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Kalahari Copper Belt covert search while BCL lies moribund

Publishing Date : 12 August, 2019

Author : TSAONE SEGAETSHO

International explorers with high appetite for copper mining have descended on Botswana ground to explore the untapped area of Kalahari Copper Belt whose underground soil is proven to have hid the treasurous red metal.


The Kalahari Copper Belt is said to contain millions of tonnes of copper and silver resources inside the 1,000-kilometre belt running south west to north east and foreign companies are already pouring billions of Pula in investment. This is despite government of Botswana shutting down a copper operation, BCL, citing failure of copper in the markets and the mine’s inability to be financially sustainably. BCL has been left flat on the ground and currently going through a controversial process of liquidation which is now on its third year; politicians and commentators alike are pointing a sharp finger at government as copper is now the new thing with the advent of Asia’s electric vehicles boom.


Recently international exploration companies have come out with their machinery and have eventually found a new home in the Kalahari Copper Belt. There are two mines on the offing at the Kalahari Copper Belt – the T3 (Motheo) project of Tshukudu Metals Botswana and the Zone 5 project of Khoemacau Copper Mining. These projects are expected to take off by 2020.


The most recent company showing desire for Botswana copper is the Australian copper producer Sandfire Resources which has even taken a bold step of engulfing a fellow Australian copper explorer MOD Resources, an entity with copper rights in this country. Sandfire will take over MOD together with its Botswana businesses or subsidiaries. 


MOD Resources, listed on the ASX and LSE, owns the T3 copper project in Botswana where a prefeasibility study estimated that the project would require a capital investment of P1.5 billion for development of an open pit operation and a plant with a 2.5-million-tonne-a-year throughput capacity, producing 23 000 t/y copper and 690 000 oz/y of silver in concentrate.


Sanfire Resources’ cornerstone asset is the high-grade, low cost DeGrussa Copper-Gold Mine in Australia. According to the company, it also has an interest in the Black Butte copper project in Montana, USA.  Before having an eye on African or Botswana, Sandfire is strategically focused on exploring for and bringing on new production that can in the short run augment its current production and in the long run, replace production as DeGrussa production diminishes and ultimately ceases.


Now Sandfire is aiming for the “highly prospective, dominant landholding on the underexplored Kalahari copper belt in Botswana.” According to information from the Australian bourse, combination of Sandfire and MOD leverages the strengths of both companies to both optimise and de-risk development.


According to information seen by this publication, the T3 Project in Botswana meets Sandfire's investment criteria, including returns, cost profile, scale, life and upside potential.  This also represents an attractive premium for MOD shareholders, whilst providing a funding solution for the development of T3 and retaining exposure to MOD’s significant exploration potential, according to information received.


Competition Authority has recently received a merger notification for the proposed acquisition of the entire issued share capital of MOD Resources by Sandfire Resources. The local antitrust body is interested in this acquisition due to MOD’s control on Botswana listed entities which will be involved in this transaction as subsidiaries or shareholders.  MOD controls MOD Resource Botswana which owns Tshukudu Metals Botswana.


Tshukudu Metals Botswana is a company incorporated in accordance with the Laws of the Republic of Botswana. Tshukudu Metal does not directly or indirectly control any firm in Botswana. According to Competition Authority, Tshukudu Metals is a mineral exploration company and currently does not provide any service or sell any products into or from Botswana. Its shareholders do not own shares in any other Botswana company.


The Directors of Tshukudu Metals are: Leutlwetse Tumelo; Gabaikangwe Chinyepi (both Batswana); Julian Phillip Hanna; and Mark Andre Clements (both Australians). MOD also controls Tshukudu Exploration Botswana whose directors are the same as those of Tshukudu Metals. Even though Tshukudu is a company registered in this country it does not directly or indirectly control any firm in Botswana. Though Tshukudu Explorations has not commenced trading, it is a mineral exploration company. Its shareholders also do not own shares in any other company incorporated in Botswana.


One of MOD’s local directors did Leutlwetse Tumelo want to divulge the details of the Sandfire takeover to BusinessPost. He only said, “the acquisition of MOD Resources by Sandfire is still going through some key regulatory approval processes. Until these processes are completed we cannot disclose more details around the transaction.”

