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SA refinery seeks African gold supply

Allan Seccombe | Fri, 24 Nov 2006 12:00
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[] -- RAND Refinery will compete vigorously to treat gold from a host of new African projects coming on stream in the next few years to meet a large shortfall in its plant capacity, MD Alan Muir said in an interview.

It has become important to find alternative sources of gold because of the steady decline in South African output to about 300 tons/year from a peak in 1970 of 1,000 tons. There is global oversupply of refining capacity and it’s a cutthroat business when it comes to securing supplies.

Rand Refinery, Africa’s largest gold processing operation, will produce 460 tons of gold this year versus 390 tons last year. Harmony Gold’s decision to quit its refining business and send its material to Rand Refinery boosted that number.

Rand Refinery has capacity of 1,200 tons. It already treats 80% of African gold outside South Africa, which is roughly 100 tons.

“We are trying to position ourselves as much as possible to be the refiner of choice for African mining projects,” Muir said, adding five years ago the refinery treated no African gold.

Part of the challenge in sourcing new gold supplies is convincing African countries not to build their own refineries.

Rand Refinery, which has already convinced Mali not to build a refinery, believes its has successfully changed the Ghanaian government’s mind to set up a refinery to produce gold for its predominantly artisanal jewellery sector it wishes to revive in a job creation drive.

Rand Refinery is installing a new high-speed gold electrolysis system. The system to be commissioned in December will be fully operational by March and will shorten the time between the arrival of impure gold and the production of 99.99% pure gold.

Rand Refinery will expand its product range to be more competitive.

“We’ll have a bigger range of products so that a change in the gold price will have less of an impact on our revenue streams,” Muir said. The refinery produces small gold bars, coins and jewellery alloys.
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“We want to expand that to get into longer term agreements with major jewellery manufacturers for semi-fabricated jewellery,” he said.

Rand Refinery processed a small amount of scrap gold this year. Scrap gold levels globally have risen because of the high gold price. India and the Middle East are big sources of material.

“We are trying to get our foot in the door with scrap, but our location might be a bit against us We need to be more innovative, with pricing, sourcing and logistics,” Muir said.

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