ARARE — The Zimbabwean unit of the world’s second-biggest platinum producer, Impala Platinum (Implats), will upgrade its smelter into a base-metals refinery for $100m in the next two years, an online news agency quoted a senior Zimplats official as saying on Friday.
The southern African country has the world’s second-largest known platinum reserves after South Africa. But mining companies such as Implats and Anglo American Platinum send the raw product to South Africa, where they already operate refineries, for processing.
President Robert Mugabe has given mining companies a two-year deadline to build a major precious metals refinery or risk a ban on raw exports.
The Source, an online business and financial news service, quoted Zimplats chief operating officer Stanley Segula as saying the mining company would upgrade its smelter Selous, west of Harare, into a base-metals refinery.
“We are going ahead to establish a refinery,” Mr Segula said during a tour of Zimplats mines in Ngezi, 150km south-west of Harare. “On commissioning, we will process matte from the existing smelter to produce final base metals.”
Zimplats did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
The unit is a key source of revenue for parent company Implats, which has been badly affected by a 19-week strike at its Rustenburg operations in South Africa. The strike is costing Implats 2,800oz a day in lost output.
Zimplats will eventually build a precious-metals refinery but Mr Segula did not give a timeline or cost.
Zimbabwe’s mining industry broadly supports the government proposal to build a new platinum refinery by 2016 but executives say that annual platinum output should reach 500,000oz annually to make the refinery viable.
Output from Zimbabwe rose to a production record of 430,000oz in 2013, up from 340,000oz the previous year.
Mining companies also say there is not enough electricity to run a power-hungry refinery smoothly.