JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – On the face of it, South Africa could do a lot more to speed up critical minerals mining development in South Africa.
An example of doing so that catches the eye is the extra mile the government of Malawi is going to assist with permitting.
This is highlighted by Australian mining company Sovereign Metals Limited, which outlines the strong support it is receiving from the Malawi government in an 84-page report released on Thursday, September 28. The report is focused on the single project it is developing to yield graphite and rutile, two critical minerals the modern world is demanding.
Targeted is production of 244 00 t/y of graphite and 222 000 t/y of rutile and Malawi has gone to the trouble of constituting an inter-Ministerial project development committee to work alongside Sovereign to assist in the permitting processes – and that comes a month after the government of Malawi applauded the investment by Rio Tinto and marked it as a milestone towards realising the country’s aspirations of growing the mining sector as a priority industry.
This is an example of a government rolling out the red carpet to investors rather than rolling out red tape – and that approach creates jobs, reduces inequality and fights poverty.
Mining has not only been declared as a key pillar for growth under Malawi’s economic development strategy, but that declaration has come with direct action to speed up Sovereign’s Kasiya project because of its national significance. In July 2023, global mining major Rio Tinto made an investment in Sovereign resulting in an initial 15% shareholding and options expiring within 12 months of initial investment to increase their position to 19.99%.
Under the Investment Agreement, Rio Tinto will provide assistance and advice on technical and marketing aspects of Kasiya including with respect to Sovereign’s graphite co-product, with a primary focus on spherical purified graphite for the lithium-ion battery anode market.
“The project has excellent surrounding infrastructure including sealed roads, a high-quality rail line connecting to the deep-water port of Nacala on the Indian Ocean and hydro-sourced grid electricity,” Sovereign states in its release to Mining Weekly.
For the duration of the operation, graphite and rutile products will be railed directly from a purpose-built rail dry port at the mine site eastward through the Nacala logistics corridor to the Port of Nacala – the kind of infrastructure South Africa is battling to protect from disruption.
Important is that modern mining companies bring green, renewable energy with them and Sovereign’s objective is to develop a sustainable power solution for Kasiya. In addition to access to hydro-generated grid power, conditions for a solar power system are favourable. Moreover, the independent power producer appointed to design a solution for Kasiya recently commissioned two solar projects in Malawi.
Malawians will be employed predominantly from the Kasiya area and the capital city of Lilongwe.
During construction, Kasiya expects to employ 995 people and during steady-state operations more than 1 000. As is always the case with mining, for every person employed directly in the project a significant multiplier of people will be employed in indirect jobs supporting the project.
Sovereign has structured training and skills transfer programmes covering on-the-job training for full-time employees, as well as programmes for local graduates and interns. The programmes focus on building skills capacity in the surrounding community.
The company is an equal-opportunity employer with a gender-diverse workforce. Currently, 30% of Sovereign’s professional Malawian staff, and at least 50% of its regular interns, are female.
Rehabilitation is designed to return land to the original agricultural use, and potentially increase land utilisation by introducing modernised farming techniques post rehabilitation.