malachite

A story on the Graceland of copper

Interesting dichotomy this week. With lawmakers in Argentina moving to attract new mines — while Philippines regulators are striving to shut them down.Just shows how people are one of the most important aspects of any mineral project. Equal to geology, infrastructure and all the other things that go into making a profitable operation.And people were one of the remarkable aspects I had the pleasure to witness these past few weeks — on a trip through one of the world’s most storied copper districts.

The place is Zambia. A part of the world I’d never been to before — but have read about nearly from day one as a geologist. That’s because Zambia is host to the southern portion of the African Copperbelt. A geologic feature that, for rock hounds, is on the same level as Graceland is for Elvis fans. The Copperbelt, as it’s simply known, is arguably the world’s most famous mining region. Being discovered over a century ago — and hosting the world’s go-to copper mines prior to the discovery and widespread development of the Chilean Andean deposits.

Today, the Copperbelt still produces nearly 10% of the world’s copper supply — from mines in Zambia and its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo. And for this geologist, getting to see these mines was a dream come true. As I’ve written about in these pages, I’ve been working a great deal on African Copperbelt style deposits in other parts of the world, including South America. Which has led me to do a lot of research on this area, surveying the geology behind deposits and mines that constitute some of the highest grade-producers in the world.

But seeing these mines firsthand drove home the massive scale of development here — in a way that reports and papers simply can’t. After traveling north from Zambia’s capital of Lusaka, the spirit of the Copperbelt immediately became evident. When we began driving past towering black tailings piles near the old Copperbelt capital city of Kitwe. And even when you’re not at a mine, mining is all around you here.

But as my associates and I learned, the Copperbelt has now expanded well beyond this ancient outpost. With copper mining having pushed west from the old mines of Kitwe — toward the Solwezi region, where we traveled to visit mines such as First Quantum’s Trident development. New discoveries like Trident are revolutionizing the Copperbelt. With this mega-deposit found to contain not only copper, but also significant amounts of sediment-hosted nickel. A strange beast geologically, to be sure.

In fact, northwestern Zambia is becoming a hot locale for a number of other metals, like gold. With First Quantum also having pioneered the Kansanshi mine in this area — hosting an ore reserve of 3 million ounces.

As we continued west to the outpost town of Mwinilunga, we found that it’s actually impossible to out-drive the mineralization here. Right up to a few kilometers from the Angola border we continued to find showings. The photo below shows a remote village where the ground was literally covered in magnetite — a product of gold-bearing rocks the locals showed us.

There’s not much literature on this western-most extension of the Zambian mineral belt. But there’s apparently a growing amount of activity here — with locals reporting that “major” companies have been flying geophysicists over the area of late. As far as I’ve heard, no one is officially working here, leading to the conclusion these players are operating on the hush-hush in order to get a leg up in this emerging play.

Of course, it’s not just gold that’s the target here. Copper is just as much a play here as in the more-established mining districts of Zambia — despite the facts there are no major mines in this region. Yet, the big copper potential here was driven home in a funny way as we visited another local village. Where I glimpsed the home shown below — and happened to note a funny-colored rock being used to hold down the roofing sheets, circled at left.

house-copper

malachite2
I just happened to spot the odd rock circled at left from the window of our jeep, out for a closer look, I found there was indeed something different about this piece of construction material. It was a massive chunk of copper-rich malachite, which the locals had picked up in a nearby field.

With the homeowner’s permission I retrieved the “paperweight” for a closer look. Not a bad looking specimen near a remote border village

There’s not much literature on this western-most extension of the Zambian mineral belt. But there’s apparently a growing amount of activity here — with locals reporting that “major” companies have been flying geophysics over the area of late. As far as I’ve heard, no one is officially working here, leading to the conclusion these players are operating on the hush-hush in order to get a leg up in this emerging play.

Of course, it’s not just gold that’s the target here. Copper is just as much a play here as in the more-established mining districts of Zambia — despite the facts there are no major mines in this region. Yet.

