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ASX-listed manganese explorer and miner Kaboko Mining is moving ahead in ‘leaps and bounds’ with its suite of Zambia-based manganese projects, CEO Tokkas Van Heerden tells Laura Cornish.

The Perth-based company, formerly known as Uran, has quickly become recognised for its strong focus on developing a range of low-cost, high-value manganese projects in Zambia.

In late 2010, the company reached an option to acquire up to 74% in the Emmanuel project, as well as five large-scale prospecting licences and a further two small-scale mining licences in Zambia after entering into an option agreement with private South African company Impondo Mining Resource Consultants as well as African Asian Mining Development, a Mauritius-based company.

Both companies are under the management of experienced South African, Tokkas van Heerden, who has operated on various mines across Africa since the early 1990s.

The company’s Zambian manganese projects cover 2 734 km², including large areas known to their manganese prospects, and comprises the Emmanuel project (including the Chowa mining lease), the Peco project and the Kanona project.

Even though successful manganese mining in Zambia has historically been rare, Van Heerden’s knowledge of the ore bodies and their occurrence makes the company’s potential longer term success rate high.

Manganese occurs in a number of areas within Zambia, usually as sub-vertical veins or in low-angle faulting, some of which can be traced for several kilometres. Zambian manganese is generally high grade with very low deleterious impurities, making it a premium product for stainless steel manufacture and for blending with lower quality material,” Van Heerden explains.

Emmanuel

The Emmanuel project, which lies near Kabwe in central Zambia, covers 2 000 km² and includes a granted mining lease 8 km from the railway line.

The project lies within the Kabwe manganese field, a region of known manganese occurrences and several established opencast operations. The project includes a granted mining lease, the Chowa open pit.

Van Heerden points out that several ground and aeromagnetic and density surveys, as well as diamond and RC drilling, have already been completed at Emmanuel, and manganese mineralisation has been identified in several veins, each 1.5 to 5 m in thickness, with a north-easterly strike, dipping around 40 degrees to the south-east.

Based on the work undertaken by Kaboko, in conjunction with consultants, manganese mineralisation has been determined to extend over an initial strike length of 1 489 m and a width of 680 m, which is both open at depth and to the north-east.

“In late August 2011, Kaboko kicked off its maiden development with the first mine production blast of approximately 2 000 t of high-grade and high-quality manganese ore from the Chowa opencast mine near Kabwe,” Van Heerden states.

Ore from the production blast was trucked to stockpile and storage facilities at Kabwe, where it was bagged until an off-take partner was locked in for the company’s production of manganese ore.

The Chowa open pit is now being mined using conventional opencast drill and blast, truck and shovel methods. Mining activities are being conducted and managed by Impondo Mining using an excavator bulldozer and tipper trucks.

Monthly production from Chowa is initially expected to average around 2 000 t of ore from the main manganese reef. “We are however looking to significantly increase production through mine optimisation and the use of additional mining equipment.”

In March this year, Kaboko locked in a landmark off-take agreement with Sinosteel Australia, a subsidiary of China’s largest importer of manganese ore Sinosteel Group, for the export of high-grade manganese ore to China.

The company agreed to sell an initial 180 000 t, with a minimum 48% manganese ore to Sinosteel at a price based on BHP Billiton’s reference manganese price. Product for the off-take agreement will be primarily sourced from the Emmanuel and Peco projects.

First exports will begin this year and will be shipped from either of the ports of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania or Beira in Mozambique.

The deal followed the successful trial shipment by the company of 510 t of manganese ore delivered to Sinosteel and another major Chinese steel manufacturer in February this year, which confirmed the high grade and high quality of the ore.

Last month, the company received the final design and costings for the supply and construction of a manganese processing plant to be built at Emmanuel.

“Exploration at Emmanuel has been focused on a broader interpretation of the structural geology across the whole project area, given the impact of the rainy season, which limited field activities. We are currently completing a proposed resource definition drilling program comprising 52 holes to an average depth of 55 m and average drill hole spacing of 25 m.”

Peco

Meanwhile, the company, through its shareholding in African Asian Mining Development, recently elected to increase its stake in Impondo Zambia Mining from 51% to 75%.

The Peco project lies 65 km east-north-east of the town of Mansa, in the northern Luapula Province of Zambia, and is proposed to be the second mine to be brought into development by Kaboko late this year.

“The project consists of two granted mining leases and a large area covered by prospecting licences surrounding current and historic manganese mining. A new road around 30 km long has been completed to connect the property directly to Mansa.”

Kaboko has completed ground magnetic and radiometric surveys over the project area, which identified a number of follow-up targets and also exposed more than eight old exploration trenches (exposing manganese mineralisation) and artisanal mine workings.

Earlier this year, the company completed further aeromagnetic surveys over the small mining license area and began work over the two large-scale exploration licenses.

The company is planning to commence a 40-hole RC drilling programme at Peco in the near future.

Kanona

The Kanona project is located between the towns of Serenje and Mpika of central Zambia. The project is around 80 km from Serenje, 5 km from the Tazara railway line and close to the Great Northern Highway.

Manganese occurs in veins and rubble zones, which appear to be several hundred metres in length at this project.

Mapping and surveying has been carried out over parts of the area, and ground magnetic surveys have been completed to date over three areas within the project.

XRF analyses of manganese reefs exposed at surface and in old workings have produced results of 47.7 to 48.8% manganese.

An experienced board

The company’s board and management have extensive experience in mining, corporate finance and administration says Van Heerden. The board includes Malenga Michael as non-executive chairman, Shannon Robinson as director and Jason Brewer as executive director.

Malenga Machel is the MD of Whatana Investments Group energy division, a privately owned and highly successful Mozambique-based investment group that has interests throughout Africa in resources, energy, logistics, telecommunications, the financial sector and property development.

Shannon Robinson is a corporate lawyer and an associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators and of Chartered Secretaries Australia, and is a member of AMPLA. Robinson provides corporate advice in relation to mergers and acquisitions, capital raisings, due diligence reviews and legal compliance, takeovers and managing legal issues associated with client transactions.

Jason Brewer has over 18 years’ international experience in the natural resources sector. He is a mining engineer with a master’s degree in mining engineering with honours from the Royal School of Mines, London. He has experience in mining operations in Africa, North America and Australia, and has worked for major investment banks in London, Sydney and Perth.

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