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MBABANE – At least E90 million may have gone down the drain, with the revocation of a licence for the mining and rehabilitation of the Bulembu Mine.

The proprietors of the mine, Salamander Magnesium, which is the parent company of Kobolondo Mining Swaziland (KMS), said it had spent this amount of money on planning and expenditure, since it was granted the licence in 2016. Government revoked the licence recently, citing certain failure by the company to meet stipulated timelines. However, the company is still hopeful that the investment will yield fruit.

Chief Executive Officer of Salamander Magnesium, Lloyd Birrell said his company had since resubmitted a rehabilitation mining application in the name of Kobolondo, now renamed Kobolondo Magnesium and submitted the full environmental impact assessment (EIA) for public scrutiny in October 2023. Birrell said a statement issued by the Government of Eswatini, alleging that the company had failed to meet timelines, was based on misinformation.

“The Bulembu tailings dumps comprise 28 million tonnes of residues from the historical mining operations of Turner and Newell at the Havelock Asbestos Mine. These dumps are un-rehabilitated and shall contain approximately 13 million tonnes of fine and ultra-fine chrysotile asbestos, posing a serious environmental hazard and health risk. The conventional rehabilitation of these dumps, through cladding (covering with organic material), would cost in excess of E1.2 billion and cover-up, rather than eliminate, the hazard.” He said that based on historical records, Salamander proposed the extraction of asbestos and potentially gold from the dumps and after preliminary work, a rehabilitation mining licence was granted to a local Kobolondo Mining (Pty) Ltd (Kobolondo) in late 2016 and notarised in late 2017.


The company then commenced with a detailed drilling programme (3 807 metres), taking more than a year. It also conducted an extensive XRF and XRD evaluation of 1 254 composite samples. XRF and XRD (X-Ray fluorescence) refer to monitoring process activities to ensure efficient recovery of precious metals. Birrell further explained that the results of the drilling programme and analysis showed that the tailings contained no economically extractible gold, but significant magnesium elements, leading Salamander to develop a new, complex rehabilitation strategy.

“Once Salamander had identified the size and constituents of the resource, work commenced on a competent persons report, a 280-page document necessary for the raising of funds. At the same time, work commenced on an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report, comprising stakeholder consultations and scoping report, geohydrological and hydrological baseline assessment, specialist botanical survey, bird and mammal survey and other factors. He said this assessment and resultant documentation was essential, as it was a requirement of the licence that the Eswatini Environmental Authority (EEA) had issued Kobolondo, with an environmental compliance certificate.


The CEO said the full extent of this process and the proposed rehabilitation and mitigation plan required extensive input, site visits and evaluation by officials from the EEA, given the hazardous nature of asbestos and potential exposure thereto. “This process has taken several years. The 1 200-page Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and supporting documentation has been made available for public scrutiny. “The most time-consuming and complex component of the project has been perfecting the process of extracting the minerals from the asbestos and ensuring, at the same time that the asbestos is chemically destroyed at a molecular level, which is a world-first and a breakthrough in terms of asbestos abatement technology,” he said.

After three years of intensive work, including the construction and extensive operation of a pilot plant, Salamander said it proved and patented a unique metallurgical process to extract magnesium sulphates and hydroxides from the chrysotile asbestos and did so on a commercially viable basis. “In March 2022, Salamander advised the MMB, the ministries of Natural Resources, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Commerce and Finance that the project was ready for implementation, after several years of planning and expenditure in the order of E90 million.”


He said the project was presented to multiple interested Eswatini investment companies and work commenced on a potential listing on the Eswatini Stock Exchange. In July 2022, Birrell said the commissioner of mines advised that the MMB was considering the cancellation of the licence, citing certain requirements of the licence that, in their opinion, had not been met. “Salamander immediately provided the commissioner with a detailed rehabilitation mining plan and a comprehensive update on progress, including a detailed valuation of the project, with the extensive benefits for Eswatini clearly set out, as per the MMB requirements.

“The MMB was simultaneously requested to inspect the site and meet with the Salamander team, which comprised of multiple experts in mining, metallurgy, engineering, rehabilitation, health and safety, finance and administration, as well as all the local Eswatini advisors. The MMB did not accede to this request. On December 15, 2022, the commissioner of mines advised that the licence had been cancelled on October 17, 2022, citing reasons that were not raised in their correspondence of July 19, 2022,” he said.

He said Salamander respectfully disagreed with those reasons, in writing.“Multiple efforts were made by Salamander to engage with the MMB, without success. Many meetings were held with various ministries, including the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs and the Ministry of Natural Resources, in an attempt to resolve the situation. In July 2023, Salamander was approached by a South African mining investment company, who advised that it had been approached to do the rehabilitation project and whether Salamander wished to form a joint venture.

Salamander declined this approach, stating that it would be deploying its resources and patented technology elsewhere.”
In August 2023, on request from the commissioner of mines, he said Salamander resubmitted a rehabilitation mining application in the name of Kobolondo, now renamed Kobolondo Magnesium and submitted the full Environmental Impact Assessment for public scrutiny in October 2023.

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