Excursion: Tshipi grows in stature

Fully transformed manganese mine Tshipi Borwa continues to churn out the tonnes in the Northern Cape, writes Leon Louw.

Picture 11
Maintenance work on one of the haul trucks in the pit.
Image credit: Ntsimbintle Mining

The manganese and iron ore fields of the Kalahari have been a source of celebration for several budding mining companies. But it has also resulted in many shattered dreams. With the recent uptick in manganese and iron ore prices, the ‘die hard’ miners that stuck it out in the red Kalahari sand of the Northern Cape were rewarded, and rewarded well.

One of the success stories in the manganese fields of the Northern Cape is that of Tshipi Borwa, an asset in the portfolio of Ntsimbintle Mining. Tshipi has continued to grow in stature over the past 10 years and is now regarded as a primary producer of manganese in Africa and globally. Emerging from a grinding global economic downturn, and amid louder calls for economic transformation in South Africa, the fully transformed Ntsimbintle rewarded its shareholders with a whopping R300-million dividend payment earlier this year.

The processing plant at Tshipi is about 2km from the pit. 
Image credit: Ntsimbintle MiningThe material at port is loaded onto bulk vessels with equipment called ram spreaders. 
Image credit: Ntsimbintle MiningThe pit at Tshipi Borwa is approximately 1.6km long and 110m deep. 
Image credit: Ntsimbintle Mining

Ntsimbintle was born out of South Africa’s own transformation when in 2002, the South African government announced it wanted to broaden ownership of the country’s strategic resources that were at that time almost completely controlled by established big businesses.

According to Saki Macozoma, chairperson of Ntsimbintle, it was the right time to build a legacy. In 2003, nine black groups formed Ntsimbintle to create a Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment company to pursue manganese opportunities in South Africa. Today, Ntsimbintle consists of 16 shareholders.

Tshipi Borwa, part of Tshipi é Ntle Manganese Mining, is regarded as one of the five largest manganese exporters globally and the largest single manganese mine in South Africa. During the first four months of 2017, the surface mine achieved monthly production volumes that, should it continue, will result in an annual output of about three million tonnes.

In the pit

The manganese ore at Tshipi Borwa is extracted from one pit that is approximately 1.6km long and 110m deep. The pit, flanked by steep, 110m high walls, is located 2km from the primary crusher. Between 10 and 12 benches characterises the typical open-pit design of a manganese mine in the Kathu region. The width of the benches varies between 5m and 10m, depending on the material in which it is established. Benches where clay ground dominates is 5m wide, and all other benches are about 10m in width. Ore is mined from one manganese seam (70–80m from surface), which consists of six zones, namely X, Y, Z, M, C, and N. According to Macozoma, the life of mine (LOM) stripping ratio is about 10:41 in bank cubic metres (bcm). “We have a mining contractor on site — Aveng Moolmans carried out all the physical mining in the pit, while BME International is subcontracted by Aveng to do all the blasting,” says Macozoma.


Tshipi is located on the southern extremity of the Kalahari Manganese Field (KMF), about 47km west-northwest of Kuruman and 35km north of Kathu. The KMF extends continuously in a north-westerly direction, and is 35km long and 5–20km wide, covering an area of close to 23 000ha. The banded iron formation (BIF)-hosted manganese deposits of the KMF are estimated to contain some 4 200 million tonnes (Mt) or 77% of the world’s known inventory of land-based manganese metal.

Mineralisation in the lower manganese orebody (LMO) consists of banded, very fine-grained braunite-kutnahorite lutite, containing concretionary ovoids, laminae, and lenticels of manganese-calcite with which hausmanite is commonly associated. Subordinate amounts of hematite, jacobsite, and rhodochrosite are also present. The LMO is 37.5m thick on average, and is subdivided on the basis of geological features and metal content into six subzones, termed N, C, M, Z, Y, and X from the base to the top. The grouped N, C, and M zones average 19.5m thickness, with a 37.5% manganese (Mn) grade and a manganese/iron ore (Mn/Fe) ratio of 8.5. This constitutes the graded ore mined by Tshipi.

Flexible operation

Tshipi is a load and haul operation that uses a mining contractor (Aveng Moolmans). The fleet consists of excavators, shovels, dump trucks, drill rigs, and ancillary equipment. “We prefer to use a contractor as it enables the mine to be more flexible to respond to evolving market conditions,” says Macozoma.

