Unki platinum mine output up 13% in Q1

Concentrator plant at Unki mine in Shurugwi

Output at Unki mine rose 13% in the first quarter of 2020, and the mine expects to restart its concentrator in May as Zimbabwe begins a phased relaxation of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The mine however expects to take a hit on output at the start of Q2 as it responds to conditions required for miners to reopen operations.

Platinum group metals production increased 13% to 49,000 ounces in the quarter, with platinum production up 13% to 21,800 ounces and palladium rising 15% to 19,600 ounces. This was due to improved concentrator throughput and recovery supported by mining volume increases, the mine’s holding company Amplats said in an update.

A lockdown announced at the end of March slowed down production, but the company was able to resume some operations due to subsequent exemptions.

“Unki operations were placed on care and maintenance when the lockdown period commenced in Zimbabwe on 30 March. Approval was granted by the Government of Zimbabwe for the operations to resume with a requirement to comply with the strict measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The mining operations reopened on 7 April following implementation of these measures, with the concentrator scheduled to start at the beginning of May whilst the smelter remains on care and maintenance,” Amplats reported.

Unki commissioned a new US$62 million smelter in 2019.

Outlook uncertain

On how operations have been affected by the shutdowns, Amplats says PGM production impact for Q1 2020 from the COVID-19 related shutdowns amounted to 61,000 PGM ounces across the group. Further output losses are anticipated.

“The Company estimates that the full impact of the shutdown in South Africa and Zimbabwe to the end of the extended lockdown period to 30 April 2020 will be approximately 331,000 PGM ounces.”

Amplats says measures being taken by Zimbabwe and South Africa make the production outlook hard to quantify.

According to the company, output going forward will be determined by various factors: the ability to safely restart production at its mines; the requirements for social distancing at mines, which will mean less workers and therefore less production; and the possibility of infections at operations despite safety and hygiene measures.

The Zimbabwe government has allowed mines to restart full production, provided they first conduct mass testing of staff and confine workers to mine accommodation. Miners are also required to observe social-distancing, which could slow production.