Karo platinum project still at exploration stage

Karo consulting geologist Stony Steenekamp (centre) shows samples of the ores to President Emmerson Mnangagwa during a site technical visit to the company’s Ngezi mine recently

INTERVIEW: BLESSED MHLANGA

LAST year during the run-up to the elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a $4,2 billion platinum mining deal with Karo Platinum, owned by London Stock Exchange-listed Tharisa Plc. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter, Blessed Mhlanga, caught up with Karo Platinum geologist Stony Steenekamp on the $8 million exploration project that is currently underway. Below are excerpts from the interview.

ND: It’s been close to a year since you went on the ground, do you have any exciting news to share?

SS: We are in a process of exploration. We draw corals to give us a representative sample of what is happening in the rock below surface. Then we process that, meaning that we record all the geology information on the cores. We then take some samples, which go for assay to determine the potential grades and contents that could be mineable; based on the information we gather here that will eventually be used for the design of a potential mine. What you see in this facility is progress-to-date in the first phase of exploration.

To date, we have the raw 115 corals, called ring borals and the total length of core we have recovered in that programme is 18 500 metres. So, if you put all the cores that we have drilled and you lay them out straight, it covers 18km of drilling. To date, we have submitted about 2 000 samples to the laboratory for assay and the programme kicked off in the last week of November last year to date. The first phase, which we are currently busy with, we envisage to finish by the end of this year, then we will have a resource upon which we can then hopefully do a mine design that will lead to actual development of a mine.

ND: Hopefully: Why are you using the word hopefully?

SS: Because I cannot guarantee you what’s in the ground. That is the purpose of the exploration process. It is to scientifically determine what minaralisation is in the ground. Is it mineable? Therefore, I can’t guarantee you because I can’t see in the ground, but this is a scientific process to collect data and process it; to be a model and eventually design a mine.

ND: So, as it now stands, you are not sure whether there can be a mine design?

SS: Look, from what we know from neighbours both sides of us, from the initial information we got, we are very positive that this will become a big mine. We just need to do this in order to gain confidence with investors. To be provided money for all these works, we need to quantify it first and that’s the process where we are.

ND: How much did it cost to drill these 115 corals?

SS: These 115 holes — currently just drilling cost US$103, 75 per metre. So, in total, the first phase of exploration would be around US$8 million expended on exploration.

ND: You talked about the first phase; what are the next phases?

SS: Depending on the results of phase 1. After we spent all that money, we must make an assessment of what we have found and then we can motivate the investors to get more money to do the follow-up phases to expand and cover the whole area in its exploration in finest minute detail.

ND: So, the purpose today is to discuss probabilities?

SS: No, the purpose today is for the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) to see first-hand the progress made on that concession Karo was given.

ND: Which is still a probability?

SS: I think a very good probability.

ND: Are you able to tell us about the samples that you have collected so far in terms of what the prospects are?

SS: The first batch of 2 000 samples was submitted to laboratories last week on Friday. So, now we have got about seven weeks for them to assay the samples and then return the results to us, but in total, we will probably submit about 10 000 samples for assay. We will evaluate the samples of the assay results and do a model in order to design a mine. So, at this stage, it’s premature to comment on the quality of the sample, but we are fairly confident that we will get good results out of that. We are not yet sure what is underground, that is why I need to use words like ‘probably’. We need to test it, we need to do that scientific process, but we are confident, otherwise we wouldn’t have invested that amount of money in there.

ND: What is behind that confidence?

SS: Basically, what is historically known about what we call the Great Dyke, which is the geological term for this type of deposit is that to the south, we got Ngezi, to the north we have got Zimplats and they have been mining on the same type of rocks and perhaps you know the history. Previously, this ground was held by Zimplats and it was awarded to us to speed-up the development of this ground.

ND: Currently, do you have enough resources and the financial muscle to ensure that the exploration is completed to your satisfaction?

SS: Yes, the money that has been put forward for phase 1 of this project is in the bank and at stake to be used. We have a budget and phase 1 has been planned according to the budget. So, yes, this will run at due course and we will finish phase 1 and hopefully, we will declare the resource by the end of the year.

ND: How many people are employed at this stage?

SS: On phase 1, we have drilling contractors. The drilling contractor currently has about 50 workers. The previous contractor — he just finished his part of the contract — had about 100 workers on site. In the core processing facility, we have about 20 workers.

ND: Where are these contractors you are talking about?

SS: One of the contractors is Titan, who is drilling and the other is Helco who is also drilling. Lastly, we have U Active, who is doing core processing for us.

ND: Where are these contractors from?

SS: Titan is a local company; Helco is a South African company, but they are all using local expertise. We are transferring skills; it’s only key personnel from these companies and U Active as well. We only have two South African citizens, the rest are locally sourced. These are the experts and they are transferring skills.We train locals and the guys are doing very well.

ND: You have South African contractors who are on the ground, so are they taking back the money you are paying them to South Africa?

SS: We have to bring in a certain skills-base to run the project. We try and limit that through skills transfer, but the idea is to run this project sorely with Zimbabwean personnel. Where there is a shortage of skills, like I have said, we train the locals. As per government instruction our first preference also goes to local contractors.