In addition to Aveng, Tshipi has two other contractors on site: the secondary crushing and screening activities are done by Africa Mining and Crushing (AMC), while Motsi is responsible for material handling. Tshipi also makes use of several smaller contractors that perform ancillary services. Macozoma says that preference is given to local empowered suppliers when contracts are awarded. The mine employs a total of 800 people, including those who work for the contractors, of which 199 represents the permanent complement employed by Tshipi.

Picture 5
Sunset over the manganese fields of the Kalahari.
Image credit: Ntsimbintle Mining

Tshipi in a nutshell

  • Tshipi is one of the largest and lowest cost manganese exporters globally, being the third largest based on the current run rate of three million tonnes per annum.
  • The mine has an abundant and shallow resource, with resources to sustain a LOM in excess of 100 years.
  • Flexible on-site and off-site infrastructure capacity allows for a rapid response to evolving market conditions. This includes a state-of-the-art rapid load-out station, which allows the mine to load a train in less than three hours, compared to the minimum required by Transnet of 12 hours.
  • Tshipi has exported more than seven million tonnes of manganese since inception, with minimum quality issues.

In the plant

According to Macozoma, the only infrastructure at Tshipi’s processing plant currently owned and operated by the company is the primary crushing station, as well as the rail load-out station and associated facilities. “The remainder of the processing infrastructure is owned and operated by AMC,” says Macozoma.

The run of mine (ROM) ore is delivered to the processing facility via dump trucks from the mining operations and deposited on the ROM stockpile. The ore is reclaimed from the ROM stockpile via front-end loaders and deposited onto an 800mm square aperture grizzly. A fixed pecker is mounted adjacent to the grizzly to break oversize rocks. The ore is transported via an apron feeder to a vibrating grizzly and thereafter deposited into the primary jaw crusher. This is a 60 × 52 Osborn double toggle jaw crusher, currently operating at a closed side setting of 150mm, resulting in a crushed discharge of nominally less than 400mm.

The crushed ore is transported via conveyors to the primary stockpile area, from where it discharges via a tunnel fed by front-end loader into an AMC-owned and operated Metso LC 3054 mobile jaw crusher. The crushed product is transported via mobile conveyors to a double-deck vibrating screen. The feed is screened at 75mm and 6mm, with the -6mm material being stockpiled as fines product. The -75+6mm material is stockpiled as lumpy product, and the +75mm material is conveyed to a Tshipi-owned Metso HP300 cone crusher. The undersize from this crusher is conveyed back to the screen for sizing, as the secondary crusher is operating in closed circuit with the screen. This plant is termed the ‘semi fixed plant’.

ROM material is also fed in parallel to the circuit described above, to one stand-alone primary and secondary crushing and screening stream. From here the lumpy and fines material are hauled by Motsi to the loading areas to load trains using the rapid load-out station, or alternatively a front-end loader to load road trucks.

Tshipi is a load and haul operation that uses a mining contractor. 
Image credit: Ntsimbintle MiningConstruction work at the Tshipi processing plant. 
Image: Ntsimbintle Mining

Water and power issues

Tshipi is not connected to the Eskom grid. Power to the mine is supplied from the Powerhouse: a set of five synchronised diesel generators with a capacity of 10MVA. “When the project commenced in 2012, Eskom did not have infrastructure in the area. There was also a shortage of supply into the grid resulting from key generation projects being behind schedule and poor availability from the large coal-fired power stations. However, provision has been made for the connection of grid power as soon as agreement is reached,” explains Macozoma.

Potable water for mine use is sourced from the Sedibeng Vaal Gamagara pipeline. The mine uses about 28 000m3 of water each month. Processing water is sourced from the pit and the stormwater dam, which in turn is topped up with Sedibeng Water when required.

The mine is in an extremely arid region of South Africa, but uses minimum water to operate. “Tshipi is not wet screening its product and water use is therefore limited to potable water, with limited water required for processing. Tshipi furthermore uses a chemical for dust suppression in order to reduce water consumption,” says Macozoma.

Rail issues

Tshipi is unique in that it owns a rapid load-out station that can load a train in less than three hours. It has a good relationship with South African rail transport company Transnet. “Transnet has and will continue to be a key partner in the Tshipi business to move the product from the mine to the Port of Ngqura near Port Elizabeth,” says Macozoma. When construction at Tshipi began, the mine had no allocation with Transnet. However, after successful negotiations and in line with Transnet strategy to allocate rail to junior miners, it was eventually awarded.

