By Bester Kayaye
Despite local heavy mineral sands being lauded as superlative due to abundance in mineral content of 13% on average as compared to deposits from other countries, Malawi is yet to reap its benefits as energy and lack of proper transport systems continue to cripple operationalization of Makanjira heavy mineral sands mining project in Mangochi.
The deposit whose exploration started in 2002, was initially pursued by Australian engineering company Millennium Mining before Chinese firm MAWEI Mining took over and conducted feasibility studies from 2009 to November 2017 when it obtained the mining licence.
But PRO for the Ministry of Mining Christopher Banda told Mining & Trade Review that despite obtaining the mining license the company is yet to commence mining operations due to challenges in sourcing adequate power and lack of proper transportation models to ferry the minerals to the seaports for export to the world market.
Banda explained that initially the company planned to start mining in either late 2019 or early 2020 as it hoped the power and transportation woes would be sorted out by that time.
The company requires approximately 3MW to kick-start the project and 10MW for the rest of the mine life, and there is also a need to operationalize lake transport services from Makanjira to Chipoka to connect to the railway to Nacala for exporting.
Banda said: “MAWEI Mining obtained the mining license in 2017 but then in the year, they did not complete their environmental impact assessment report until last year when they were fully granted the mining license, and when inquired why they remained dormant they cited heavy rains, insufficient power and transportation constraints as key setbacks.”
“Heavy mineral sands have the highest potential to boost revenue generated from local extractive sector as these type of minerals are in a class of ore deposit which is an important source of zirconium, titanium, thorium, tungsten, and rare-earth elements, which are also fairing good on the market.”
Banda, however, stressed that the Ministry will continue monitoring all sector players to revoke and repossess all dormant licenses, and give them to serious investors.
Mawei Mining is expected to inject US$38.8-million in the first phase of the mining venture to run for one to 10-years years where, among others, it will be mining 10mt of ore per year producing Ilmenite ; 215,793 tonnes , Magnetite; 63,600 tonnes, Zirconite; 8300 tonnes and Rutile; 1,100 tonnes.
It is projected to rake in an approximate of US$29.2Million in annual revenue with a profit of US$5.4Million.
The feasibility studies Mawei Mining conducted at the cite affirms the availability of over 354 million tonnes ore containing Ilmenite; 9.48mt, magnetite; 1.648mt, Zirconite; 0.358mt, Rutile; 0,04mt and Monazite 0.017mt.
Information collected from survey reports indicates that Malawi’s heavy mineral sands have an average mineral content of 13%, which is higher compared to 10% for Richards Bay, in South Africa, 4,77% for Hillendale, in South Africa, 4,8% for Dongara, in Australia, 10,4% for Tamil Nadu, in India and 3% for Kwale, in Kenya.
Meanwhile, in a bid to increase electricity supplied against the increased demand for power Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has engaged the Mozambican power supply company EDM to increase by 60 MW the electricity it will be supplying the country under the Malawi-Mozambique interconnection deal.
If approved, the extra 60MW will add on the initially agreed 50MW, providing the local electricity distributor the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) an additional 110MW into its grid from the Interconnector.
Malawi’s mineral sector contributes less than one percent to the country’s gross domestic product with a number of medium to large scale mining projects failing to take off or realise their full potential due to a myriad of problems including power challenges, lack of adequate transport infrastructure and delays by authorities in approving mineral licenses and environmental impact assessment reports.