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 Copper developer Orion Minerals MD and CEO Errol Smart believes that South Africa is standing at a crossroads in terms of the country’s mining future.

Speaking at the Paydirt Africa Downunder conference, in Perth, Smart noted that there was “incredible mineral potential” in South Africa. While there were a lot of challenges, the country also offered significant opportunities.

“South Africa has the opportunity to go through major change that could completely change the investment landscape going forward,” Smart said.

“South Africa is starting to recognise the challenge and starting to react to it. We see that business is stepping into a vacuum. We see that the regulator, the government and industry are starting to walk hand-in-hand. It’s not going to change everything overnight. Things are going to take a little bit of time to change.

“There’s a lot to fix, but it is going to get fixed, and the upside is enormous. And that’s what we’ve got to be focused on. We’ve got to stop crying over the missed opportunity and look at this great opportunity that’s going to emerge from it. Because the minerals are in the ground. The people are good. And there’s a lot that can be done. We’re in a very interesting space in the mineral economy in the world, and it’s the right time for South Africa to step forward again and grow,” Smart said.

Orion is building its Prieska copper/zinc mine in South Africa, where a 2020 bankable feasibility study (BFS) estimated that the project would require a capital investment of A$413-million to produce some 22 000 t/y of copper and 70 000 t/y of zinc over an initial 12-year mine life, based on a 2.4-million-tonne-a-year operation.

The company has adjusted the development plan for Prieska.

The early production scenario will enable revenue generation and potentially reduce upfront external funding requirements by phasing the mine build. It allows for scaling up to the full-scale project outlined in the BFS as sufficient funding becomes available.

A BFS for the early mining development plan at Prieska is still in the works and targeted for completion later this year.

Orion recently awarded a six-month trial mining contract to P2 Mining, a subsidiary of South African mining contractor Newrak Mining Group, to undertake the early works trial underground mining programme at Prieska.