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In Ngamiland copper is king

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World class infrastructure at Khoemacau’s copper mine in the Kalahari Belt of Botswana. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

In Ngamiland copper is king

Khoemacau Copper Mining has found its rhythm in Botswana’s Copper Belt.

By Leon Louw founder and editor of WhyAfrica

Under layers of sand, the north-eastern flank of the Kalahari Craton in central Namibia and Botswana, hosts what geologists refer to as magmatic arch rock which, they say, contains Sediment-hosted stratabound-type copper (Cu) deposits.

Overlying the arch rocks is the Tsumis Group of rocks which extends northeast from Namibia for hundreds of kilometres into Botswana, where it is known as the Ghanzi Group.

The Tsumis and Ghanzi groups include copper and silver deposits that constitute the Kalahari Copper Belt (KCB).

The belt is 1000km long and in places up to 250km wide. In Namibia, the KCB includes the Klein Aub, Oamites and Witvlei deposits. In Botswana, several mineral exploration companies are probing the Kalahari Belt while production is imminent at Sandfire’s Motheo and Khoemacau Copper Mining is ramping up to full production at its copper and silver mine.

Exploration company Cobre Limited recently released drilling results from their early-stage Ngamiland project close to the town of Ghanzi. The initial results sent their share price skyrocketing on the Australian Stock Exchange a month or two ago. Cobre owns 51% of Kalahari Metals Limited (KML), a private UK company that controls approximately 8,100 km2 of tenements within the KCB in Botswana.

Not far from the Cobre project site, Australian exploration outfit Sandfire Resources is developing the Motheo copper project. Motheo is scheduled to start producing its first concentrate as early as next year. The mine is in an advanced stage of development.

Sandfire also holds tenements in Namibia and is set to become one of the major copper players in the Kalahari Belt of Botswana and Namibia.

Further north-east from Ghanzi and close to the village of Toteng in Ngamiland, one of the first movers and now the main player in the Kalahari, Khoemacau Copper Mining, has developed the impressive Khoemacau copper and silver mine in the most prospective area of the KCB.

The Boseto mine, processing plant and infrastructure initially developed by Discovery Metals Limited (bought by Khoemacau Copper Mining in 2015) is an important part of Khoemacau’s operation and specifically the now upgraded processing plant with its associated infrastructure. The Boseto processing plant is about 35km from Khoemacau’s Zone 5 new flagship underground mine. I spent a full day on site at Khoemacau during WhyAfrica’s recent road trip to find out more about the first large scale, underground and fully mechanised copper mine in north-west Ngamiland and, for that matter, in Southern Africa.

Subdued Okavango floods (In Ngamiland copper is king)

Zigzagging between cattle, donkeys, goats, kudus, and the occasional elephant or two is part of the territory if you sign up to drive through the heartland of Botswana.

It was no different the morning that I left Maun in the last week of my five-week long journey through Southern Africa. Maun is a fast-growing frontier town located on the banks of the Thamalakane River and right on the southern edge of the Okavango Delta wilderness area, a UNESCO heritage site.

When the Cubango River comes down from Angola and spills its water into the delta as the Kavango in Botswana, the people in Maun celebrate. It takes months before the flood makes its way from the Angolan highland through the channels and small rivulets of the delta before it reaches Maun.

This year, the flood was subdued though. Celebrations were put on ice as people waited for the water mass to arrive. Locals were concerned. There were bad seasons before, but this year the flood seemed to be very late. There were even mumblings about drought and global warming; world problems that not many people in this part of Africa often talks about.

Globally it is suggestions about net-zero, green energy and climate change that have pushed the copper price through the roof on international markets. Copper is used in renewable energy technologies, including solar panels and wind turbines, and can be recycled, which makes it an attractive material in the green economy.

For as long as the copper price remains strong, which is highly likely, development of the Kalahari Copper Belt in Botswana will be viable.  Unlike the great copper finds in Zambia and the DRC further north and east, and even in central Namibia, Botswana’s ore bodies are buried under layers of sand.

Khoemacau: a gem in the Kalahari (In Ngamiland copper is king)

Drilling through 70m to 150m of Kalahari sand and sinking a shaft or decline to reach the ore body, is not an easy (or cheap) undertaking. However, Khoemacau’s success in discovering a world class ore body in the KCB and then building a successful underground mine could become their trademark and a benchmark for future mine development in the central Kalahari. The mine is a gem. Its infrastructure is something to behold and could compete with anything the majors will be able to dish up.

The mine is located within 20km, as the crow flies, of the long-forgotten Lake Ngami, a large body of freshwater that once formed part of the Okavango, but after tectonic shifts dried up completely during a severe drought in the mid-1960s. In Toteng village, where one turns off the A3 towards the mine, which is another 25km on, a large contingent of Herero people settled after being persecuted by the German colonial government of Namibia in the German-Herero war of 1904. They form a large part of Khoemacau’s local community and, together with Batswana from the other local villages in the area, they are a part of the workforce on site today.

