Over 200 workers of the Kombat copper mine in the Otjozodjupa region near Otavi have been ‘retrenched’, as the mine is allegedly expected to immediately
The mine is owned by Canadian company Trigon Metals Inc.
Retrenchment reports on Thursday came from some of Kombat’s 220 employees, who, preferring anonymity, alleged the mine is not offering any retrenchment packages. The employees consist of full-time staff, local contractors as well as 80 women employed on a part-time rotational basis as part of the company’s community garden agricultural development project. Although Namibia is currently not a major producer of copper, the drop in international copper prices by about 20% since the beginning of 2022 could be considered a deciding factor by mine management to either close down or enter into care and maintenance, until such time that rebounding prices justify reopening.
Community members who spoke to New Era, also on condition of anonymity, said the reason for the mine’s abrupt ceasing of operations is because some residents who occupy houses where new mining activity is supposed to start, refuse to move.
“So far, two houses have been bulldozed, but the rest of the people refuse to budge,” a resident said.
The people speculate that the company will now mine underground, and therefore would need fewer workers.
While this publication attempted to confirm the retrenchment issue with the mine’s local management, all queries were referred to the Trigon headquarters in Canada. At the time of going to press, no confirmation was received from the company.
In addition, neither the mines ministry nor the Office of the Labour Commissioner or the Chamber of
Mines of Namibia confirmed knowledge of the retrenchments. In fact, officials at the mines ministry were under the impression that Kombat was about to ramp up operations and even recruit more employees.
Responding to queries from New Era, labour commissioner Henri Kassen confirmed that no notice of retrenchment was filed by the mine, but added that aggrieved workers may submit a dispute to the commission.
Job Muniaro, secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), said he knew nothing of the ‘retrenchment’, and asked for contact details of workers from New Era.
During the first week of this month, Trigon Metals provided an operational update and review of mining performance, ore processing and copper concentrate shipments.
“To date, 1 103 312 tonnes of material have been mined, including pre-stripping, 120 775 tonnes of ore have been mined at an average grade of 0.92% copper and 6.9 g/t silver. 34 762 tonnes of ore grading 0.85% copper and 10.97 g/t silver have been fed into the mill and processed, producing 861.4 tonnes of concentrate grading 19.75% copper and 271.3 g/t silver. To date, 548 tonnes of concentrate have been shipped and revenue received,” the update stated.
In the same document, Trigon’s president and CEO Jed Richardson commented: “The Kombat Mine is advancing towards achieving commercial production. During this process, a number of challenges arose that were addressed successfully. A new loan facility was arranged, the processing plant capacity was increased to 350 tonnes per day, and a second
open pit, which will soon be yielding higher grade sulphide ore, was developed.” The statement added that working capital issues which had previously hampered production were overcome with refinancing and a US$2.5 million advance.
“The mine is currently meeting its financial obligations from the sale of concentrates. Trigon is also in advanced discussions on the official sale of silver revenues in a streaming agreement that will bring in additional capital necessary to advance underground development”, they stated.
Through its 45-year operating history, Kombat had been an underground mine, and Trigon planned to return to underground mining to increase copper and silver grades, lower operating costs as well as boost production and profitability.
The Kombat Mine commenced operations originally in 1962, producing until 2008, with total output reaching 12.46 million tonnes of ore grading 2.6% copper on average.
It is estimated the mine has US$100 million worth of usable infrastructure in place, including a 1 100 tonne/day mill, an 800m shaft with two other vertical shafts, extensive underground workings, a tailings facility, ramp systems, mine buildings and a concentrator.
Despite a successful operation with all the necessary elements for continued success, they were forced to shut down due to mismanagement and underground flooding in 2008.