Two Mines and a Cement Factory

Took a Sunday morning ride around the industrial heart of Botswana’s North-East District: a long loop taking in Tati Nickel Mining Company’s Phoenix Mine, Galane Gold’s Mupane Mine and the recently resurrected Matsiloje Portland Cement factory.

Ramokgwebana River

[sthumbs=196|197|198|201,72,2,n,right,]Got up early and was out of the house by 7.00am, very little activity in the village – even the dogs were still asleep. Was soon warmed up and into the mophane bush and masimos. Didn’t take long to get to the Ramokgwebana River which is also the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Here the ploughing fields turn into vegetable gardens irrigated by water from wellpoints and boreholes filled by water that lies under the sand.

Tati Nickel Phoenix Mine

[sthumbs=200|199|212|206,72,2,n,left,]Turning away from the border towards the rumbling Phoenix nickel mine I said good morning to a policeman and got chased by the dog from a cattle-post.

Each time I pass the various waste-dumps have got bigger – I could be wrong but I think they are processing 30 million tons per annum since the installation of a new crusher and commissioning of a dense-media seperation plant. That is 30 million tons of ore through the plant and excludes the overburden and waste rock covering the ore body. The mine is owned by Norilsk Nickel, a Russian mining company.

Mad Max Handlebar Ornament

[sthumbs=202|203|204|205,72,2,n,right,]After climbing through a really badly excavated drainage channel and scarin off some vultures I found a fine kudu skull. Did consider stashing it somewhere and coming back to take it home later, but that would be illegal, apparently. Didn’t find any other bones nearby, so could have been the result of poaching: ditched the head and taken the carcass.

Botswana Metal Refinery Activox Plant and Matshelagabedi Power Station

[sthumbs=208|207,72,1,n,left,]After riding around the mine fence I came to the abandoned Botswana Metal Refinery Activox plant – much speculation has been made on why the project was stopped: global economic crisis, political, lack of adequate planning and over-optimistic forecasting of construction costs. Maybe scope for a future post there and an excuse for another ride in that direction to get some pictures of tumbleweed and concrete.

One fringe benefit is that Botswana Power Power Corporation did get as far as building a large substation with HV overhead lines to Francistown and also (I think) to Selebi-Phikwe. What would have been a white elephant is now home to a 70MW generator farm packed with containerised diesel generators. This is operated by APR Energy and provides peak-load power for periods of high demand and when South African utility Eskom has insufficient capacity to supply Botswana. It is, however, hideously expensive to run.

Mupane Gold Mine

[sthumbs=209|210,72,1,n,right,]A short tar road section followed by a few kilometres of soul-destroying gravel road covered in loose pebbles. Past Selkirk Mine, nothing visible from the road as it is a mothballed underground satellite mine to Phoenix.

Took a short detour to have a look at Mupane Mine, a gold mine owned and operated by Galane Gold, apparently now backed by venture capitalist types after ownership by Iamgold and Gallery Gold. Not much visible from outside: waste dumps (being rehabilitated as mining progresses, unlike its neighbour), tailings dam Run-Of-Mine pad (ROM pad) and process plant. A fleet of trucks, consisting of 8×4 Scanias operated by a subcontractor and Iamgold’s own fleet of Komatsu HM400 articulated dump-trucks (40-tonners). Lots of dust and more pea-gravel on an enormously wide haul-road along what used to be a lovely abandoned track from Francistown to Matsiloje (known as “Old Matsiloje Road”).

Matsiloje Portland Cement Factory

[sthumbs=211,72,max,n,left,]At Matsiloje I passed the cement factory, long derelict it has been recently renovated by the owners of Nortex (a Francistown based textile manufacturer. I will have to do some more research – it seems to be active judging by the plume from one of the vent stacks but I haven’t heard whether they are making usable cement and if they do where it is being sold.

Homeward Bound

Skirting the edge of Matsiloje village I joined the gravel road that runs mostly parallel to the border, behind Phoenix Mine to Matshelagabedi. A rolling road with some corrugations (uncomfortable) but mostly hard-packed gravel without too much loose stuff. Occasional cattle-posts punctuate the route, one of which probably kept me alive by having potable water. Can’t wait for my Camelbak to arrive – two bottles is not enough!

The last 40km were something of a trial: I decided to go to Matsiloje because I was expecting a tailwind, however it had changed almost 180° and become a headwind. Didn’t help that I haven’t done a proper ride for over a month.

Eventually home to Sunday lunch of wors, mashed potato and chakalaka (prepared according to my telephonic instruction from Matsiloje…).

Ride Details

Given I’ve not been on a proper ride for over a month it’s a miracle I made it, and there was much swearing over the last 40km: at first internally but gradually escalating into verbal tirades at every gust of headwind and patch of sand.

Looks like I need to buy new grips: one of them is starting to split and my left hand is still numb. Stripping down the jockey wheels for clean and lube and fitting a new chain have made a big difference to the smooth running but it sounds like there is some sand or grit in the front brake pads: high-pitched whine and some squeaking that both disappear for a short moment after the the brake is applied.

The rowing training is paying off though as I didn’t really suffer from any lower-back pain as I used to on long rides.

Author: Michael

Parent, husband and civil engineer born and raised in Britain before emigrating to Botswana. Interests in construction, information technology, fitness, mechanics and mapping, among others.

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