Khoemacau bets billions on Kalahari Copper Belt

At last year’s Botswana Resource Sector Conference (BRSC) it was discussed that the Kalahari Copper Belt has a huge potential of becoming the copper hub of Botswana. But it will continue to be dwarfed by the gigantic production of the Central African Copperbelt of Zambia and the DRC. Those who speak for diversification from another mineral, to move from diamonds, hope for copper to take over-but it is still too far according to experts. Copper stands in a pole position at this time of the revolution of Asian markets demanding the red metal for electric vehicles manufacturing.


The Kalahari Copper Belt is referred as a ‘corridor’ of sediment-hosted copper/silver mineralization extending south-west from Maun in Botswana through to the Namibian border and beyond. The copper belt however has its mishaps. In 2015 February, 422 workers who went out to mine for a better life in the Kalahari had their hopes abruptly cut down when Boseto mine was closed. 


Owners of the Boseto mine, Discovery Metals Limited, had spent P1.75 billion on the project had to endure the slump of copper demand and prices in those years, but the mine is said to have been put on a deathbed by over-reliance on the unsustainable diesel generation which contributed to 35 percent of the mine’s operating costs. The Boseto mine used 17.1 million litres of diesel in generating its electricity, spending P26 million monthly, leading to its mothball.


The US-based Cupric Canyon Capital with its subsidiary Khoemacau Copper Mining purchased Boseto mine in 2015 including a new 3 Mt/a concentrator which was commissioned in 2012 by Australia’s Discovery Metals, and a Tailings Storage Facility (TSF). Cupric Canyon Capital has already spent almost P7.3 billion on the Kalahari Copper Belt for the Khoemacau mine. It is recently projected that Khoemacau copper production will increase to 62.000 metric tonnes while that of silver to 1.9 million ounces silver annually.


President Mokgweetsi Masisi evidently ushered the closure of the BCL copper mine in 2016 while still a vice president. But when ushering the opening of Khoemacau recently, Masisi is a man who now speaks with a renewed heart showing a lot of hope in the future of copper as an economic factor in the case of the newly reopened copper mine.


At a time when copper markets were raising most skepticism, government decided to put BCL on a sick bed and (government) claimed that it could not afford to fund the mine. That time Masisi stood firm and defended government’s decision to put the mine on liquidation as the most prudent. But his words and decisions have come back to haunt him and his presidency as copper is now in demand.


“The future looks bright for copper mining as the global forecasts indicated that copper demand globally was expected to exceed supply by mid-2020s because there was a surging growth from the power and utilities sector especially in China, India and other Asian nations,” said Masisi during the r recent opening of Khoemacau Mine.


When addressing attendees during the opening of Khoemacau Masisi said more than P4 billion was dedicated to be spent between 2018 and 2021 for developing the necessary infrastructure required to operate. He further touted Khoemacau to come with revenue of P10 billion over its 22 year operational life from 2021-2042, a tax revenue of P700 million and the creation of about 1200 jobs during the first phase including 1663 jobs on average per year as well as 883 direct jobs.

Copper prices

While appetite on copper mining and production is growing rapidly, latest figures show that there has been an unsettling trend of falling copper prices in recent months.  From a huge fall in price in the end of last year December, copper prices rose from $2.62/lb to $2.96/lb after February this year. This year the month of August shows it is a month of lows in the copper market.


Expects say this is due to US President Donald Trump last week statement that he would impose more tariffs on Chinese import and the Oriental giant retaliating that it will fight back, ending a month-long trade truce between the world’s two biggest economies. The failure of truce also further fuels the two nations’ long standing trade war.


China and its Asian brothers supply the world, including America, with electric vehicles and a lot of goods that uses copper. Hence a spike in tariffs by US means less production of copper using goods in Asia which also results in less demand for copper, subsequently red metal prices go down. The copper prices have been sharply plummeting since the end of July. At the wake of last week Trump announcement on tariffs prices went to the lows at $2.57/lb on 4 August. However there is a positive trend this week, much to the interest of copper producers, on Wednesday this week the prices even reached a high of $2.61/lb.

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