Atlatsa Resources hopes to make a decision in 2018 on what to do with its last remaining asset, the suspended Bokoni platinum group metals mine it recently mothballed in a deal with its partner, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).

Atlatsa has had a long run of losses at Bokoni, in which it holds a 51% stake and Amplats, the world’s largest platinum miner, the remaining 49%.

The partners decided the best way to deal with the losses at the mine was to suspend it, with the loss of 3,500 jobs, to give the parties a two-year gap in which to decide on the best course of action, said Joel Kesler, Atlatsa’s chief commercial officer.

The options under review are an outright sale of Bokoni by the partnership; Atlatsa buying the Amplats stake; or bringing in a third party to replace Amplats, he said in an interview. "We’d ideally like to have something done next year and that’s our focus along with concluding the second phase of the restructuring transaction to transfer prospecting rights to Amplats."

As part of the restructuring deal, Atlatsa is selling two prospecting rights to the north of Amplats’s Mogalakwena opencast mine to Amplats.

The price is R300m in cash and a write-off of the R4.2bn of debt it owes the Anglo American subsidiary. Amplats is also picking up the tab of keeping Bokoni in care and maintenance until the end of 2019.

The Bokoni mine was like "an athlete who hasn’t achieved his full potential", said Kesler, attributing the run of disappointments to "technical issues", on which he declined to elaborate.

However, an example was the Brakfontein shaft focusing on the platinum-rich Merensky Reef, which in a decade of work was still only operating 50% of design capacity. The Middelpunt shaft on the UG2 reef, which contains platinum, palladium, rhodium and chrome, was nearly at full capacity.

One of the plans to revive Bokoni would be to switch the focus of the mine to the UG2 Reef now that palladium prices are higher than platinum and the rhodium price has increased, Kesler said, adding that the addition of a chrome recovery circuit would boost revenue.

"What Bokoni needs is the right ownership structure, to be fully capitalised, the right technical approach and strong management," he said. One of the challenges was overcoming a commonly held perception of Bokoni as a "difficult mine".


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