it closed, Boseto used a total of 17.1 million litres of diesel in generating its electricity, spending P26 million monthly.
Today, a handful of explorers are active on the Copperbelt, at various stages of advancement, attempting to tap into a resource estimated to hold at least seven million tonnes of copper, 250 million ounces of silver and other minerals such as lead.
The companies currently on the Copperbelt are generally following the old scent left by explorers such as Anglovaal, US Steel, BHP, Rio Tinto and Anglo American whose studies beginning from the 1960s helped prove mineralisation and grades to an extent.
Discovery Metals took the baton from these explorers and in 2012, at a ceremony headlined by President Ian Khama, launched Boseto Mine amidst high hopes for the opening up of the Copperbelt.
The infrastructure issues leading to the Mine’s fall, coupled with the global retreat of copper prices beginning in 2015, led to a slowdown in activity on the Copperbelt, as each exploration company could not work past the numbers.
However, hope is once again echoing across the Kalahari Copperbelt, anchored in the Botswana Power Corporation’s P4.8 billion project to power up the northwest through country-spanning transmission lines.
Launched recently, the North West Transmission Grid (NWTG) project will draw power from Morupule B to Maun via Orapa, spreading this to areas such as Toteng, Gantsi, Shakawe, Gumare, Pandamatenga and Kasane/Kazungula. Maun, Gantsi and Toteng all lie on the Kalahari Copperbelt.
“The NWTG will provide grid access to all sectors of the economy for example, mining, tourism, commercial, domestic and further improve the quality of electricity and reliability of supply in the country most importantly in the North Western districts thereby positioning the area as a lucrative investment zone for different economic players,” BPC chief executive officer, Stefan Schwarzfischer said at the project’s launch.
Minerals minister, Sadique Kebonang was looking at the bigger picture.
“The NWTG will allow for development and expansion of commercial ventures, including mining operations, into the North West.
This in turn will facilitate economic diversification by lessening over-dependency on diamonds by the economy.
“The NWTG is a gateway to bigger developments that will support the growth of our country’s economy.”
The Copperbelt’s most advanced project, Khoemacau, has already positioned itself for the lighting up of the region. The Cupric Canyon Capital-owned operation has already signed an MoU with the BPC for power to its planned 50,000 tonne per annum mine, due by 2020. Cupric Canyon, a British private equity firm, snapped up Boseto for a bargain in 2015, paying US$35 million for an extensive facility that boasted the Copperbelt’s only processing plant.
Other players include MOD Resources, which holds 25 prospecting licences spread across 12,664 square metres of the Copperbelt.
The Australian company plans to soon spend US$172 million on a mine that will produce 23,000 tonnes per annum starting from 2022. At current prices, the company expects to generate US$730 million in baseline earnings annually, with the estimate rising by US$10 million per annum if electricity is in place by January 2022.
Other active explorers include Kalahari Metals from the United Kingdom, which has 4,000 square metres on the Copperbelt and Australian explorer, Metallum, which holds 5,161 square kilometres.
In their frequent updates to the market, all the explorers are bubbling about the Kalahari Copperbelt’s potential, a level of optimism heightened by prevailing copper prices which have rebounded in recent years and are pointing towards highs last seen in 2014.
Metallum, the newest player on the Copperbelt, bought its way into the action via a 2.75 million Australian dollar takeover last August.
“We are pleased to deliver this exciting portfolio of copper tenements to Metallum, who share our view of the exploration potential of the rapidly emerging Kalahari Copperbelt,” Metallum managing director, Grant Ferguson said.
Nearly 60 years after explorers first noted the “quartz veins rich in copper, silver and lead” in what was then referred to as “North Ghanziland,” the Kalahari Copperbelt appears to have lined up all the variables needed for the sustainable unlocking of its secrets.