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Reviving Gold: Blanket Mine’s New Shaft Sparks Production Boom

Caledonia's Bold Investment Transforms Historic Zimbabwean Gold Mine

by Adenike Adeodun

Over the past decade, Caledonia Mining’s Blanket gold mine, situated near Gwanda in Zimbabwe, has undergone a transformative journey from an uncertain future to a beacon of industrial revitalization. Founded in 1906, the mine’s longevity was in question until the advent of a significant infrastructural investment—the Central Shaft—propelling Blanket into a new era of prosperity and extending its operational lifespan through at least 2034 with an estimated annual gold production of 75 koz.

Under the stewardship of Caledonia, which holds a 64% stake, Blanket has surpassed the milestone of producing over a million ounces of gold throughout its history. Caledonia’s strategic shift in focus towards Blanket, a post-2006 acquisition from Kinross, marked a turning point, prioritizing the mine over other diversified assets. This focus was crystallized by the realization that, to sustain and grow production, a fundamental overhaul of the mine’s infrastructure was imperative. The limitation posed by the existing shafts, only reaching depths of 750 m, necessitated a modern solution to access deeper mineral resources.

The introduction of the Revised Investment Plan in late 2014 aimed to double production and secure the mine’s future. Central to this plan was the construction of a new 1,204-metre-deep, 6-meter-diameter, four-compartment shaft, equipped to significantly enhance operational capacity and efficiency. Despite the daunting financial challenge of shaft sinking, estimated at $120 million by external contractors, Caledonia opted for an in-house approach, drastically reducing costs to $67 million and funding the project through internal cash flow. This decision underscored Caledonia’s commitment to Blanket and demonstrated the capabilities of its Zimbabwean workforce, achieving the project without fatalities and with minimal injuries.

The new Central Shaft has not only increased production levels but also initiated a division within the mine, creating two distinct operational zones above and below the 750 m level. This structural evolution enables Blanket to optimize extraction methods tailored to the unique geological characteristics of the ore bodies, supported by a mixed fleet of rail-bound and trackless equipment.

The investment in a 12.2 MWac solar plant and membership in the Intensive Energy Users Group (IEUG) represents a forward-thinking approach to energy management, ensuring a reliable power supply while mitigating environmental impact. These initiatives reflect a broader commitment to sustainability and operational efficiency.

Looking beyond Blanket, Caledonia’s ambitions extend to becoming a multi-asset producer within Zimbabwe. The acquisition of projects like Maligreen, Motapa, and Bilboes illustrates this growth trajectory, with Bilboes positioned as a potential game-changer for Zimbabwean gold mining. The strategic review of Bilboes, exploring both large-scale operations and phased development approaches, signals Caledonia’s flexible and pragmatic approach to investment and development within the country.

Caledonia’s journey with Blanket is a testament to the transformative power of strategic investment and operational excellence. The Central Shaft project, in particular, symbolizes a successful blend of technical innovation, financial prudence, and community engagement. As Blanket enters this new chapter, Caledonia’s broader aspirations within Zimbabwe hint at a future marked by growth, sustainability, and continued contribution to the country’s mining sector. This narrative of renewal and ambition underlines the dynamic potential of Zimbabwe’s mining industry and Caledonia’s role within it.


Source: Mining Review

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