MWANA Africa, a mining and exploration company listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market, is offering its smelter in Zimbabwe for use by platinum miners in that country, where the government is pushing the beneficiation of minerals to realise greater value.
South Africa’s Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum and Aquarius Platinum all have assets in Zimbabwe and are under pressure from the Zimbabwean government to build a precious- and base-metal refinery.
Zimbabwe’s platinum industry needs as much as $5.3bn if it is to expand to more than 500,000oz of output and construct refineries to process platinum group and industrial metals extracted from the same ore bodies, Bloomberg has reported, citing a platinum producers’ group.
CEO Kalaa Mpinga said on Wednesday that Mwana has an idled smelter near its Bindura nickel operations that can handle 175,000 tons a year of concentrate. Mwana can supply it with 75,000 tons, leaving 100,000 tons free for a platinum concentrate. The smelter would need an investment to adjust it to cope with a platinum concentrate to produce a matte product that could be refined in South Africa to separate the platinum group metals and the base metals.
Mr Mpinga said that this could be an interim measure as the platinum industry in Zimbabwe formulates plans to comply with a government demand for a refinery in that country.
“We are actively engaged in the discussion because we believe that our smelter can actually process some of the platinum concentrate which is currently being exported to South Africa,” he said.
“We would have to make an investment to improve material handling,” he said. “In 10 years, Bindura will possibly be toll-treating more platinum material than processing its own material. It’s much easier for us to double or treble the size of our smelter and refinery than building a new one.”
Mr Mpinga said that the Bindura nickel operations also have a mothballed refinery that can produce 17,000 tons a year of finished metal and which could be brought into production in the future at a substantially lower cost than building a new refining complex.
The Bindura complex is about 80km north of Harare and is home to a number of people in the ruling elite and any investment there by one of the major platinum companies would be well received.
Mwana has an offtake agreement with Glencore Xstrata, the world’s largest commodities trader, and nickel in concentrate is trucked to Durban for export.
He said that Mwana is talking to Zimbabwe’s railways about putting concentrate on trains to cut the cost of trucking to the coast.