Pan African ties future to New Hope

[] — SIX months ago, Pan African Resources’ cash cow Barberton Gold Mines was involved in a battle for survival against crime. Now, however, this fight has been won, to be replaced by excitement over the new underground discoveries.

At Fairview, the largest and oldest of the three mines that the group operates in the mountains around Barberton, the Hope Reef, an ore body with one of the highest gold values in the country, is now being developed at a depth of 1,600 metres.

The Hope Reef averages 11 metres in width, is 70 metres long and carries an average gold grade of around 50 grams per ton.

“We have been mining the top point of the reef for about a year already, but we are in the process of developing a semi decline shaft that will take us about 200 metres lower,’ says Pierre Human, the mine’s general manager.

No one knows how deep this reef right next to the Sheba fault goes, but the semi decline shaft, at an angle of 44º next to the Sheba fault, will extend Fairview’s life from 5 years to 15 years, Human says.

The rich ore from this region is mixed with poorer ore from other areas in the mine, so that Fairview ultimately operates at an average ore grade of about 30 grams per ton, Human says.

“There is no reason to suspect that the ore body lower down is any less rich,’ Roelf le Roux, Barberton Gold’s chief geologist says.

These results were achieved through the systematic exploration work undertaken by the mine’s team of three geologists in the past three years after the allocation of a generous budget.

This had been done to extend the lives of the three existing mines, Fairview, Sheba and New Consort. The results were particularly promising at Fairview and Sheba, but at Royal Sheba, an old mine east of the existing mines, an entirely new mineral field was identified under the old shafts.

According to current indications and measurements, this mineral source contains 506 000 ounces of gold.

The exploration has led Pan African CEO Jan Nelson to say that he expects the group’s production of a continuous 100 000 ounces over the past five years will now increase by 25% in the next five years.

The greenstone ore body underlying the Barberton mine is clearly much more complex than the continuous Witwatersrand Reef and the Free State reefs, which are now reaching the end of their lives, but it looks as if Barberton Gold will have a considerably longer life than most other established gold mines in the country.

Fairview’s first gold was cast 124 years ago, just before the discovery of the Witwatersrand Reef in 1886. The Witwatersrand discovery ended the gold rush in the Eastern Transvaal, and precipitated the Witwatersrand gold rush.

“Since then we have been judged by the standards of the Witwatersrand Reef, but we mine a greenstone reef, which has entirely different qualities from the Witwatersrand Reef,’ Human says.

An analyst describes it as an ore body that is shot through with holes, much like a Swiss cheese, while the Witwatersrand Reef is like a long, thin continuous slice of bread stretching underground.

Illegal mining

Meanwhile, Nelson says it looks as if the group’s problems with illegal miners have been resolved. In December last year, out of pure malice, the gangs held work teams hostage on two occasions. Mining activities were subsequently halted for a fortnight to smoke out the criminals, who had taken refuge in hundreds of underground tunnels and shelters.

“We even kept a helicopter on the mountain all the time to be able to see when trespassers entered our land, but that’s all over now,’ Nelson says.

Expenditure on security during this period rose from R1.5m per month to R4.5m per month, but Nelson expects that it will eventually stabilise at R2.5m.

“We have normalised the problem. We have sealed some of the entrances permanently,’ he says