Natascha Viljoen announces shock resignation from Amplats

Natascha Viljoen, CEO, Anglo American Platinum

NATASCHA Viljoen is to step down from Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in the next 12 months in order to take up a position at US gold miner, Newmont Corporation, the group announced today.

Viljoen’s departure is a surprise as she was only appointed three years ago. In addition, Amplats is currently facing operational headwinds including delays to the expansion of its flagship mine, Mogalakwena.

Viljoen said she would be “forever grateful’ for her time at Amplats but that she had identified the next stage of her career. Newmont is the world’s largest gold producer and recently bid for control of Australian firm, Newcrest Mining. She is committed to serving a 12 month notice period.

This is not a departure Duncan Wanblad, CEO of Anglo American – which owns 80% of Amplats – might have been banking on when he took up his role in May last year.

Predictably, Anglo parted ways with some its ‘old guard’ executives who served under former CEO Mark Cutifani, including technical director Tony O’Neill and CEO of De Beers, Bruce Cleaver. However, Viljoen’s departure is a different order of executive movement as it creates uncertainty at the apex of one of the group’s most important profit drivers.

It also opens the question of who might run Amplats in the future given the difficulty of attracting top international executives to South Africa where the company is based. An internal appointment might follow or the way could be cleared for the return of Chris Griffith who was CEO of Amplats for seven years before becoming CEO of Gold Fields.

Griffith resigned from Gold Fields in November following its failed bid for Yamana Gold, a Toronto listed gold producer.

A former Lonmin executive, Viljoen was head of Amplats’ processing division from 2014. She previously worked at AngloGold Ashanti and was GM of BHP’s Klipspruit Colliery prior to joining Lonmin in 2008.

Amplats, which is due to report its full year results on February 20, said last week share earnings for the year to December 31 would fall as much as 52% owing to inflation, project delays, and accounting recalculations related to a previous disposal and an acquisition.

The forecast is for share earnings of between R14.431 to R20,128/share – a year-on-year decline of between 33% and 52% compared to R30,042 in full year earnings in the previous financial year.

The company also adjusted production and cost guidance in December. Refined platinum group metal (PGM) production for 2023 was updated to between 3.6 and four million oz compared to a previous estimate of 3.8 to 4.2 million oz. For 2024, the new forecast is for refined PGM output of 3.6 to four million oz – potentially up to 500,000 oz less than the upper end of previous 2024 guidance of 4.1 to 4.5 million.

The lower production means an increase in Amplats’ cost estimates. For 2022, cost guidance was already adjusted upwards to R15,300 per PGM oz from R14,000 to R15,000 per PGM oz. But for 2023, cost guidance is R16,800 to R17,800 per PGM oz – an increase year-on-year of as much as 16.3%, assuming upper end of guidance.

Project delays related to below-spec materials supplied to the rebuild of the Polokwane smelter. As for the delays to the expansion of Mogalakwena, primarily construction of a third concentrator, Viljoen said previously work was underway understanding the nature of the mine’s orebody as well as examining environmental and societal impacts of either progressing the current open pit or moving to an underground development.

Wanblad said today Viljoen had “transformed” Amplats’ technical processing capabilities since joining the group in 2014. “The process to identify her successor is now under way.”