LETTER: SA’s rare-earth deposits
Vanrhynsdorp's Steenkampskraal mine has the world's richest monazite ore
House prices in the Namaqua’s Vanrhynsdorp may be starting to rise.
China, by far the world’s biggest supplier of rare earths, has threatened to top supplying the US. The 17 elements collectively known as rare earths, with names like neodymium, dysprosium, ytterbium and cerium, are critical for defence equipment, electric cars, cellphones, smart bombs and airplanes. The US sees them as critical for maintaining its security, yet it produces almost none.
This is where Vanrhynsdorp becomes important as the world’s richest rare-earth monazite ore is located at Steenkampskraal about 40kms outside the town. Operated by Anglo American from 1952 to 1963, the mine could, if it hasn’t already, restart the existing grinding and chemical extraction plant. Proven reserves are estimated at 605,000 tons of total rare-earth oxide at about 14.4% purity.
But rare earths have become political. One reason for the continued US military presence in Afghanistan is allegedly to protect rare-earth mining prospects. China would be unhappy if SA were even partly to undermine its rare-earths stranglehold over the US. On the other hand, the US would do almost anything to secure such a source.
If the trade war continues, the Steenkampskraal mine could bring much-needed wealth to Namaqualand, but it wouldn’t be entirely risk free.