Timely boost to mineral beneficiation push


Windhoek – London-listed Pan African mining group, Mwana Africa Plc, has offered idle smelter capacity to platinum producers in the country, in what could be a breakthrough to Zimbabwe’s push for mineral beneficiation.

Mwana Africa owns Bindura Nickel Corporation mining complex, the only integrated nickel producer in Africa comprising two underground nickel mines, Trojan and Shangani, a nickel smelter and refinery, which produces nickel cathodes, copper sulphide and cobalt hydroxide.

BNC has also been toll refining nickel concentrates and nickel matte from third parties. The smelter has installed capacity of 17 000 tonnes per year while the refinery has 14 500 tonnes per year, according to information on Mwana Africa’s website.

Smelter capacity could be expanded to between 50 000 and 175 000 tonnes per year of concentrate, should platinum producers in Zimbabwe agree to utilise the smelter’s idle capacity, Mwana Africa chief executive Kalaa Mpinga said in Cape Town this week.

Mwana Africa is currently holding discussions with Impala Platinum, which owns Zimplats, Aquarius which mines at Mimosa and Anglo American Platinum’s Unki mine in Zimbabwe to invest in expanding the capacity of the smelter to refining platinum matte.

“What we are saying to the government of Zimbabwe is that people shouldn’t be allowed to export concentrate while that capacity is available inside the country.

“We believe we can restart our smelter at a relatively modest cost, and utilising the excess capacity that’s inside the country is in line with the government’s objective to beneficiate locally,” Mpinga told journalists on the side lines of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

Mpinga also observed that Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed RioZim, has a smelter, Empress Nickel Refinery, which can go a long way towards meeting Zimbabwe government’s beneficiation push.

Empress Nickel Refinery has been toll refining nickel matte from BCL and Tati nickel mines in Botswana since 1985, following the closure of Empress Nickel mine in 1982.

“We are actively engaged in the discussion because we believe that our smelter can actually process some of the platinum concentrate, which is currently being exported to South Africa.

“We would have to make an investment to improve material handling. In 10 years, Bindura will possibly be toll –treating more platinum material than processing its own material.

 It’s much easier for us to double or treble the size of our smelter and refinery than building a new one,” Mpinga is quoted by Business Day saying.

Zimbabwe, which holds the world’s largest platinum reserves after neighbouring South Africa, produces 430 000 ounces of the metal a year. Producers in the country say that the sector needs an investment of US$5.3 billion to expand production to more than 500 000 ounces, output, which can support construction of refineries to process platinum group metals and other industrial materials extracted from the same ore bodies.

Zimbabwe has ratcheted up pressure on platinum producers to invest in a refinery complex in the country within the shortest possible time by threatening to halt exports of platinum concentrates to South Africa.

Zimbabwe mines minister, Walter Chidhakwa, assured mining companies that government would do what is necessary to ensure that electricity supplies are available for the planned refinery.

“We can do the same thing for gold, with silver, with platinum, palladium and all the other platinum group metals,” Chidhakwa said at the Mining Indaba.

February 2014
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