The big copper potential here was driven home in a funny way as we visited another local village. Where I glimpsed the home shown below — and happened to note a funny-colored rock being used to hold down the roofing sheets, circled at left.

just happened to spot the odd rock circled at left from the window of our jeep

Getting out for a closer look, I found there was indeed something different about this piece of construction material. It was a massive chunk of copper-rich malachite, which the locals had picked up in a nearby field.

With the homeowner’s permission I retrieved the “paperweight” for a closer look. Not a bad looking specimen.

After I took this shot, the owner asked me to put this high-grade copper back on his roof, so the metal sheets wouldn’t blow away

That’s a first for me, even after 20 years in the business.

I also had another first on this trip. My first visit to a gemstone mining operation — when we toured Zambia’s storied emerald district, home to the world’s largest emerald mine, Kagem.

kagem
The Kagem emerald mine (sign at left) is the world’s largest operation

Here’s a shocking fact for you. Emeralds are the best-performing commodity in the world, in terms of price. In 2009, a carat of high-quality rough emerald sold for just $4.40. But at the March/April auction this year held by Gemfields Plc — owners of the Kagem mine — sales hit an all-time high of $70.68 per carat.

That’s a whopping 1,506% rise in emerald prices over the last seven years. And to think investors are falling over themselves in gold right now because the price is up 30% this year.

As an interesting aside, it appears to be no coincidence that the world’s best emeralds are found next to the world’s richest copper deposits. Over the last five years, I’ve been working on unearthing a new copper district in eastern Colombia — where, coincidentally, emeralds are produced at a quantity that makes it the world’s number two supplier of stones.

But despite all these wonders, perhaps the most incredible thing I saw on this Zambia visit was the people. People who welcomed, supported and educated us. Who told us how mining has had a major positive impact on their communities — and who invited us, with literally open arms, to come and be part of building “the new Zambia”.

That’s a humbling and wonderful experience — my heartfelt thanks to everyone we met along the way on this incredible journey. If some of the wheels set in motion on this trip catch pavement, I hope to be back in Zambia very soon — and be back to all of you with more notes on detailed prospects in.

The above story simply signifies that as a people, we do not know the value of what we have and our education system has been built to churn out Job seekers rather than wealth creators. How else do you explain that most Zambians who even reside in copper rich localities can not identify malachite ( a rock containing copper) Zambia’s biggest export earner and current economic driver? How come Zambians are not rushing to buy up North Western province and start up mining ventures even as joint ventures with financiers? How come the whole nation is more concerned about the IMF bail out package than how it can create more revenue and diversify? It’s all a matter of perspective and mentality, that’s where we need to win first…

The above story is written by a geologist who recently visited Zambia and adopted from the chamber of mines in Zambia publication.

Source:Zambia Business Times

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Please tell some other people! PF government is still confused with its own constitution, it will take time before they open their eyes

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    • There is no doubting the prescence of this wealth.

      The issue is HOW IT IS MANAGED.

      The current crop of Zambian mis leaders have more than proven their lack of financial intelligence by borrowing beyond what we can pay thereby rendering all this wealth you are taking about useless. We will be paying back the kalowas Vodiga Rungu signed in our name for the next 20 years for the three years he has been in power.

      NEXT !!

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    • “In 2009, a carat of high-quality rough emerald sold for just $4.40. But at the March/April auction this year held by Gemfields Plc — owners of the Kagem mine — sales hit an all-time high of $70.68 per carat.”
      Although I’m not an apologist of mine owners, this statement makes me doubt the competence of the author. The price of an emerald depends on mainly the “4Cs”, namely Colour, Clarity (or transparency), Cut (shape) and Carat (weight). Another big factor is personal sentiment or perception (Remember: beauty is in the eye of the beholder).
      Also, unlike say for copper, there is no “standard” (in terms of grade etc.) that is traded at a market like the London Metal Exchange. Thus, it is not easy to come up with average price for emeralds and similar stones and that is why it is…

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    • You have a complex my friend. So in your opinion its only Govt that can exploit the minerals. No wonder people with stolen money like HH cannot venture into Mining because he can only thrive on cattle.

