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Sibanye-Stillwater eyes Zambia’s Mopani Copper Mines

Mopani complex. Image by Arne Wilson | WikiMedia.

Expansion-minded Sibanye-Stillwater (JSE: SSW) (NYSE: SBSW) is interested in Zambia’s Mopani Copper Mines (MCM), the mine and smelter complex looking for new investors after Glencore sold the asset to the state firm ZCCM-IH in January last year.

Chief executive Neal Froneman, who has urged gold miners to consolidate, said on Wednesday the company had expressed its interest around a year ago. While it remains interested, he thinks “the market is just not conducive at this stage to doing value-accretive transactions.”

“It’s not a buyer’s market, which is why we’ve been quiet. There’s still too much froth,” Froneman said during an investor call in August.

The precious metal company has been expanding into the battery metals in the past two years, including acquiring half of ioneer Ltd’s (ASX: INR) lithium-boron project in Nevada in September 2021.

Sibanye also attempted to buy the Santa Rita nickel and Serrote copper mines in Brazil, but walked away from the $1 billion deal due to what it called “technical issues” it was not aware of when presenting the offer.

Looking for investors

ZCCM-IH hired investment bank Rothschild & Co in June to help find a new investor to upgrade and expand Mopani, which is more than 90 years old.

The operation has the potential to produce 225,000 tonnes of copper a year, nearly three times its expected 2022 production, but it needs investment of at least $300 million to fund a complex underground expansion.

Copper production in Zambia, Africa’s second largest producer of the metal, dropped to 800,696 tonnes last year from 837,996 tonnes in 2020, official figures show.

Analysts expect shortages of the orange metal, as well of cobalt, nickel and other industrial materials needed for the shift to a low carbon world, partly due to underinvestment in the mining sector and accelerating demand. 

(With files from Reuters)