"Community issues are a great challenge, and there is a growing expectation on mining companies to deliver where the government is unable to deliver."
Can you give an overview of METC and the company’s history and role in the mining industry?
METC was established as a relatively small outfit in 2017. We have since expanded into a medium-sized EPCM company that designs and builds metallurgical plants for mines in an open and flexible manner, not only in South Africa but on the continent of Africa and beyond.
Size-wise, we can be regarded as a boutique engineering firm, despite this, we have a broad range of expertise and experience within the group. In the present very volatile international environment, this gives us the added benefit of being flexible and able to tailor operational modus operandi to both mid-tier and major clients in a wide variety of environments throughout Africa and beyond.
We are not commodity-specific and will work with any mid-tier and major clients requiring our expertise and services.
Can you highlight some key projects METC has been involved in?
Thus far we have delivered more than 70 projects. Our first project together as a team was the Chemaf Mutoshi project in collaboration with Outotec, where we provided both basic and detailed engineering, procurement, logistics and construction support for a US$420 million green-fields copper and cobalt recovery plant in Kolwezi, DRC.
In 2019, MMG appointed METC to complete a feasibility study for a 2.2 million mt/y sulphide copper and 2.2 million mt/y oxide copper concentrator at their Kinsevere mine in Katanga province, DRC. The required scope of work for the feasibility study included engineering design, implementation planning and procurement of long-lead items, in preparation for the implementation phase.
We were also involved in Orion Minerals’ Prieska project, where we provided engineering review and design input on some aspects of the project.
What is the company’s strategy and approach to reduce costs?
We believe that being a medium-sized company is often a better delivery vehicle than big corporates as we are not encumbered by one-size-fits-all expectations and corporate requirements and are better able to individually tailor designs to bring the best possible value to the client.
How common is the tailings re-treatment process in the Southern African region?
Tailings-reclamation is quite common, but project scale and ownership often pose challenges, especially since in South Africa many tailings-dams have been around for a very long period of time and have undergone many previous attempts at re-processing. Each project must be carefully examined. Materials in tailings dams are locked up for a reason. Some are easier to extract as technology has significantly improved, but others are quite refractory and extremely hard to extract.
Care must be taken to investigate the most practical and cost-effective solutions, as tailings retreatment can become quite expensive.
Where possible it is often an advantage if geographical tailings areas can be consolidated and retreatment plants built jointly. Some of the gold and PGMs remaining in tailings dams are very recoverable, and it just needs to be carefully managed. The present socio-economic climate surrounding illegal miners and surrounding communities also needs to be carefully addressed.
How would you describe the current state of the South African mining industry?
Broadly speaking, the South African mining industry has been on something of a downward trend for some time. However, current increased commodity prices are breathing life back into the industry.
More projects are coming online driven purely by pricing, but many structural challenges need to be addressed. Community issues are a great challenge, and there is a growing expectation on mining companies to deliver where the government is unable to deliver.
South Africa has an extremely high and worrisome unemployment rate, and there is a huge, and sometimes unrealistic, expectation from communities for mining companies to improve their livelihoods. The real duty of delivering a working economy should rightly fall on the government, but instead, pressure has increasingly fallen on mining companies, particularly those operating in impoverished areas.
Despite the many challenges, South Africa has good infrastructure, industrial capacity and expertise, and is still a great base from which to launch projects.