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Ore reduction forces Skorpion Zinc to temporarily close refinery

2019-10-14  Edgar Brandt

Ore reduction forces Skorpion Zinc to temporarily close refinery

WINDHOEK - The owners of the Skorpion Zinc Mine in southern Namibia, Vedanta Zinc International (VZI), on Friday confirmed that the mine’s refinery will be placed on an extended plant shutdown from early November 2019 to end-February 2020. VZI made the decision based on a substantial reduction of ore from its Pit 112 resulting in the operational and financial decision to close the refinery for about four months. When the refinery is temporarily closed, Skorpion will use the time to conduct targeted maintenance work across the refinery. 

During an exclusive interview with New Era, Skorpion Zinc’s Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Manager Nora Ndopu, confirmed that the reduction in ore came about as a result of a slope failure in Skorpion’s Pit 112 in early May 2019. “This in turn has meant that the amount of ore mined from Pit 112 has reduced substantially for a period while slope failure remediation and waste mining operations continue – meaning there is less ore for the Skorpion refinery to process.  

Due to the failure that occurred in the active mining side of Pit 112, it meant that no further work has been possible there,” explained Ndopu, adding that mining actually stopped for about six to eight weeks to ensure worker safety while the pit was being repaired. 

“The extended shutdown will unfortunately have an unavoidable impact on stakeholders at Skorpion – whether direct or business partner employees. Skorpion management has successfully engaged with both unionised and non-unionised labour as well as business partners on how to manage this period,” Ndopu stated. 

She added that the mine was in communication with the Mineworkers Union of Namibia regarding the refinery closure and added that all employees are expected to be back in full-force by the end of February 2020. She noted that some 60 employees had already accepted voluntary separation packages. 

“Management has reached an agreement with the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) around voluntary severance packages and appropriate reductions in remuneration of affected employees during the shutdown period. As regards arrangements for non-unionised labour, discussions were similarly concluded on voluntary severance packages and the need for affected employees to utilise their currently available leave allocations over the shutdown,” said Ndopu. 

When VZI acquired the resource from Anglo American in 2011, Skorpion Zinc’s life-of-mine (LoM) was expected to be 2015. Since then, VZI has extended Skorpion’s LoM three times, the most recent and final extension taking it to 2020. 

“The 2020 LoM date has been discussed since at least 2016. VZI and Skorpion management have always been very frank with all our employees, stakeholders and business partners about these timelines,” Ndopu stated. 

She continued that Skorpion management has also been engaging with government and all relevant stakeholders on the extended plant shutdown and its possible impacts. 

Said Ndopu: “VZI and Skorpion are committed to ensuring that all affected employees receive all necessary support and that their redundancy packages are as beneficial as possible. We will also ensure that all employees, community members and other stakeholders are kept fully up to date with the process as it is implemented.”  

Ndopu reiterated that Vedanta Resources and VZI’s commitment to Namibia remains unchanged, noting that VZI is working on a number of possible new projects, including Gergarub, as well as several greenfields options, which support Skorpion’s intention to remain Namibia and Africa’s one-stop-shop for zinc beneficiation.  

“Skorpion Zinc remains committed to the future development of the Gergarub project through the Gergarub Exploration and Mining (Pty) Ltd joint venture company with partner Trevali’s Rosh Pinah Zinc. Significant progress has been made in both administrative and project planning in the recent past. A feasibility study conducted in 2015 did not yield an economically viable project, but work has been ongoing since then to unlock future potential,” Ndopu concluded. 

2019-10-14  Edgar Brandt

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