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Aug 31, 2007

On-The-Air (31/08/2007)

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Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Jeremy Maggs speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Maggs: From Russia with love and money.

Creamer: Yes, from Russia with love and investment is the large major mining company Norilsk. They see Southern Africa as one of their new bases outside of Russia. Already there are two big operations in which they are involved and they are looking at an additional R4,4-billion worth of investments in which they want to be involved. They are already partnering the Botswana government at Tati Nickel, where they have 85 % of Tati Nickel and the government of Botswana has 15 %. They are going to build a new refinery close to Francistown in that some proportion, they will have 85 % of the project and again the Botswana government 15 %. Their new Activox technology will be deployed to cut cost which will take people down the cost curve. In South Africa, Norilsk is involved with our only primary nickel operation, and that is Nkomati Nickel out at Mpumalanga, where they have 50 % of that operation and the other 50 % is held by Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals. They want to look elsewhere in Africa but, of course, they say that they have got a lot of opportunities still at home in Russia where there has been a lot of exploration but not enough development.

Maggs: Someone else is also flexing their muscles, Rio Tinto.

Creamer: Rio Tinto has for long kept a fairly low profile in Southern Africa, now starting to lift that profile. They are investing at Rössing uranium mine in Namibia, increasing the size and life of that operation. At one stage Rössing was going to be left for dead because the uranium price was so bad. Now with the uranium price that has gone from $7 a pound to beyond $100 a pound there are a lot more prospects there and Rössing going forward with expansion. Closer to home at Coega, because of the Rio Tinto Alcan deal, the new Rio Tinto Alcan project team has increased the urgency to build the new aluminium smelter, near Port Elizabeth, at Coega. The good news is that Rio Tinto also comes with alumina. There was a question mark over the supply of alumina coming in from Alcan. Now Rio, with its subsidiary Camelco, actually fairly long on alumina, that issue is out the way. Rio Tinto is active in mineral sands and have been for a long time at Richards Bay Minerals. There they will be doing quite a big black-economic empowerment deal where 24 % of the shares will go to a BEE partner and also 2 % to staff. So, there will be a sort of esop, staff being brought up into that deal. For long, of course, they’ve been at Palabora mining, where they have gone from an opencast mine to underground, and they are exploring in the Limpopo Province, where there is a possibility of energy coal and also metallurgical coal being turned to account.

Maggs: South Africa, the JSE particularly, hosting a trillion-rand company in the form of BHP Billiton.

Creamer: I lived through the period of millionaires, then we got to billionaires. Now we have got to start looking at trillionaires, that is where the world is going. Of course, the mining activity and demand for commodities has been so strong that we now see that, in rand terms, the company that JSE hosts a trillionaire company, BHP Billiton. If you calculate its market capitalisation now in rands, it is now topping the trillion rand mark. If you go back to billions and you look at its profit to June this year, it was R100-billion worth of profit. So we can see how the mining companies are flying pretty high at the moment. There is also a very good South African connection, going from the Gencor days to the Billiton days then to the BHP Billiton days. Of course, one of the masterminds was a South African Brian Gilbertson. Now another South African will write a new chapter and he is Marius Kloppers, only 45-years old. He takes over the running of this trillion-rand company from October 1. A boy who went to school here in Johannesburg at Helpmekaar then went to Tukkies or University of Pretoria and the Masachusetts Institute of Technology, where he got a doctorate. At 45 he is now going to run this trillion-rand company, which is keen on doing some extra things in South Africa, by the way. It wants to drill off our West Coast. Some 175 km northwest of Cape Town, it has a concession there, where it wants to drill deep for oil and gas and it has got the sort of financial muscle to do it. They are still very optimistic that some of the delays will go away, particularly the ones with Treasury and that they will be allowed to go ahead with this drilling programme there. They also have the energy coal here, which they have re-focused. With their manganese, they will be doing a big black economic empowerment deal and then in Mozambique they are looking at a very big mineral sands project and their partner of choice in the Corridor Sands project will be our State-owned Industrial Development Corporation.

Maggs: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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