Harare - Zimplats, the Zimbabwean operating unit of Impala Platinum (Implats), is developing a new 2.2 million-ton mine to replace two mines whose resources will be depleted by 2019.

The news of the development of a new mine by Zimplats comes hardly a week after a senior Zimbabwean government official said the company’s $100 million (R1.05 billion) plans to upgrade its refinery in the country were not “significant” enough to meet government expectations.

Zimplats chief operating officer Stanley Segula said on Friday that the company was forging ahead with its refinery upgrade programme. The upgraded refinery would initially cater for the company’s own production feed.

“Zimplats is now looking at upgrading the refinery with new technology so that it can treat our matte [semi-processed ore] and also align ourselves with the national objectives of local beneficiation.

“On commissioning, we will process matte from the existing smelter to produce final base metals,” Segula said.

This is expected to pacify government demands for local beneficiation.

Further upgrading of the facility, which was bought from BHP Billiton when Implats acquired the Zimplats operation, will enable it to process matte from other producers – such as Mimosa, which Zimplats jointly owns with Aquarius Platinum, and Unki, which is owned by Anglo American Platinum.

Zimplats, which operates massive mining and smelting operations in the country, currently ships 7 000 tons of matte for final refining in South Africa. It pays 10 percent of its revenue from mineral sales as commission to the South African refinery company.

Segula said the new mine being developed by Zimplats, Portal 5, would replace production from mines whose resources were near depletion.

“In July we will start developing a new mine under Portal 5 and start producing in 2019. It will replace two current mines and will have capacity of 2.2 million tons,” he said.

Mining executives said a new platinum mine, owned by Chinese investors, was also set to come into operation.

Global Platinum is said to be developing a massive platinum mining operation.

“Production is due to start; we understand it will be a massive mining operation,” a mining executive said yesterday.

Zimplats has over the past few years released 36 percent of its mining ground to new investors, although none of at least three other operators that have been granted licences has begun operations.

Zimplats said it had not received any response to its objection to the government’s move to take over half its mineral claims in Zimbabwe, totalling nearly 27 000ha. It also has the option of claiming compensation for the claims should its appeal and objection to the government takeover fail.

Zimplats, which is still 87 percent owned by Implats despite signing an earlier deal to cede majority control, last month reported a 9 percent increase in revenue and posted an operating profit of $36m for the quarter to March.

Company officials have now said a final indigenisation deal was in sight, although they declined to comment further, citing confidential negotiations with the government.

The government has pledged to review its empowerment policy, although any reviews are unlikely to be implemented in the mining sector because of its involvement in resources.

Banking executives said last week that they expected better indigenisation compliance thresholds by the end of the third quarter.

Zimplats mined 1.4 million tons of ore in the March quarter, a 17 percent increase on the previous corresponding period. It operated at a platinum group metals recovery rate of 81 percent while metal in concentrate for the period amounted to 121 148 ounces.

The stronger performance by Zimplats comes when times are difficult in the global economy and commodity prices are only starting to show signs of firming. Its increased commitment to and focus on Zimbabwean operations is expected to provide cover for flailing strike-hit operations in South Africa.