Perennial water crisis could be history

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Tsumeb

One of Namibia’s leading mining consultants, Andre Neethling, says the Kombat mine that shut down nine years ago has the potential to be one of the biggest mining operations in the country. He also  feels the old mine could help solve the country’s water shortages.

Kombat is a wet mine, which was shut down in late 2007 after excessive flooding pushed production costs through the ceiling. It produced up to 12.46 million tonnes of copper ore.

The mine was previously owned by the now defunct Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL) and later changed ownership to Ongopolo Mining that was eventually taken over by Weatherly International Plc.

Neethling is however optimistic Kombat’s vast underground water deposits, previously deemed a problem, could be a godsend to help solve arid Namibia’s perennial water woes.

“I am not directly involved anymore but I probably have the best understanding of the situation. Ten years ago we used to pay N$1.50 for a cubic metre of water and now it’s between N$8.00 and N$10.00.

“There is definitely a market in Namibia,” elucidated the mining consultant. 

“The reserves are at critical levels and we just need someone that needs to come to the forefront,” said the former managing director of the defunct TCL.

Neethling emphasized that now is the right time to make use of the vast but untapped water deposits at the town. He however noted there are consultations underway to engage NamWater to find an amicable way to partner and provide the country with the water that was initially perceived to be a problem to mining operations at the once thriving mining town.

During an exclusive interview with New Era, Neethling explained that studies he undertook show the only reason why mining operations cannot take place at the town is due to the high levels of underground water and the incapacity of pumps to channel the huge volumes of water away from the mining area for domestic use. 

He feels this water that halted mining operations could be of great help to dams in the central areas whose levels have dropped to critical levels. 

Storage dams supplying water to Windhoek have reportedly dropped to precarious levels, even lower than after the devastating drought of 2013.

Recent media reports indicate that if the current drought persists and no major inflows are received in major dams supplying Windhoek, the capital might run out of water by the middle of next year. To make matters worse the rainy season officially ended last month, dashing hopes of any major  inflows into supply dams.

Windhoek is dependent on NamWater for 65 percent of its water and cannot sustain itself with groundwater and reclaimed water. 

Possible consequences could include higher water tariffs and even water rationing during certain hours of the day, specifically in the months ahead.

Both NamWater and the City of Windhoek have repeatedly warned that since the beginning of the year the water situation in Windhoek is critical. 

NamWater’s latest dam bulletin shows the storage capacity of dams country-wide have now dropped to 48 percent of capacity, compared to 59 percent in the corresponding period last year.

Dams supplying Windhoek, as the economic and business hub of the central areas, have reached their lowest levels in decades with Swakoppoort Dam, Von Bach Dam, the Omatako Dam and the Friedenhau Dam 29.5 percent full on average. Last year at the same time, dams were 59 percent full.

The three reservoirs supplying Windhoek – the Omatako (5.6 percent full), Swakoppoort and Von Bach dams (35.3 and 35.8 percent full, respectively) are critically low.

If there are no significant inflows, NamWater predicts Von Bach will run dry by June next year and Swakoppoort by July next year.

In view of this, Neethling says “whilst we are looking to produce one commodity we can also make use of the other without looking very far”.

 “It was a practical implication on the mining operations – we caused the water problem because we didn’t have the capacity to pump it all away. Water deposits are a normal occurrence in mining and in the past we used to pump 1 500 cubic metres of water, which is 15 million litres,” he noted.

He said it was a myth that people perceived that no mining could take place ever again. 

Neethling however noted the high levels of water can be managed by either pumping them into channels such as the existing north-eastern water channel that runs through the Omatako Basin into Von Bach Dam and directly to Windhoek, or by sealing off the water by cementation.

Cementation is the process in which water is sealed off by drilling and blasting cement to create walls so that water cannot enter the mining area but this is a highly expensive exercise that in the past cost TCL up to 20 percent of total running costs.

“It is not possible to just pump away all the water because as we know human errors can occur, even with cementation, but someone needs to step up to the plate – like in 1987 an error occurred with blasting that caused a crack that then caused an overflow of water, but it needs time, hard work and money,” he enthused.

Kombat was recently bought by businessman Knowledge Katti and Neethling said he was glad Katti acquired the small town as he was part of the process of reviving the mining operations when Weatherly wanted to sell it to a “scrap yard” in South Africa.

The flamboyant Katti, through his company Havana Investments, acquired Kombat for an undisclosed amount, placing the sleepy settlement in the hands of a Namibian for the first time in its history.

Katti recently confirmed from Brazil to New Era  that he is the new sole owner of the 308-hectare town, which has changed hands between international mining companies for decades. 

While Kombat remains under the auspices of the Otjozondjupa Regional Council, it has never had a town council to administer it.

The town was until recently owned by South African firm Grove Mining, which ran the local Kombat mine.

Grove Mining sold Kombat mine to Manila Investments, in which Katti’s Havana Investments and state-owned Epangelo Mining each own 10 percent. Kombat Copper, a Canadian company, owns the remaining 80 percent.

“I think it’s a good thing, otherwise it would have belonged to foreigners that wouldn’t have explored the real possibilities. He helped to get it back. It was proclaimed a settlement and by Weatherly selling it off it would have been de-proclaimed and he helped stop this process,” said Neethling. He could however not elaborate as to when operations at the small town would possibly commence.

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