Tshipi has an 8km siding to accommodate up to three trains at any point in time, which means the mine can load a train even if a loaded train has not departed from the siding. The mine’s own logistics team designed and developed the ‘skiptainer solution’, whereby product is loaded onto the ‘skiptainer’ instead of the customary bulk wagons. The material is then moved to port and loaded onto a ship using equipment called ram spreaders (which were also developed and installed by the Tshipi team), to load a bulk vessel. “This solution, developed in partnership with Transnet, resulted in more than one million tonnes of additional capacity for the manganese industry,” explains Macozoma. He adds that rail transport represents 40% of the total cost of the product when exported to customers. The main export market for Tshipi’s product is China, with about 90% of total production shipped out to the East.

Recipe for success

Asked what the recipe for success of a new mine in the Kalahari would be, Macozoma answers that the Tshipi team has remained focused on all aspects of the operation, from mining to marketing. “We have invested heavily in appropriate infrastructure and in our people. Our disciplined governance is another competitive example. The company’s shareholders are active in the resolution of any problems the mine has, but do not interfere in the duties of management,” says Macozoma.

Given that manganese is a significant component used in the manufacturing of steel, which is driven by the global markets, it is expected that demand for manganese will remain strong. “Of importance, though,” warns Macozoma, “is the evolving competitive landscape. Hence, the Tshipi strategies to reduce the cost base to maintain a competitive position on the global cost curve.” Based on the latest resource declaration, enough manganese remains in the ground to keep the mine going for another 100 years.

Although there are no plans for expansion, Macozoma says that the mine is always prepared for market conditions to change. “If, as it has happened before, we need to ramp up rapidly and get more product to the market because of favourable prices, we can and have done so. We will cooperate with adjacent mines where it makes commercial sense to all parties,” says Macozoma. An example is the mining of the boundary pillar between Tshipi and Mamatwan mine of South 32, which Macozoma and his team drove until it was approved by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Ntsimbintle, the majority shareholder in Tshipi, has two other projects in the northern part of the KMF, which the company is pursuing with other partners.

Even though Macozoma admits that Ntsimbintle is on the alert for any possible deals that could be lucrative for its shareholders, the company is not actively pursuing other minerals. “Possibilities,” according to Macozoma, “includes potential consolidation in the manganese play to multi-commodity opportunities.”

The railway siding on site at Tshipi. 
Image credit: Ntsimbintle MiningBME has been contracted to do the blasting in the pit. 
Image credit: Leah Hawker

Advice for young entrepreneurs

Macozoma is quick to give advice to young mining entrepreneurs. “New entrants must realise that opportunities are not just in mining the commodities. There is a long supply chain of services to the mining sector, and starting there is a good point of entry. Mining is a long-term industry and should be approached as such. Choose your partners well, treat shareholders as partners and keep them informed, and avoid shortcuts and excessive debt,” Macozoma advises.

Despite Tshipi’s immense success, Macozoma is not happy about Minister Zwane’s Mining Charter III. “The Mining Charter is bad news for the industry. It introduces arbitrariness in various ways and guises. It's not the empowerment provisions that are the major problem, but how they are introduced and the levels on some respects. Mining is a risky and capital-intensive business. Maintaining an investor-friendly regime is essential, especially in commodities in the sunset of their existence. A delicate and intelligent balance is needed — not an ideology-driven blunt instrument that responds to ANC internal politics,” says Macozoma.

Yet, Macozoma says there is more to look forward to. Mokala Manganese, an entity in which Ntsimbintle owns 51% and that is also located in the Northern Cape, is considering the development of a new manganese project with a total resource of approximately 80 million tonnes, 12 million tonnes of which is mineable by opencast means. A feasibility study has been completed on the project, with the Mining Right application submitted thereafter. The award of this mining right is imminent. A decision will be made by all shareholders post receipt of all permits on the development of the project.

Just recently, Ntsimbintle reached agreement with Lehating Mining and its major shareholder, Traxys Projects LP, to amalgamate the Lehating Mining Right and the future mining right in respect of the Wessels prospecting area into one mine. The soon-to-be Lehating/Khwara amalgamated mine is one of the few remaining high-grade (49%) manganese deposits in the KMF, with approximately 25 million tonnes of mineable manganese ore.

The years of dedication, determination, and hard work have paid off: the future for Ntsimbintle, its partners, and its shareholders looks brighter than ever before.

“It is an honour to be part of such an incredible journey of transformation and to finally see the vast mineral wealth of our country being shared more equitably among the people than ever before in our history,” Macozoma concludes.

Click below to read the October 2017 issue of Mining Mirror

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