By Dineo Phoshoko

Some of the biggest gold producing mines are found in West Africa. The gold mineral potential in the region is massive, with unexplored gold deposits situated in various countries across the region.

Including the Napié project, experienced geologist Peter Ledwidge and his team have made five discoveries in West Africa. Located in the northern parts of Ivory Coast, test results from drilling programmes look promising.

Ledwidge is the managing director of Mako Gold, an exploration company responsible for the Napié project. Speaking to Inside Mining via Zoom, Ledwidge shares that the company had another project for which they announced a discovery in January 2019 – the Niou project. Located in Burkina Faso, the project saw the signing of a sale agreement in May 2020 to Nordgold. Ledwidge explains that the reason for selling the project was so that the team could focus fully on the Napié project.

Project in detail

From north to south, the project is 30 km long with four prospects identified. The prospects are Gogbala, Tchaga, Tchaga East and Tchaga North. Ledwidge explains that 75 holes had already been drilled in the Tchaga prospect with plans to finance additional drilling, which would take the project to resource stage. Mako recently announced a heavily oversubscribed US$3.25 million (R53.41) capital raise.

With wide intercepts and a good grade, drilling results from the Tchaga prospect were looking good. Some of the results showed 18 m at 3.25 g/t Au from 39 m, 25 m at 3.43 g/t Au from 53 m, and 36 m at 3.09 g/t Au from 43 m. “We are getting those numbers along strike 1.4 km, so there’s really good potential just on that,” explains Ledwidge.

A gold discovery that makes a difference
A map showing the Napié project with four prospects.

Prior to Covid-19 the estimated time frame for the project to yield resources was in Q4 2020. “In Q1 2021, we realistically think we can come out with the resources on that.” Despite the delays as a result of the pandemic, the project remains on track. Preliminary metallurgical work has already been done and results show that both fresh rock and sulfide came back at over 94%. “That’s another box ticked as far as derisking the project goes,” adds Ledwidge.

Mineralisation had been tested up to 120 m. “On this last diamond drill programme, we confirmed it now to 185 m.” Ledwidge was also satisfied with the mineralisation, saying that it was consistent during the drilling programme. In fact, the first two drill programmes had 24 holes with impressive intercepts. To date, five drilling programmes have taken place. “Once we outline a resource on the Tchaga project, we’ll travel 6 km to the south to start drilling on the other prospects,” Ledwidge says.

The project is currently in the early exploration stage and Mako Gold is in possession of permits that enables the company to continue its drilling programme. According to Ledwidge, the next step is to get the project to yield a resource.

Working in Africa can be very challenging at times, but Ledwidge maintains that he and his team did not experience the typical problems associated with working in Africa. “We’ve got a really good relationship at all levels – from the minister of mines all the way to the people on the ground,” he says. He also adds that as a country, Ivory Coast was very supportive of explorers so long as they operated correctly.

A big part of doing things correctly included communicating with the local community as well as constantly being in touch with all levels of government in the host country. “We’ve got a really good relationship with them.” Ledwidge emphasises that, when everything is done right, working in Ivory Coast is not problematic.

“The only challenge right now is Covid-19. We’ve taken a break from drilling but are now satisfied that we can resume our drilling operations with a robust Covid-19 plan in place. He also dispels the common idea that some people have about working in developing countries in Africa. “To be honest, Ivory Coast is very well developed and is easy to operate in.”

The team and stakeholders

Mako Gold is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and went public in 2018. There are several stakeholders involved in the company as well as the Napié project. Resolute Mining (ASX/LSE:RSG) is a shareholder in the company, with a 13% stake. In addition, the company also has a joint venture with Perseus Mining (ASX:PRU).

On the project itself, Geodrill (TSX:GEO) was involved quite a lot, especially during the drilling programmes. The Napié team is led by highly experienced individuals who have lots of exploration and geology experience.

A gold discovery that makes a difference
Drilling taking place on-site.

Ledwidge himself is a geologist by profession, with 30 years’ experience in mining and exploration. Also part of the team are his wife, Ann Ledwidge, who is Mako Gold’s exploration general manager, and Ibrahim Bondo, the country manager – both are highly experienced, with 45 years’ experience between them. Ledwidge, his wife and Bondo were once colleagues at Orbis Gold before founding Mako Gold.

