The unlocking of the millions of tonnes of copper and silver resources known to be hidden in the sands of the 1,000-kilometre Kalahari Copperbelt in the northwest has been given a huge boost with the finalisation of the North West Transmission Grid Connection project. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI explains
Sixty 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.
The 1,000-kilometre stretch of mineral riches running south-west to north-east has been difficult to sustainably extract value from due to, amongst other factors, the remoteness of the area and the subsequent unavailability of key inputs such as power.
Boseto Mine has become the enduring cautionary tale of trying to extract value from the Kalahari Copperbelt. Discovery Metals Limited spent $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.
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 and accounting for 35% of its operating costs. When copper prices slid, the operating costs became unsustainable and in February 2015, the mine closed, sending 422 workers home.
Other explorers hung on in the years since Boseto’s demise and one of these, Khoemacau Copper Mining, is racing to the development of a $410 million copper and silver operation, which will leverage on Boseto’s processor. Khoemacau expects an annual production capacity of up to 165,000 tonnes of high-grade concentrate containing approximately 60,000 tonnes of copper metal and 1.9 million ounces of silver.
Last week, President Mokgweetsi Masisi was in Maun, a town at the tip of the Kalahari Copperbelt, officially opening Phase 1 of the P2.4 billion North West Transmission Grid (NWTG) project. When complete, the full NWTG 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.
“I am happy to note that significant benefits of the infrastructure are already being felt in the North West region,” Masisi said.
“For instance, Khoemacau Copper Mine, located in the heartland of Ngamiland, which I officially opened in 2019, is now connected to the transmission grid.
“As a result, the
Phase 1 of the NWTG will benefit mining developers on the Copperbelt, while Phase 2, stretching to Pandamatenga and Kasane, will support agricultural activities. In between, villagers who have long been mostly dependent on power from across the border in Namibia will be brought onto the grid, boosting economic activity. “A bankable feasibility study we did in 2012 showed that the previous power supply arrangements for the area were not sustainable,” said Botswana Power Corporation CEO, David Kgoboko at the NWTG’s official opening.
“The power demand from mining projects and the envisaged agricultural projects in Pandamatenga could not be met through the existing cross-border supply, which was itself also increasingly unsustainable.”
Masisi said the electrical support for mining projects in the northwest would also uplift the lives of Batswana through direct employment and the opportunity to supply consumables to the explorers setting up there.
“Tshukudu is a copper mine setting up and that will involve more developments such as roads that will be required, as well as other activities. These are jobs and opportunities.” Tshukudu, a subsidiary of Sandfire Resources, is the latest near term developer on the Kalahari Copperbelt. Sandfire Resources, an Australia Stock Exchange-listed group, recently approved the construction of a $259 million (P2.9 billion) copper mine 80 kilometres from Gantsi, the latest such development on the Kalahari Copperbelt.
Other junior miners on the Kalahari Copperbelt include Kopore Metals and Kalahari Metals, both of whom are studying their licences intending to firm up mineralisation and progress their projects. Both companies describe the Copperbelt as an untapped world-class mineral province where the provision of grid electricity is expected to support the development of one of the world’s biggest addresses for base metal.
Activity on the Kalahari Copperbelt is expected to significantly increase in the coming years, powered by the national grid, leading to the opening up of a new economic corridor in the country.
The old scent left in the 1960s by explorers such as Anglovaal, US Steel, BHP, Rio Tinto and Anglo American, is being followed by new ‘empowered’ trailblazers using the latest technology and methods to fully tap into the Copperbelt.