In winter, it’s freezing at night, scorching hot during the day, and dry and dusty in Toteng. The smell of sage hangs thick in the air throughout the year and when the wind sweeps across the sparsely vegetated Ngami basin, it stirs up fine white dust and Kalahari sand that refuses to settle.

Khoemacau’s 35km paved road from Boseto to Zone 5 stretches through the sand, silt, and other debris that Ngami deposited on the shores of a dying lake.  Boabab trees along the road indicate age-old elephant migration routes (elephants have a special relationship with the baobab, eating its fruit and spreading the seeds).

Potential for further expansion (In Ngamiland copper is king)

“The deposits continue at depth and there is a lot of potential for further expansion,” Warren Rigelsford, Expansion Project Manager and Chief of Staff at Khoemacau, tells me as we pass another Boabab. “Although Zone 5 is our premier resource at the moment, there are three expansion projects in the pipeline which should come online within the next couple of years,” Rigelsford adds as we watch a couple of Whitebacked vultures circle overhead.

These expansions will all be mined using the same methodologies as in Zone 5. Zone 5 consists of the South and Central Mine Corridors (both with two declines) and North Mine Corridor, which has one decline. The underground operation at Zone 5 is fully mechanised, where the underground team mines sulphide ores at a rate of 3.65 million tonnes per annum, followed by treatment of these ores at the upgraded Boseto concentrator (about 35km from the mine), to produce a high-grade copper silver concentrate.

Being mechanised makes the mine a lot safer than traditional mining, which requires a large workforce in the stopes.

Australian contractor Barminco uses automated drill rigs, roof bolters, loaders, and haul trucks to carry out the operation. Despite being a mechanised mine, Khoemacau employs more than 1500 employees and contractors. During construction about 2500 people worked on site.

The underground infrastructure and ground conditions at Khoemacau are immaculate. As we entered the Tlou Portal (the name of one of the big five which the portals are named after) at the Central Mine, it was hard to believe that we were venturing into a mine almost 250 to 300m beneath Kalahari Sand. The solid benches of the entrance to the portal are stacked up row upon row like concrete bastions – the fingerprints of a world class mine. If this is the benchmark, I can’t wait to see how the planned future developments at Khoemacau plays out.

According to Khoemacau these expansions will require major infrastructure built, which is planned to be in place by 2027 at the latest.

“We have been advancing the Pre-Feasibility Study and associated resource drilling for the expansion project. The three additional projects are expected to double current production to approximately 130,000 tonnes per annum of copper metal and 5 million ounces per annum of silver metal in concentrate.

“The project involves the expansion of the Zone 5 mine to increase production at all three declines from 3.65Mtpa to 4.5Mtpa, development of new mines at Zone 5 North, Zeta NE and Mango NE and the construction of a new process plant at the Zone 5 Mine.”

The new processing plant would operate in parallel with the current Boseto plant, delivering over 8 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of total ore throughput. The four ore bodies mentioned above currently host JORC compliant resources of 168Mt at 2.1% copper and 28g/t silver. There is no doubt, Khoemacau is here to stay.

I drove back to Maun as the sun set over the Kalahari with much to think about. For a second, I spotted a large Kudu bull in the rear-view mirror, ambling towards a dry pool of water in the fading light. The sustainability and continued existence of places like the Okavango Delta and wildlife such as Kudu’s depend to a large extent on how humankind manages the impact of climate change. Copper will play an integral role in the energy transition, and for now, copper is king in Ngamiland.

In Ngamiland copper is king

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in the extraction and responsible utilisation of natural resources, the primary sector of African economies and Africa’s political economy. 

WhyAfrica reports about, and publishes newsletters, magazines and research reports about natural resources and the primary sectors of African economies, and the infrastructure, equipment and engineering methods needed to extract and utilise these resources in an efficient, responsible, sustainable, ethic and environmentally friendly way, so that it will benefit the people of Africa.

Furthermore, WhyAfrica promotes Africa as an investment and travel destination, analyses the continent’s business environment and investment opportunities, and reports on how the political economy of African countries affects its development.         

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 its annual road trip through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya in 2023. 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.  

The 2022 Southern Africa Road trip issue of WhyAfrica’s magazine is now available in print. The magazine was distributed in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana during WhyAfrica’s 2022 Southern Africa Overland Road Trip, the company’s new and innovative platform. WhyAfrica has expanded its product range and now offers its readers, followers, advertisers, subscribers and partners the following:

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In Ngamiland copper is king

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