Ledwidge believes that things are progressing well and attributes the success thus far to the team’s hard work and dedication. “We had made three discoveries in two years in Burkina Faso with Orbis Gold (ASX:OBS) and have already made two discoveries with Mako since listing on the ASX in 2018. Our company is good at finding deposits. We’ve proven in the past that we can do that.” Another crucial aspect of success is the good relationship between the team and the stakeholders.

Dealing with Covid-19

Like many businesses across different sectors, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mining industry. “As soon as Covid-19 hit, our share price took a tumble,” explains Ledwidge. The share price has since recovered.

In addition to the share price, the novel coronavirus also affected the project, as the team had to stop drilling. Ledwidge explains that despite adhering to health and safety measures, as a junior company, Mako Gold does not have the resources to control the spread of the virus compared to bigger companies. His biggest worry has been the health and well-being of the staff.

“I’m not criticising the people that are carrying on with programmes; I’m just saying that we prefer to take extra caution,” he adds. The situation would be far worse for employees and the company itself if there were incidents of reported Covid-19 cases on-site.

A gold discovery that makes a difference
The team working on the Napié project.

Ledwidge is impressed with the manner in which the Ivory Coast government has dealt with the virus, saying that Abidjan was placed on lockdown very early on. Abidjan is the largest city and the economic capital of Ivory Coast. In addition, it is also a port city, making it a hive of activity. “By sealing off that city, I think they did really well,” Ledwidge says. Only people categorised as working for essential services could get in and out of the city. Other restrictions in Ivory Coast were put in place to limit people’s movement.

Undoubtedly the Covid-19 pandemic will negatively impact on the mining industry and related activities; however, Ledwidge is optimistic that, with time, the situation is bound to improve. “We are actually gearing up to restart drilling again pretty soon.”

Lessons learnt

Ledwidge and his wife have been working in West Africa for many years and, throughout those years, have learnt many valuable lessons. They have over 10 years’ recent experience working in West Africa and also worked in Mali and Burkina Faso in the mid-1990s. “To work in Africa, you have to love being in Africa.” He is very fond of the smell of smoke from burning firewood in the community.

Working in West Africa and in Ivory Coast has exposed Ledwidge to different cultures where people work in different ways. “Even though I have so much experience working in this part of the world, it doesn’t mean that I’m an African.” This became an opportunity for Ledwidge to learn more about the local language and cultures. “You really have to want to be there and learn about the cultures. It’s insightful to see how different people live and learn their cultures,” Ledwidge explains.

Having been a field geologist for a big part of his life, Ledwidge has always been hands-on when it comes to work. This attribute would present itself while working on-site with the team and has in the past come across as undermining to colleagues, as he would inadvertently be taking over their responsibilities. He has since learnt to consult with colleagues prior to doing something. “I’m hoping I’m learning as I’m getting older,” he says.

A gold discovery that makes a difference
Peter Ledwidge at the Napié project drilling site.

On the opposite side, Ledwidge has come to learn that some people were slightly reluctant to make decisions independently without asking for approval. He found that this was due to the French colonialism that took place in West Africa, which to some extent discouraged people from making independent decisions. “Sometimes you try to empower somebody, and they keep coming back to you asking you what they should do because they’ve been under the French colonialism model that really did not teach them to make decisions. That doesn’t go away overnight,” he says.

With patience and persistence, people have eventually come to understand that certain decisions need to be made by them. “Nine times out of ten, they’re going to make the right call. And if it’s a big decision, they’ll need consult with you anyway.” Ledwidge feels it is important to empower and trust people, especially close colleagues. Having learnt from these experiences, he encourages the team working on-site to be more hands-on – not only to empower them, but also to make them familiar with how things are done in their country.

Leaving a lasting impact

Ledwidge feels that being a CEO of a listed company comes with many responsibilities, one of them being keeping a lot of people happy. The people include locals in villages close to the site, people in the ministry, employees and other stakeholders. “You have to come up with something that will achieve that and the way to do that is work in an ethical fashion.”

His vison for Mako Gold and the Napié project is that it gets taken over by another company that will put the project into production. “It would have to be a company that’s well established and does things right, so that it is going to be beneficial for the people.” In the bigger scheme of things, the project has the potential to make a significant contribution to the development of a country in different areas such as education, infrastructure and sustainability.

Ledwidge himself finds fulfilment in seeing people’s lives improve for the better. “If you do things ethically, you are actually doing something good, especially if you are working in a developing country. The level of change you are going to bring by being successful at finding a mine is going to help the local community and the country,” he concludes.

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