THE BOTTOM LINE
Taking a dump and making it environmentally friendly
That’s the vision of DRDGold CEO Niel Pretorius
The vision outlined by DRDGold CEO Niel Pretorius of consolidating millions of tonnes of unsightly tailings dumps west of Johannesburg, processing them through a mega-plant and cleaning up an environmental mess is hard to argue against.
However, the key stumbling block to the plan could be the increasing switch by gold companies in SA to pre-mined material lying in vast dumps on the surface near processing plants, offering quick, relatively cheap and safe ounces.
While DRDGold is certainly a dedicated tailings retreatment specialist, pushing more than two million tonnes of material a month through its Ergo plant near Brakpan, others are fast catching up.
AngloGold Ashanti owns the Mine Waste Solutions tailings retreatment business, while Harmony has a sizeable tailings retreatment business it plans to grow. With scant money going into large underground gold mines apart from sustaining capital and certainly no new mines built in recent years or plans for any such operations, this is the future of South African gold mining.
Pan African Resources recently shut its underground Evander mine as it brought its R1.74bn Elikhulu tailings project into production as quickly as it could, intending to treat at least a million tonnes a month.
Whether DRDGold will achieve its vision over the next two years remains to be seen. The economic sense is apparent – by consolidating more tailings, the size of the potential plant could be doubled to 2.4 million tonnes, removing harmful dumps more quickly and placing their remains on a far more environmentally friendly dump.