Canadian firm plans to resurrect troubled Botswana mine

Boris Kamstra, COO, Premium Nickel Resources

IN yet another “blast from the past” and a “rave from the grave” for the Southern African mining sector a Canadian junior is looking to re-open the former Selebi-Phikwe base metal mine in eastern Botswana.

This follows the developments over the past five years by Orion Resources and Copper 360 to re-start copper mining from the former Prieska and Okiep copper operations in the Northern Cape as well as a string of other, smaller mines that  previously operated in the region.

Toronto-listed Premium Nickel Resources (Premium) bought the Selebi mine near the town of Selebi-Phikwe from the company liquidator in 2022 and the same year also bought the separate Selkirk mine located near Francistown.

Premium is now carrying out drilling work aimed at proving up potential new orebodies located near the old Selebi workings and is working towards  completing a pre-feasibility study (PFS).

Leading the project is Boris Kamstra who is well known in South African mining circles for his work in developing JSE and Toronto-listed Alphamin’s highly successful Bisie tin mine in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kamstra, who is Premium’s COO for Botswana, described Selebi as an “extraordinary low-risk, opportunity” to develop a base metal operation that could be producing around 1.4 million tons of head feed by 2027 if everything goes well in the development of the project.

Next step is to convert the existing Samrec ore resource into the 43-101 format required in Canada after which a maiden ore resource will be published in June/July this year.

Then will come publication of the PFS by about mid-2025 followed by fund-raising. Kamstra said he was fully aware of the challenges that might be involved given the chequered history of the Selebi mine which was part of the Selebi-Phikwe complex developed by Anglo American Corporation as BCL.

Checkered history

The operation started mining in 1980 and was consistently loss-making. Widely held belief at the time was that Anglo kept it going as a “political sweetener” in terms of employment for the Botswana government to safeguard its hugely important diamond mines in the country.

Anglo eventually sold out of BCL and the operation was placed on care and maintenance in October 2016 and then put into liquidation in 2017.

Interviewed on the sidelines of the Junior Indaba mining conference held in Johannesburg, Kamstra said Premium’s initial assessment of the results from the last drilling programmes – which had not been followed up on properly by BCL – indicated three large potential new orebodies down-dip from the existing workings but just 100m away.

“That really got our juices flowing. We now have the opportunity to assess it properly, drill it up and design a decent mine plan.”

Said Kamstra: “There are long memories in the mining industry and peoples’ initial reaction to Selebi is usually ‘what a disaster’. But I have been through this kind of thing before with the development of the Bisie mine in the DRC.

“I was asked by investors whether I was insane and one investor told me he knew of a destination he would rather invest in first with the same initials as North Kivu and that was North Korea.

“We are not touching the former Phikwe orebody which we consider to be toxic. The biggest risk in a mining project is execution risk and that does not exist at Selebi because the two operating shafts are already in place.

“Having those shafts and existing mine workings in place saves us an extraordinary amount of money and time in developing the new mine.

“We think we have a stellar orebody and, in time – once we get going, we are going to sink an additional two modern, high-volume shafts. We have a combination of a great orebody, a great project and an exceptional Botswanan management team in a superb mining jurisdiction with great infrastructure. What more could you want?  Everything is there.”