Copper in Africa: South Africa, DRC, Zambia

Copper in Africa: South Africa, DRC, ZambiaAfrica is one of the most important sources of copper in the world, with production coming primarily from Zambia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Katanga Province. In 2008, South Africa produced 89,700 tonnes of copper while Zambia produced 131,400 tonnes, according to Mining Intelligence Database (MID).

Other copper mines in Africa can be found in Marrakech, Morocco, as well as in Cameroon and Botswana.

South Africa

South Africa is where commercial-scale copper mining in Africa started. In 1966, Palabora Mining Company (OTCMKTS:PBOAF) opened the region’s first open-pit copper mine in the Loolekop central zone in Northwestern South Africa. The mine has remained one of the largest and deepest open-pit mines in the world. Today, Palabora produces about 80,000 tonnes of copper a year.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Katanga Province is located on the Central African Copperbelt and is known for its vast mineral resources, including copper, cobalttinuranium and diamonds. Copper is the province’s most important commodity.

One of the largest-scale copper miners in the DRC is Katanga Mining (TSX:KAT), which is working on two joint ventures Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) and DRC Copper and Cobalt Project (DCP).

KCC produced its first copper cathode at the end of 2007 once Phase I of a four-phase refurbishment of the brownfield site was complete, the company’s website states. Katanga aquired DCP in 2008 through its merger with Nikanor. Both ventures operate on adjacent properties in the DRC. Katanga is looking to merge KCC and DCP in the future.

Australia-listed Tiger Resources (ASX:TGS) is also a copper-cobalt producer in the DRC. Tiger is looking forward to producing its first 25,000-tpa copper cathode from the SXEW plant at the Kipoi project in the coming months. It is also planning for the next phase in the project’s development.

Also in the DRC is Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN), which has been exploring in Africa since 1994. The company is working on developing two copper projects — the Kamoa copper project and Kipushi zinc-copper project — in the Central African Copperbelt.

Zambia

Zambia is Africa’s biggest copper producer. The metal accounts for more than 70 percent of the country’s export revenues.

Zambia’s mines minister, Yamfwa Mukanga, said in April that the country expects copper output to reach 1.1 million tonnes annually by 2015, an increase of 34 percent from current levels, according to Bloomberg. As of 2009, Zambia was the eighth-largest copper producer in the world, as per MID.

A major copper mine in Zambia is the Chibuluma South mine, which reached full production in July 2006, producing 40,000 tonnes of copper ore a month, Mining Weekly reported. The mine’s owner, Metorex (OTCMKTS:MRXLY), began commercial operations at the location a year earlier. The company is focused mainly on copper and cobalt production in the Central African Copperbelt. It produced 76,409 tons of copper in 2010.

Here are some snippets on a few of the other copper mining companies operating in Zambia:

  • First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM): This mineral exploration and development company focuses on producing copper, gold, nickel and acid. One of its main projects is the Sentinel copper mine in Zambia, which is located in the northwest part of the country, approximately 93 miles west of Solwezi. The project spans nearly 600 miles. First Quantum received approval for the project in May 2012 and construction began shortly after. The mine is expected to have a lifespan of 15 years. It’s expected that Sentinel will have a production rate as high as 300,000 tonnes of copper annually during its first six years of activity.
  • Vedanta Resources (LSE:VED): In addition to copper mining, Vedanta is engaged in iron ore, zinc, aluminum and oil and gas exploration and development. Its projects include an integrated copper operation in Zambia that spans three mines: Konkola, Nchanga and Nampundwe. The company’s copper business is owned by Konkola Copper Mines. The Konkola underground copper mine has a minimum of a 24-year lifespan and produces a grade of 3.55 percent. During the 2013 fiscal year, Vedanta’s Zambian copper operations produced 216,000 tonnes of copper.
  • Equinox Minerals (private): Equinox’s primary asset is its 100-percent-owned Lumwana copper mine in Zambia, which produces 2 tonnes of ore annually. The project has proven and probable reserves of approximately 24.4 tonnes of copper. The mine is also estimated to contain 30 tonnes of uranium.
  • Glencore Xstrata (LSE:GLEN): Glencore has more than 150 mining and metallurgical sites worldwide, including a number of copper mining sites in Africa. These projects include the Mopani copper-cobalt mine in Zambia. The project consists of four underground mines. The company also operates the newly developed Mutanda copper project, which contains high-grade copper and cobalt. This project is located in Katanga Province. Glencore Xstrata’s Kansuki copper and cobalt pre-development project borders the Mutanda development.