Gold output at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix mine off to slow start as fatalities, tailings rehab bites

Miners at Beatrix gold mine Source: Sibanye-Stillwater

GOLD processing at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix gold mine in the Free State is to be closed until April in order to rehabilitate part of a tailings dam, the company said today in an operating update for its 2021 financial year.

The closure compounds a difficult period for Sibanye-Stillwater which last year said mining at three shafts in the gold division and another on its South African platinum group metal (PGM) mines would be temporarily closed following a string of fatal incidents. The group is also facing the possibility of a strike.

The Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration granted a strike certificate earlier this month to unions including the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union following the failure of wage negotiations with the mining firm. The strike is yet to be enforced.

“Processing operations at Beatrix have been temporarily suspended for approximately three months from 28 December 2021 whilst rehabilitation work is undertaken on part of an active tailings storage (TSF) facility,” said Sibanye-Stillwater.

It added that “a limited portion” of the Beatrix TSF required “precautionary reinforcement and buttressing”. Ore would be stock-piled until the TSF was completed, around April. The underground mining operations of Beatrix would therefore continue.

Beatrix 1 and 3 shafts were closed on December 15 following safety lapses despite the group running a shutdown of all group operations between November 30 and December 3 in order to focus on safety compliance.

Beatrix contributed 18% of Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold production including the contribution from its 50.1% stake in DRDGOLD (22% excluding) with Beatrix 3 shaft contributing the “vast majority of ounces”, according to a report by RMB Morgan Stanley today.

Another of the closed shafts – Kloof 1 – restarted this year but the Beatrix shafts remained closed while “audits” with the Government’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy continued. Production was expected to resume before month-end, the company said.

Sibanye-Stillwater said gold production for the year totalled 892,084 ounces which was slightly above the lower level of guidance.

At the South African PGM mines, full year production was 1.86 million 4E oz including attributable oz from Mimosa in Zimbabwe. This was 3% higher than the upper level of guidance which was 1,85 million oz.

Production had resumed at the Khuseleka shaft which had been shut following the fatality last year and at the Thembelani shaft which had been shut following an increase in Covid-19 infections among supervisor and senior management, the group said.

Mined production from Sibanye-Stillwater’s US-based PGM operations totalled 570,399 2E oz for the year. This was at the lower end of revised guidance of 570,000 2E oz as a result of “the ongoing impact of the safety incident in June.

Sibanye-Stillwater’s recycling business generated PGM sales of 795,000 3E oz for the year which was within guidance.