Kudumane Manganese Resources has added its name to the growing list of companies developing a piece of the Kalahari Basin’s manganese ‘pie’. Although a junior by definition, it has the heart and mining appetite of a major writes Laura Cornish.

May 2012 will be recorded as a historical milestone month for Kudumane Manganese Resources (KMR) as it successfully achieved its first blast. It also represents the beginning of development of its R1.5 billion Kudumane project.

Situated below Assmang’s Black Rock and N’chwaning manganese operations just 1 km from Hotazel in the Northern Cape, Kudumane’s development plan is a rapid one – first production is targeted to commence at the end of this year.

Unlike most junior companies, KMR owns prospecting licences over six contiguous farms, meaning its long-term production and development scope could be substantial.

“Our strategy and approach to developing our properties is sensible; we start initially with an open pit mine, which will be quick to develop, thereby generating cash quickly as well. Once the open pit operation has reached its nameplate capacity, we will proceed shortly thereafter with underground development, increasing Kudumane’s tonnage and overall life of mine,” KMR’s CEO, Sechaba Letaba, explains. Sechaba was previously the senior general manager at Assmang’s manganese mining operations in Kuruman.

Production from the open pit mine, located on the York farm property, will start late this year, after which it will ramp up to its nameplate capacity of 2 Mtpa of saleable product by the end of 2013. A bulk sampling exercise is currently under way to confirm the open pit resource, expected to be completed in August.

The open pit’s lifespan is projected to last between 10 and 15 years.

“The underground development plan is to build a decline from the bottom of the open pit to access the ore body quickly and efficiently,” Letaba adds.

The planned underground mine is situated on the Telele farm and is anticipated to increase KMR’s total saleable production to 2.5 Mtpa within seven years from start of first production, all at a total average grade of 37.5%.

For now, the open pit Kudumane mine project components include a crushing and screening plant, mine residue disposal storage and facilities, and various support infrastructure and services, including a 5.3 km railway siding, a 3 500 tph automated rapid loading station, roads, housing, community buildings and road trucks capable of loading 3 000 tph. The company will apply for rail allocation soon.

“An engineering contractor will soon be appointed for the construction of the permanent crushing and screening plant,” notes David Wellbeloved, the project director. Until then, mobile crushers will be used.

The company will give preference to the locally unemployed wherever possible, and where it cannot source local employees, it will recruit nationally.

Up to 500 workers will be employed during the project construction phase, and the company will provide permanent employment to between 200 and 300 people.

But it is KMR’s long-term vision that is admirable. The company will commence with a feasibility study in the next few months to determine the economic viability of building a smelter and sinter plant on its property. Securing Eskom power will likely be one of the biggest project challenges.

A smelter plant enables low-grade material to be processed viably, Wellbeloved explains; if successful, this will further increase the mine’s lifespan by providing access to a greater resource.

The six farms

  • York – the open pit mine
  • Telele – the underground mine
  • Hotazel – the next small open pit mine on schedule (currently being drilled to confirm resource)
  • Devon
  • Perth – only portions of the farm
KMR company structure

KMR was originally owned jointly by two BEE companies: Northern Cape Manganese Company and Dirleton Minerals & Energy.

When privately owned Hong Kong manganese trader Asia Minerals  acquired 49% stakes in each company, it gained a 49% stake in the project.

Asia Minerals, which owns two smelters in China and is developing a third in Malaysia, will purchase 1 Mt of Kudumane product each year for internal consumption and will trade the remaining product.

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