Awakening asbestos mining giant Shabanie Mashaba Mines (SMM) is set to resume chrysotile asbestos fibre exports for the first time in over a decade as Government’s master plan to revive the mine begins to bear dividend, according to Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando.
This fibre is a key ingredient in the manufacture of roofing tiles, sheets and other asbestos-related products.
Minister Chitando told The Sunday Mail Business in an exclusive interview this week that the asbestos behemoth, which closed shop in 2007, will resume exports with an order to India in the next two weeks.
The fibre is being generated from SMM’s rich dump tailings totalling 143 million tonnes, which was accumulated during the firm’s 100 years of operation from 1907 to 2007.
Local industry is already benefiting from the SMM revival, with Turnall Holdings last week telling our sister paper, Business Weekly, that they have since cut on their asbestos fibre imports and are expecting to buy all their fibre locally in the coming weeks.
Government, Minister Chitando said, was excited by the news coming from SMM, particularly at a time authorities are seeking to grow exports from the mining sector from US$3,2 billion attained last year to US$12 billion by 2023.
“Work on the SMM dump is going on well and I am advised by their management that they are expecting to resume exports to India in the next two weeks,” said Minister Chitando.
“Information that they have given us is that they are now producing an average of 500 tonnes of asbestos fibre from the dump that is already on the ground.
“This is against an estimated domestic consumption of 300 tonnes per month,” he said.
Underground mining at Mashaba
Minister Chitando said there has also been considerable progress on the de-watering exercise at Mashaba Mine, which is effectively done, as engineers have now managed to access a lot of equipment that was submerged.
On completion, which will be about six months from closure of a funding structure to complete the de-watering exercise, an initial 800 workers will be employed at the mine.
At full throttle, Mashaba is expected to produce 18 000 tonnes of asbestos fibre worth an estimated US$8,5 million in its first year of operation.
Production is expected to jump to 21 000 tonnes in the second year and up to 75 000 tonnes in the third year.
“Remember the roadmap we set towards this revival was hinged on firstly, utilising the dump, and then de-watering the two mines so that we can start accessing shafts. So, at the moment, the de-watering exercise at Mashaba is almost complete and engineers have managed to access most of the equipment,” said Minister Chitando.
“Information we have is that, although the equipment is naturally in need of some refurbishment, it is quite encouraging that some of it is in relatively good condition.
“The next step for Mashaba Mine is procurement and refurbishment of necessary equipment to commence production.
“Once a funding structure for this purchase is concluded, we will need about six months to start proper mining and our projections are that we can manage 18 000 tonnes of fibre worth about US$8,5 million within the first year based on current international prices.
“We expect this to then move to 21 000 tonnes in the second year and then jump to 75 000 tonnes in the third year,” he said.
Huge potential at Shabanie Mine
An independent audit done by Australia-based Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) in 2006, shows that SMM’s Shabanie Mine has the capacity to produce silky ore and brittle ore fibre worth US$765 million over the next 16 years.
Its reserves are dominated by the internationally sought after silky ore and can contribute US$689 million from the mining of about 18,1 million tonnes of ore.
The dumps — both at Mashava and Zvishavane — are also said to be rich in other minerals such as magnesium, nickel, chrome and traces of platinum group metals, copper and gold.
Going forward, Minister Chitando said Government want a situation where all other minerals on the dump are also used for the benefit of SMM and the country’s mineral revenue.
“Strategically, there is now need to implement a processing technology that recovers all the minerals contained, not only in the underground ores, but also in the many tailings dumps owned by SMM.
“This will have a very significant impact in the earnings and profitability of SMM as well as substantially increasing the country’s export revenue,” he said.