All-female exploration crew drilling for iron-ore in Northern Cape

An all-female exploration crew has commenced drilling activities on two new prospecting sites in the Northern Cape of South Africa, where Kumba Iron Ore, with its drilling partner Rosond, is rolling out a fleet of next-generation exploration rigs that incorporate completely automated rod handling and are operated by remote control from secure air-conditioned cabins.

“As part of our mission to re-imagine mining to improve people’s lives, we’re embracing technology and transformation in our exploration programme,” Kumba CEO Themba Mkhwanazi told Mining Weekly. Advertisement

This is already delivering safety, productivity and transformation benefits for the Anglo American group company, which in the six months to June 30 delivered earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of R17.4-billion at a margin of 55%.

“We’re proud to announce that we’ve deployed our first all-female exploration drilling crew at Sishen. We believe this is a first in South Africa, if not the broader world, and we’ll be looking for more of these opportunities to help us achieve our goal of being truly sustainable, right from the start of the value chain,” said Mkhwanazi. Advertisement

Kumba spends R200-million a year on exploration, which this week bore fruit in the form of both Kumba and Anglo boards this week approving the go-ahead  for the expenditure of R7-billion to convert the Kapstevel South discovery at Kolomela into a mine.

“We’ve always been of the view that an important component of running our business is seeking and finding new exploration targets, because that sustains our business into the long term,” said Mkhwanazi.

Kumba has, over the last eight years, been exploring in the Northern Cape, where it has identified anomalies and targets that have become a great focus for the company as potential sources for other new mining developments.


Kumba technical and projects executive head Glen Mc Gavigan expressed the view to Mining Weekly that South Africa needs to explore more to find new mines and to grow the country’s mining base.

He did so after Mining Weekly raised this month’s 30-page discussion document of the economic transformation committee (ETC) of the African National Congress (ANC), which calls for the listings of mining companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to be encouraged and for South African retail investors willing to invest in those listed mining exploration companies to be incentivised, as happens in other mining jurisdictions.

Of Mining Weekly’s excitement about the ANC ETC’s encouragement of exploration, Mc Gavigan pointed out Kumba’s strong ongoing focus on exploration close to the company’s operations: “We’ve really been focusing on the area between Sishen and Kolomela. It’s about an 80 km zone between our two main operations. If you think about the Northern Cape, all of the deposits were discovered by outcrops, so that means that there was a surface outcrop that obviously started the mine, and then as you mine, you find more. But we do think the remainder of the Northern Cape is prospective.

“We’ve done a lot of work with aerial surveys and different geophysical techniques to identify potential deposits that are covered by the Kalahari sand and a lot of younger sediments. That’s really been our focus for the last eight years. We first did that work around 2003 and 2004, and we’ve been drilling in some of these ever since.

“The project we announced today, Kapstevel South, is a product of that exploration as well, and it’s good to see exploration coming through. Last year we announced the Heuningkrans deposit, which we discovered north of Kolomela, and which we’re also looking to bring to book,” Mc Gavigan said.

In addition, the two new prospective sites announced at the beginning of the year are now being drilled by the all-female crew.

“Exploration is a long-lead item but having done this for circa ten years really does put us on the front foot. We’re looking for iron-ore in the Northern Cape, but I think the Northern Cape, as a mineral province and being so vast, has huge potential, and it all starts with exploration,” Mc Gavigan emphasised.


During the media conference, Kumba was also asked about its step-out strategy of past years, which included potential mineral diversification beyond iron-ore.

“For the moment we’re very much focused on iron-ore and the Northern Cape and the drivers are existing infrastructure because in the game of bulk commodities, it’s all about infrastructure and having that installed infrastructure that makes the difference with prospects and projects, and hence the focus.

“The step-out we spoke about a couple of years ago, was really around signalling the fact that, as a business, stakeholders would expect us to be able to look at the longer-term options for the business.

“What we were really saying then was that as we navigate through our strategy, which is primarily around margin enhancement and extending the life of our mines, at some point we do need to consider what could be next.

“When we mentioned step-out, we were at a stage where we did not have the capability in-house that we have now. We’ve subsequently beefed up our business development team, which is very much focused on what we’re seeing now from an exploration perspective, and essentially what might come out of that from a business development perspective.

“As a result of the lockdown, we had to suspend our exploration activities at Ploegfontein and Heuningkrans, but exploration has now resumed at these prospects. Both have long implementation time horizons and won’t be affected by the delay. Our exploration rights are secure and these are included in the Kolomela mining right.

“We also gained access to two new prospective targets and after the lifting of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, commenced drilling activities on both,” said Mkhwanazi. 

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