Okanjande process plant, located at the Okorusu mine site.

Namibia-based, privately-owned mining company Gecko Namibia is focused the development of Africa-based critical metals and industrial minerals through the ownership and operation of a large number of subsidiaries.

“This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 3 2018. 

You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.”

AUTHOR: Laura Cornish, editor of Mining Review Africa

The Group has been flying below the radar since its establishment in 2008, but now, 10 years later has made substantial progress with its large portfolio of projects and should be considered an attractive investment option.

Gecko Namibia is a rather unique investment case and should be evaluated on its merits – of which there are many.

The 324-head strong company is one of the largest mineral rights owners in Namibia, a country which has a reputation of being one of Africa’s most investment-attractive destinations.

The company owns two profitable mining operations and has engaged in a number of joint venture agreements in production and exploration projects to advance its widespread critical minerals portfolio.

In addition, Gecko’s industrial minerals projects comprise salt, fluorspar, barite, phosphate, graphite and limestone deposits.

This article first appeared in the March 2018 edition of Mining Review Africa.

Gecko Namibia
Okorusu fluorspar mine

The Group also owns and operates various services companies, offering exploration and blast-hole drilling, civil construction, geo-chemical laboratory work, process design, plant construction and contract mining services to the Namibian mining sector.

“This concept, which founder and chairman Kobus Smit has already proven successful in South Africa through coal-focused Umcebo Mining and Genet Mining, enables us to fast-track our own development pipeline and better control our own project delivery,” says Gecko Namibia MD, Pine van Wyk.

And although the company has chosen to remain privately owned, it has entered into a number of joint venture (JV) partnerships to gain access to funding and advance its portfolio going forward and ultimately to evolve into a multi-project owner and operator.

“Every project is important and we’d like to see ongoing developments across the entire property suite.”

At present, Gecko Namibia produces salt through its 100%-owned Cape Cross Salt operation as well as graphite through a JV with the established global industrial minerals specialist, Imerys represented by its subsidiary Imerys Graphite & Carbon.

More recently, the company entered into a partnership with TSXV-listed Namibia Rare Earths Inc. in order to advance and develop its suite of critical metals and minerals.

This includes graphite, lithium, cobalt-copper, tantalum, niobium, nickel and also gold (see the February 2018 edition for more information on this partnership).

In addition to this, the company is also a shareholder in and service provider to ASX-listed Celsius Resources Ltd to develop an additional cobalt-copper property in the north of Namibia.

“Our Okanjande graphite project, which has been in production since early 2017, is undeniably our flagship operation and, although the mine is presently still in its ramp-up phase, it has the potential for expansion which our partner Imerys is already evaluating,” Van Wyk highlights.

Okanjande deal demonstrates business ‘smarts’ and development skill

The Okanjande Graphite asset is a relatively new project within the Gecko Namibia portfolio, which it acquired it from a private individual about four years ago.

The ore body is well known within graphite circles, thanks to significant evaluation work undertaken by its original owner, Rio Tinto. Okanjande is situated 14 km south of the town of Otjiwarongo and 388 km from the international Port of Walvis Bay.

Gecko promptly took the project through to feasibility stage, completing infill drilling, defining a resource to “modern day” standards, revising the environmental assessment work and ultimately putting a business plan together.

When the company was approached with an opportunity to acquire the relatively nearby Okorusu fluorspar mine and associated mine infrastructure which incorporated a process plant, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place to fast-track the Okanjande graphite mine into production.

“Because the flotation technology used to process graphite and fluorspar are very similar, and the plant is near (60 km) to the mine, we only needed to upgrade the Okorusu plant and incorporate a bagging and packaging component to the tail-end of the plant – a far quicker and more cost-effective method than building an entirely new plant,” Van Wyk explains.

The timing was perfect. Imerys was looking to expand its graphite portfolio on the back of strengthening demand for the commodity.

“Having embarked on a global evaluation process, our project was deemed the most valuable. The project was well-advanced and, thanks to the fluorspar plant, could be brought into production quickly.

“The operation was commissioned successfully within just 12 months.”

After concluding a joint venture deal in November 2015 to formally establish Imerys Gecko Graphite, construction work commenced in April 2016 and first production followed in April of 2017.

“Not only did we obtain the capital required to develop the project but also gained a global graphite marketing expert which is well established in the field,” Van Wyk continues.

As the majority owner, Imerys is responsible for the strategic positioning of the mine, while Gecko Namibia handles mining operations.

The newly upgraded process plant is designed to produce 20 000 tpa of graphite concentrate.

At this throughput, the mine will comfortably meet its annual production targets for more than 25 years.

The project has a good flake size distribution with 50% of all material processed classed as large and medium flakes.

“This was a significant driver for Imerys’ involvement,” Van Wyk notes.

The potential for a bigger project, however, is already on the cards and an optimisation study is currently underway – examining methods to de-bottleneck the plant with a view to increase its capacity to 30 000 tpa while also improving recoveries.

 On the immediate horizon

The acquisition of Okorusu naturally brought about additional production opportunities for Gecko Namibia.

“We have identified two standalone project opportunities – the first being to re-process fluorspar tailings material which the mine has accumulated over the last +30 years.

“Historically, before Gecko acquired the mine, close to 1.8 Mt of fluorspar concentrate was produced until 2014.” There is approximately 4.5 Mt of tailings material, which contains 20 – 22% fluorspar and 3 – 7% phosphates which was considered purely a by-waste product.

“We have developed a processing method to rework and recover the valuable minerals inherent in the tailings and are currently conducting a feasibility study for the project. A pilot study will follow in order to try and optimise the process. The intention is to complete this work within the next 12 months, after which we can present an investment case to develop the tailings reprocessing project.”

Outside of the tailings project, Okorusu mine possesses the largest fluorite deposit in Namibia with 9.7 Mt (non-JORC resources) of top-class grades of between 11 and 49% CaF2 (6.8 Mt at >30% CaF2) based on 63 000 m of drilling.

Gecko Namibia will also evaluate the potential to develop an underground mining operation from which it can blend ore with open-pit resources.

The company has partnered with the Technical University of Freiburg in Germany to conduct studies on evaluating the underground mining potential.

“Based on historic exploration results, we believe there is still substantial life-of-mine left at Okorusu in both open cast and underground resources below the bottom of the old mine pits.”

For now, significant investment is required to take this project to a bankable feasibility study, from which the company can build a business case to develop the project. Investment options are already being considered to take the project through this process.

“We would like to arrive at a decision on starting the mine up again in the next two years.”

Gecko boasts a diversified portfolio, which further includes the Steilrand barite deposits, the SwaCa lime and PCC industry project, substantial resources of marine phosphates and, furthermore, an interesting pipeline of other industrial minerals projects and value-addition opportunities.

The ultimate vision is for Gecko Namibia to build a significant mining house, with various industries in the country and the Group is presently implementing the necessary steps to see this materialise.