The platinum project that could leave Amplats with egg on its face

Marna Cloete, CFO, Ivanhoe Mines

IF Ivanhoe Mines executive co-chairman Robert Friedland is correct with claims over the postulated ‘Mokopane Feeder’ platinum formation then the group that will have egg all over its face will be industry leader Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).

That’s because Amplats used to hold the exploration licences to the ground situated adjacent Ivanhoe’s Platreef project where Phase 1 production ramp-up is scheduled for early 2025.

According to Ivanhoe Mines president Marna Cloete – who was speaking at the PGM Day conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday – “those licences used to belong to Anglo. We picked up the ground during Covid when Anglo let the licences expire and we are currently conducting some exploration work on those permits”. Amplats is 79% owned by UK listed mining group Anglo American.

Cloete described the exploration work as being at a “super early stage. A gravity anomaly was discovered on the licences. There’s no real arm-waving yet around the Mokopane Feeder, but it’s something we are looking at from a geological interest point of view to see if that could be the origin of the Northen Limb (of the Bushveld Complex).”

Cloete sounded a lot more reserved in her assessment than her flamboyant chairman who first sounded off about the discovery at the London Indaba conference in June last year and also referred to it again at this year’s Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town.

Friedland told the London conference that the gravity anomaly was four miles long and three miles wide. “We think it is the source of the Bushveld Complex. It could be the largest mineral discovery of our species”.

The response to date from South African geologists has been muted and highly sceptical with some industry participants viewing the claims as another manifestation of Friedland’s business “showmanship”.

But it has to be taken seriously because of the huge copper discoveries that Ivanhoe’s geologists have made in the Democratic Republic of Congo on ground away from the main Copperbelt region where Ivanhoe has developed the Kamoa mine and is now claiming it will duplicate this strike on the adjacent Western Forelands ground.

According to Ivanhoe’s 2023 fourth quarter report the three exploration rights making up the Mokopane Feeder project are the farms Blinkwater 244R, Moordrift  289KR and Lisbon 288KR which cover 80km² forming a continuous block on the southwest border of the Platreef project.

According to Ivanhoe “a gravity-high anomaly based on wide-spaced historical Council for Geoscience data was interpreted to represent a primary feeder zone to the Rustenburg Layered Suite of the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex”.

An initial drilling programme of 4,000m of diamond core drilling was due to start during the 2024 March quarter.

If this eventually pans out the way Friedland is suggesting then the discovery will rank with arguably the biggest geological oversight in South African mining industry to date.

That was in the early 1980’s when geologists working for the former Anglovaal overlooked the diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes that became the Venetia diamond mine in Limpopo Province despite prospecting for copper on that very ground.

The mine was instead discovered by De Beers after the group negotiated a joint exploration agreement with Anglovaal over ground owned by both groups.