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Exploration companies up the ante on Namibia’s golden highway

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Several exploration companies are returning good results from their drilling operations in the Erongo region of Namibia. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Exploration companies up the ante on Namibia’s golden highway

Uranium, lead, zinc, rare earths, gold, lithium, and marble. That’s on the mining menu when you drive 170km along the B2 from Swakopmund to Karibib in Erongo, Namibia.    

By Leon Louw, owner and editor of WhyAfrica

When one drives from Swakopmund towards Karibib on the B2 in a north-easterly direction, you would pass, within about 170km, two of the largest uranium mines in the world, a lead and zinc operation, a REE exploration project, the oldest producing gold mine in Namibia, a lithium project, marble and aggregate quarries, and two gold exploration projects, one of which will be in production as early as 2024.

About 60km north-east of Swakopmund lies the Husab uranium mine, the largest open-pit mine on the African continent and the second largest in the world. Husab’s uranium is granite hosted and contains approximately 280 million tonnes of uranium ore. The mine, operated by Swakop Uranium and majority owned by the China General Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC) and of which state-owned Epangelo Mining hold 10%, started production in 2016 after the completion of the sulphuric acid leaching plant, and has been in operation since then, despite vagaries in the market.

Close to Husab, the China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) operates Rössing mine, one of the sixth largest open-pit uranium mines in the world. CNUC bought Husab from Rio Tinto on 16 July 2019 which ushered in a new era for Rössing and extended the life of mine significantly.

Geologically the uranium deposit mined at Rössing lies in the central part of the Pre-Cambrian gneiss, marble and quartzite rocks of the old Damara Mountains. According to Nicole Grünertin her book Namibia – Fascination of Geology the occurrence of the ore is associated with the distribution of the sodium rich-rich granites, the ‘alaskites’ which rose out of the inner earth during the final phase of the Damara Mountain building. Uranium is contained in all granitic rocks, however, the concentration in the alaskites at Rössing is far above average.

“The main uranium-bearing mineral mined at Rössing is the oxide uraninite. The deposit also contains the uranium mineral beta-uranophane, which can be recognised by its bright yellow colour. It represents a secondary mineral, which was formed by decomposition of the uraninite by the influence of water and oxygen.”

A stone’s throw from Husab, a road signs indicates the location of Trekkope, where Orano Resources’ uranium project has been on care and maintenance since 2005. The mine experienced technical challenges due to its low uranium content and the use of alkaline heap leaching. According to the company’s website the care and maintenance will continue protecting the mine’s infrastructure so that it can be commissioned when the economic conditions become more favourable. Although the mine never lived up to expectations, Orano did secure access to water via its desalination plant to mines and communities in the Erongo region.

Exciting new exploration projects

Closer to the town of Usakos, Canadian listed E-Tech Resources’ second round of exploration drilling at the Eureka Rare Earth Element (REE) project has just been completed and Chris Drysdale, director of E-Tech Resources, is confident that the drilling samples will once again return positive results.

The company announced results from the first diamond drilling campaign in March this year. Significant intersections include 11.2m at 1.2% Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO), 2.2m at 2.4% TREO, 8.8m at 1% TREO and 6.6m at 1.9% TREO. The results from these five holes, all of which intersected mineralisation, have continued to confirm the presence of mineralisation in zones 1 and 3 at depth and with lateral continuity.

Extensive early trenching samples showed initial encouraging results, and although it is still very early stages, Eureka is an exciting prospect. There are other REE projects in Namibia, but E-tech Resources is focussed specifically on neodymium (Nd) which is used in wind turbines, electric vehicles, and a range of other applications.

Drysdale is working with a formidable team of local Namibian geologists who are familiar with the conditions on the ground. “We want to involve local Namibians and keep our operation as simple as possible,” Drysdale told me during WhyAfrica’s site visit yesterday.

Golden opportunities in Karibib

Drysdale is also the director of TSX listed Antler Gold, another exciting new prospect in the Erongo region. Antler’s license area, close to Karibib, lies adjacent to another Canadian listed outfit, Osino Resources’ Twin Hills project, which is expected to start producing gold as soon as 2024.

“What Heye Daun, President and CEO and his team of Namibian geologist achieved at Osino, is nothing short of spectacular, and Antler hopes to emulate them,” says Drysdale.

Osino has focused on five main targets and several satellite deposits and with geophysics and improved geological methods, defined a resource worth pursuing. When Osino starts producing, it will become the second active gold mine in the Karibib area, with QKR’s Navachab just down the road, being in operation since 1989 when AgloGold poured the first gold. AngloGold Ashanti sold Navachab to QKR, which is majority owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, in 2014.

As the race for gold in Namibia heats up, more companies are bidding for licenses. Although the grades in this part of the world is low, technology has made extraction methods more efficient, and as B2Gold has proven at Otjikoto further north, it is possible to operate an extremely lucrative gold mine even if the grades are lower that the great gold mines in the world. Daun is convinced that even better deposits will soon be found. “There is a lot of smoke in Namibia, we’ve just got to find the fire,” he said at the recent Junior Mining Indaba in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lithium and marble in the mix

Not far from Navachab, Australian company Lepidico is hoping to turn the Karibib Lithium deposit around. The mine, previously owned by Desert Lion Energy, never achieved the great results its shareholders were promised. However, Lepidico hopes to create a viable operation which includes the historical Rubicon and Helikon lepidolite pegmatite deposits.

The Karibib lithium project holds a JORC Code (2012) compliant global Mineral Resource Estimate of 11.24 Million tonnes at 0.43% Li2O .

Before the proverbial gold rush, Karibib was perhaps best known for its high-quality marble deposits. The best marble mines are today mostly operated by Chinese outfits and still contributes to the local economy, although there are accusations of illegal operations. Most of marble is exported from Walvis Bay to Italy.

 The WhyAfrica Southern Africa Overland Road Trip will take us through five countries in 44 days. During this time, we will drive more than 9700km on the good roads, the bad roads, dirt roads and tarred roads, to visit close to 30 projects in the mining, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, tourism, conservation, and development sectors.

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Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica launched its first ever digital magazine in November 2021. The company will undertake a road trip through South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana in June and July 2022. If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. We have a wide range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.  

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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management