Platinum dilemma: SA deal hampered by lack of local refinement capacity

Canadian mining company PTM insists that SA must make a decision whether to insist on benefaction, or forego the raw extraction contract which could provide jobs





Feb 26, 2024

Platinum dilemma: SA deal hampered by lack of local refinement capacity

Canadian mining company Platinum Group Metals, known as PTM on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is facing a critical decision that pits South Africa's desire for minerals beneficiation against its commitment to the Brics partnership, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

PTM has proposed building a platinum refinery in Saudi Arabia as part of its R11 billion Waterberg PGM Project in Limpopo. This proposal has sparked discussions with the South African government, with implications for the country's minerals beneficiation policy. Exporting concentrate, as proposed by PTM, is generally discouraged by the government, which prefers higher-value finished metal to be sold from within South Africa.

The delay in PTM's project is also linked to Impala Platinum (Implats), which has the right of first refusal on concentrate produced at Waterberg. Implats, facing financial challenges and leadership shifts, has been hesitant to commit to the project. This has left PTM seeking alternatives, including the option of exporting concentrate for refining in Saudi Arabia.

The potential refinery in Saudi Arabia offers PTM significant cost savings, including discounted electricity and water, which offset the costs of exporting concentrate from South Africa. PTM's CEO, Frank Hallam, views this as an opportunity for investment and job creation in a relatively underdeveloped province of South Africa.

Saudi Arabia's interest in minerals extends beyond platinum, as evidenced by its efforts to diversify its economy and invest in critical minerals. The country's 2030 vision aims to attract foreign investment in mining, presenting opportunities for partnerships with companies like PTM and others seeking to expand into new markets.

While the prospect of Saudi Arabia joining Brics could provide economic benefits, including increased investment in South Africa's mining sector, it remains uncertain. However, Saudi Arabia's interest in expanding its economic footprint suggests that it may continue to invest in South Africa regardless of its Brics membership status.

For South Africa, attracting investment from Saudi Arabia could provide a much-needed boost to its struggling mineral exploration and development sector. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, the potential for collaboration between South Africa and Saudi Arabia in the mining sector presents opportunities for both countries to benefit from their respective strengths and resources.

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