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Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?

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Road infrastructure in large parts of the Mocixo Province is either non-existent or in very poor condition. Image credit Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?

Despite scant infrastructure and limited access, the Moxico, Lunda Sul and Huambo provinces of Angola could emerge as new hotpots for mineral exploration companies over the next decade.

By Leon Louw, owner of WhyAfrica and editor of the WhyAfrica magazine     

On the first leg of our recent WhyAfrica Road Trip through Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Botswana, and South Africa, WhyAfrica explored the Moxico Province and the southern parts of the Lunda Sul Province in Angola.

These two provinces in the east of Angola, and the Huambo Province in central Angola, are shaping up to become a hotspot for mineral exploration companies in Africa.

Regardless of the grim outlook painted by rating agencies and economists about its fiscal position, Angola’s new open-door policy and its privatisation drive are attracting more and more foreign investors.

Better known for its prolific oil deposits and world-renowned diamond mines, the government under President João Lourenço has wasted no time in attempting to diversify the economy away from oil.

Lourenço has also been relentless in his effort to rid the government of mismanagement and corruption so prevalent under the previous regime of José Eduardo dos Santos.

In Diamantino Azevedo, Angola has one of the best minsters of mineral resources in Africa. Azevedo has a long history in the mining industry and regards its growth and development as a top priority.

Angola is rich in natural resources and the country hosts spectacular mineral deposits of all shapes and sizes, especially in the underexplored regions of Moxico and Lunda Sul.

Open door policy attracts majors (Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?)

The presence of large mining companies like Anglo AmericanDe Beers, Ivanhoe, Kumba Iron Ore and Rio Tinto illustrate the fact that Angola could be one of the top mining spots in Africa within the next few years.

Rio Tinto is prospecting for copper in the Moxico Province and has entered a joint venture with Angolan state-owned diamond company Endiama to explore the Chiri kimberlite for diamonds in the Lunda Sul Province.

The mining giant has secured a 75% stake in the first phase of the 35-year agreement, while Endiama has retained a 25% interest, with the possibility of increasing its holding to 49% in the future, according to government statements.

Meanwhile, Anglo American signed five mining investment contracts with the Angolan Ministry of Mineral Resources and Petroleum in November 2019. Three of these projects are for copper, cobalt, and nickel in the Cunene Province, while the other two license areas are in the Moxico Province where large deposits of copper, cobalt and silver have also been identified.

Anglo has also been looking at a Rare Earth Elements (REE) deposit in the Cunene province, while De Beers is focussing on diamond projects in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul and Kumba is interested in iron ore deposits of which the exact location is unknown.

It is not only the majors that are venturing into Angola though. Several junior mining companies have been awarded exploration licenses for lesser-known minerals. The renewable energy boom and new technology have increased demand for battery metals and other minerals used in high-tech innovations.

Pensana a first mover (Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?)

UK based Pensana is one of the first movers to develop a mining project from scratch in the country regarded by many pundits as the new mining hotspot in Africa.

Pensana is forging ahead with the development of its Longonjo neodymium-praseodymium oxide (NdPr) project close to the city of Huambo in central Angola.

Pensana secured funding from major shareholders in 2019, including more than USD7-million from the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2020. Its Longonjo project is less than 300km from the ports of Benguela and Lobito on the west coast of Angola and is about 4km from a sealed national highway and adjacent to the Chinese-built, USD1.8-billion Benguela railway line that connects the port of Lobito, on the Atlantic, with Huambo, the capital city of Huambo Province in the Central region of Angola.

The Benguela railway line forms the centre of the Lobito Corridor which connects the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia with the port of Lobito in Angola. A large section of the Benguela railway line runs through the Moxico Province and the provincial capital of Luena.

The US International Development Finance Corporation recently announced that they would invest USD250-million in financing the Lobito Atlantic Railway Corridor to connect the DRC Copperbelt with the Port of Lobito. The Lobito Corridor is anticipated to become one of most important rail transport infrastructure systems within the South African Development Community (SADC) region over the next 25 years.

This announcement followed the award of a USD450-million contract by the Angolan Ministry of Transport to a consortium of Trafigura, Mota-Engil and Vecturis to operate and maintain the Benguela railway line through to the DRC Copperbelt on a private concession basis, as part of the Lobito Corridor development.

Lobito Corridor positive for Pensana (Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?)

Pensana says this development will have a positive impact on Longonjo’s transport logistics during the construction period and for reagent and product transport during operations.

At full production and after completing the phased development, Longonjo will target production of up to 38,000 tonnes per year of refined Mixed Rare Earth product containing 14,000 tonnes of Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO) and up to 4,400 tonnes of neodymium praseodymium (NdPr) oxide (NdPr oxide), equating to around 5% of the global annual production of NdPr oxides for downstream processing or sale on the international market.

According to Pensana CEO, Tim George, Longonjo hosts one of the world’s largest undeveloped Rare Earth deposits, containing a JORC Compliant Ore Reserve of over 166,000 tonnes of NdPr oxide.

“The mine has an initial 20-year mine life with considerable exploration potential to extend the resource base both immediately below the existing orebody as well as at the recent discoveries on the nearby Coola exploration licence,” says George.

“The team is on schedule with the Stage 1 re-engineering to the USD200-million Capex design and are also well advanced on the financial due diligence for the main financing later this year.

“Longonjo hosts a high-grade, near surface magnet metal rare-earth orebody, with direct access to affordable hydroelectric power and the Lobito Corridor rail and port infrastructure. Longonjo will produce a highly marketable, clean (radionuclide-free), Mixed Rare Earth Carbonate independent of the timing of any other developments,” says George.

In September Pensana reported analytical results received from sampling that was done at the Sulima West and Benge Novo targets last year. Sulima West and Benge Novo occur within the Coola exploration license which is located about 40km north of Longonjo.

According to Pensana’s Exploration Manager, Grant Hayward, the results of the soil sampling over Sulima West identified an area of roughly 15 hectares with greater than 2% TREO in the soil.

“The soil anomaly includes the Trench 1 where very encouraging REE results were sampled in November last year. We suspect that the REE enriched regolith represents the near surface expression of a deeply weathered supergene enriched carbonatite as is the case at Longonjo. In addition, high grade, regolith hosted, residual apatite has been identified at Sulima West with grab samples of over 20% P2O5 reported. Ground geophysical surveys including magnetics/radiometrics and gravity commenced in August 2023 with resulting data to be utilised for further target generation.

“Further trench and pit sampling of the soil anomaly and prospective geophysical targets will take place later in the year once the geophysical data has been processed and interpreted,” says Hayward.

If there is one country to keep an eye on it is Angola. There are challenges for sure, but the country’s mining potential is massive, especially in underexplored provinces like Moxico, Huambo and Lunda Sul.  The government has done decent geophysical surveys up to now, although there are still many unknowns. Licenses are still on offer, and first movers like Pensana will be well rewarded.

Click on the YouTube link below to have a look at the Benguela Railway line. WhyAfrica followed the line for about 300km during our recent WhyAfrica Road Trip into Angola.

 

Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?

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Looking for the new exploration hotspot in Africa?

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