As platinum producers in Zimbabwe discuss plans with government to build a US$1 billion platinum refinery, Mwana Africa CEO Kalaa Mpinga says that the company’s Bindura Nickel Corporation (BNC) smelter could take on a chunk of the country’s current platinum concentrate in the interim.

“The government of Zimbabwe has become very vocal and insistent that the mineral resources of Zimbabwe be processed locally,” Mpinga said at a media briefing in Johannesburg yesterday. “Bindura owns a six-in-line furnace, as well as a copper/nickel refinery and we are investigating what is required to process some of the concentrate that is currently being exported. We believe we could process close to 100 000 tons of concentrate coming from the platinum producers in the country.”

For this reason, the company has prioritised the refurbishment of its smelter which hasn’t been operational for a number of years. It is expected to cost about US$25 million to bring back online. Mpinga continues, “It’s much easier for us to double or treble the size of our smelter and refinery than building a new one.”

Zimbabwe has the second-largest known platinum reserves in the world and produces 6% of the world’s output with 350 000 ounces reported for 2012, but the country will need to raise platinum output to 500 000 ounces a year to justify a refinery.

Three of the country’s platinum miners have already expressed concern that the deadline to complete the refinery by the end of the year may be impossible to meet, including Anglo-American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Aquarius Platinum, so any additional support from smelters with spare capacity would be advantageous.

“I tend to agree with the government that they should encourage raw materials to fill up the existing capacity before exporting,” says Mpinga. “We are actively engaged in the discussion because we believe that our smelter can actually process some of the platinum concentrate which is currently being exported to South Africa. We are working and supporting the government in that initiative because we think it is good for Bindura and it is also good for Zimbabwe.”

Mwana Africa is a pan-African resources company with operations in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and a broad range of exploration projects and interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Ghana and Bostwana. The group has a diverse asset base, including gold, nickel, copper, cobalt and diamonds.

By Vicky Sidler