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The Northern Cape’s Kalahari Basin is home to a new generation of manganese mines. Junior company Lehating Mining is part of this new era as it develops its mine from one of the last remaining high-grade portions in the area, writes Laura Cornish.

The long and winding road

Lehating Mining is one of South Africa’s many junior BEE mining companies born from 2004’s Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). Named after the farm Lehating, the six-year-old company was formed when a group of eight professional engineers, metallurgists and geologists acquired the property after the former owner, BHP Billiton, failed to obtain New Order Mining Rights.

And while the company will only embark on acquiring its mining right in the next few months, it has already been well received by certain industry players who have acquired stakes in the project.

In 2008, TWP Investments acquired a 13.4% stake in the project and Traxys another 18.9%. Traxys specialises in sourcing, securing and marketing base metals across international markets.

“Although the size of our property is relatively small, it contains some of the highest grade manganese (and iron) within the entire Kalahari Basin, synonymous with the characteristics of the high-grade Wessels-type manganese ore mined at Assmang’s N’Chwaning and BHP Billiton’s Samancor Wessels mines, but is not a contiguous extension of the deposit. Wessels-type manganese ore is the industry’s recognised manganese-grade benchmark,” director Nico Hager explains.

The 90 ha property has been proven to contain grades of up to 48%.

Since its inception, Lehating Mining has travelled the long road all juniors must travel to take their projects up the value chain as the company had to fund the first three drilled boreholes from internal cash funds.

“Upfront, we had nothing to rely on but historical data, which indicated the property had a 15 Mt resource. Having intersected manganese from the first holes, a two-phase pre-feasibility study commenced in 2008, funded through the cash Traxys invested into the company,” chairman Charles Sambo explains.

Phase 1, completed in the third quarter of 2010, saw another 12 holes drilled and verified the extent of the ore body and the establishment of a Competent Person’s Report (CPR).

The company also pre-qualified for Transnet rail allocation, which Sambo and Hager says will ‘kick in’ from 2015, around the time the mine should start producing. The capacity is 500 000 tpa.

The Phase 2 in-fill drilling programme, including 13 additional holes and two geotechnical holes, has also been completed and the results of a bankable feasibility study are due imminently.

“As far as juniors go, our project to date is well advanced. We have commissioned heritage and infrastructure studies, environmental studies and a social-labour plan, and are engaging with Eskom for power,” Hager continues.

Traxys is also busy with a logistics study.

The way forward

The next two phases for Lehating Mining are critical: obtaining a mining right, and fundraising to secure enough cash to start project development.

“We have already started approaching banks, looking at a debt component, are reviewing possible equity partners and may even reverse list into an Australian-listed entity.”

With enough cash on hand, Lehating Mining’s prospect will enter the most important phase of its life – development.

Together with engineers TWP Projects, it has been determined that the most economical method for accessing the ore body will be to sink two vertical shafts to a depth of 260 m. The ore body is only 320 m below surface at its deepest point.

Because the grade is so high, it will only require crushing and screening.

“While our intention is to produce 50 000 tpm of saleable product over a 20-year life-of-mine period, we will ensure a nameplate capacity of 85 000 tpm,” Sambo notes.

The mine will deliver three difference product sizes, of which 80% will be a  -75 mm product.

“It is public knowledge that our ore body extends beyond our farm boundaries, with different portions belonging to three additional mining companies. We are in discussions with all of them to look at methods of consolidating the property into a single asset,” Sambo continues.

Amari Resources and Aquila Resources both own small portions of property to the north of the Lehating farm (Boerdraai and Eersbegint respectively). These individual mining areas are too small to be mined economically. Junior manganese mining company Tshipi e Ntle Manganese Mining’s exploration and prospecting project, Bokone (with an approximate 10 Mt resource), lies south of the farm.

The result of consolidating the ore body would extend Lehating mine’s lifespan considerably to between 30 and 40 years. Expanding capacity would also have to be considered.

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