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  2. Very enlightening. African governments are too mentally colonised they followed education and evonomic systems bequeathed by their colonial masters. If I were president I would focus on creating infrastructures that enable my citizens to reap from the country’s natural resources. Firstly I would initiate an education system that focuses on the citizen. Then the state would focus on construction of industrial structures that a normal citizen is unable to create. I would encourage Zambians to supply these resources/products for beneficiation. In the long run even the beneficiation industries would be sold to the citizens. At present mining and agriculture industries are foreign dominated. Sad

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  3. I agree with the author, our education system is designed for us to be job seekers and not entrepreneurs.
    If only our education system can be changed, because it is still the same staff that was taught to our parents that we learnt and our children are still learning. that’s why we still cry out to the government for employment creation as youth, Sad.

    What an eye opener this article is.

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  4. Emerald is not even supposed to be in private hands to say the least, because it doesn’t need to be processed since God has already done that for us. Ready for market right straight from the ground. Imagine how much foreign exchange the government would earn from the sale of this precious mineral, just a small piece we are talking of thousands of dollars! With the equipment that ZNS has with the help of professionals in mining, we can achieve alot. I rest my case.

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    • Really? Like the diamonds in Zimbabwe?

      Where 15 BILLION DOLLARS of diamonds were mined and NONE OF THE MONEY CAME BACK TO THE COUNTRY!

      And why? Because it all ended up in the overseas bank accounts of Mugabe, his wife, and other top PF officials and army chiefs!

      Or like in the Congo where the same thing happened and Mobutu died with not millions, but BILLIONS in the banks in Switzerland and France!

      What a GIFT that would be to Lungu and his PF thieves! Ordinary Zambians would see none of the proceeds except slave labour wages!

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  5. This is probably a repetition of the 1926 geographical survey which listed the Kagem deposit but was ignored until the 1970s – people still ignore it saying things like “God cannot be unfair” and other deeply technical insights like that

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  6. @Ndobo, are you still smoking that stuff? The 10 point plan can work only on stolen privatization funds not on Zambia! We have capable leaders such as Lungu to take care of Zambia.

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  7. WHERE are all the patriotic educated Zambians? a serious issue to open your eyes has been raised and you have all gone quiet, is it the English that has bored you? We see useless things in the news many at times and the bloggers will be all over insulting each other. Why cant ideas be shared on an important issue like this one. It could be a solution to all the poverty for some of our brothers. We shy away from vital things like this and only want to talk when our government puts in very weak policies when doing business with mining companies. Our wealth is in the soil why don’t we invest the moneies we borrow in the mining equipment and stop waiting for people to come and tell us theres, minerals, later on use our people at slavery wages then take out the money while we are snoozing…

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  8. I would have thought this topic would attract intellectual desertion but alas everyone is busy discussing politics. The author has clearly indicated that ordinary Zambians are not benefitting from the massive mineral resource proceeds. He’s planned to go back to Zambia to continue his research? Seriously?
    Where are the policy makers to keep Zambians enlightened about the rich mineral resources and the availability of opportunities for ordinary Zambians to invest in their economy through mining ventures.

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  9. The price of an emerald depends on mainly the “4Cs”, namely Colour, Clarity (or transparency), Cut (shape) and Carat (weight). Another big factor is personal sentiment or perception (Remember: beauty is in the eye of the beholder).
    Also, unlike say for copper, there is no “standard” (in terms of grade etc.) that is traded at a market like the London Metal Exchange. Thus, it is not easy to come up with average price for emeralds and similar stones and that is why it is difficult for Government to evaluate the production as well.
    Of course the emerald producers exploit this very weakness in evaluation and under declare the value of their production!!!

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  10. The problem is mining takes a huge amount of capital, locals in Zambia don’t have access to such. There’s also the question of expertise. Some of these mines are more than 1km underground, it’s a serious technical challenge. Also of course mining companies are experts at corrupting government officials. Sata tried to start turning this around, now with this Lungu character who knows how quickly everything will belong to foreigners again

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    • @Ifintu government would supply that expertise to the citizen if it focussed on this but it leaves everything to the private sector

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