Africa’s new gold rush

The World Bank has stepped in to reinforce Africa’s mining renaissance, prompted by the rise in the gold price and peace settlements in a range of war-torn countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This emerged from the recent Mining Indaba 2004 in Cape Town, an investor conference oriented towards direct inward investment in Africa.

Leading the pack in announcing imminent finds or commissioning new mines on the continent is a clutch of Australian junior miners and Canadian and South African companies, some of which are involved in joint ventures.

The target countries are the DRC, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Madagascar in East Africa, and Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania in West Africa.

Partly in response to renewed interest in mining in Africa, the World Bank has sought to harmonise and codify mining law in willing countries. A dozen states, including the DRC, have promulgated similar mining codes in recent months. Many recently emerged from crippling strife or dictatorial regimes and wish to increase transparency and remedy investor fears.

By simplifying procedures for entrants, who previously used the services of well-connected “fixers”, minerals ministries can now refer investors to streamlined rules on the issuing and renewal of exploration, mining and long-term leases.

Clauses allowing for a moratorium on opening a mine if the value of a commodity declines are now the norm, as are zero import duties on capital goods imports and other costs.

In return for adapting existing laws and drafting “investor” friendly codes, African states have secured from the World Bank complete and up-to-date computerised “one-stop shop” mineral title deeds offices called “mining cadasters”.

The new codes should stimulate a new round of mineral exploration, the purchase of secure titles and the prospect of reduced lead times. National governments will be able to focus on extracting maximum value from mineral resources, rather than trying to promote marginal or short-duration prospecting that does not always result in sustainable mines.

Countries lacking complete geological and mineralogical surveys are now having these funded by international consortia. In addition, some projects with World Bank approval can become eligible for funding from its financing affiliate, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Currently, the World Bank is holding back from financing large-scale open-cast coal mining in Africa, but is encouraging natural gas exploration.

A fund has been created to relocate and redeploy local or “artisanal” gold and other miners to sites in which larger operators have no interest. In the past, eviction of such miners has prompted armed resistance and costly delays.

The diggings of artisanal miners have often served as pathfinders for junior mining firms, which, in turn, pave the way for larger operators.

With the brokering of peace and a new mining code, the DRC’s mining sector is ripe for exploitation.

The country has an abundance of valuable minerals, including copper, diamonds, cobalt, nickel, titanium, coltan, tin, zinc, phosphate, bauxite and gold. The DRC could become a significant contributor to South Africa’s economy as South African miners, engineers, empowerment miners, their bankers — including the IFC-supported Industrial Development Corporation — and transportation groups become involved. A major deal involving Tokyo Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda group with Gold Fields as partner has already been announced.

In 1955 Belgium earned about 10% of gross domestic product in cash receipts from the Congo, then its colony.

However, after years of neglect it will take several more before the country’s potential is fully tapped. The big copper miners, First Quantum, American Mineral Fields and Kumba (Anglo American), suggest that three to four years is realistic.

Even Anglo/Ashanti is ready to return to the DRC this year to re-commission the legendary Kilomoto mine and begin prospecting in the surrounding 8 000km2 Site 40 in eastern Congo.

In formerly marginal Madagascar, armed with a new mining cadastre, Anglo American vehicle Ticor, Lonmin and Phelps Dodge/Dynatec are prospecting or extracting industrial metals.

The CEO of Pan African Mining, Irwin Olian, said the company had prospecting rights on a site locals call “the Mountain of Gold”.

“We have core samples indicating 20 and more grams per ton of rock —while in South Africa and West Africa two grams is considered worth exploiting,” Olian said.

Gold is a key attractant. With the firmer price and lacklustre bourses, portfolio managers are recommending a 5% holding in gold and related stock.

At present, the momentum is in projects aimed at prospecting for, finding, leasing, producing or merging gold assets.

South Africa’s AngloGold and the continent’s other great gold mining house, Ashanti Goldfields of Ghana, will soon share a listing in London. It is forecast that the addition of Ashanti’s assets will reduce the South African regional contribution to the combined group to somewhere between 45% and 48%.

Of the 1 519 ounces produced by the group in East and West Africa, more than half comes from three mines in Ghana belonging to Ashanti. Next in size is the wholly owned Geita mine in Tanzania, followed by Mali, where the group has minority interests in three mines.

It also has a majority interest in a single mine in Guinea and one wholly owned mine in Zimbabwe that may be up for sale.

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