For Zimbabwe, a country that has seen its share of political and economic challenge, mining is an essential industry. One of the world’s ten greatest producers of gem diamonds, revenues from the diamond trade alone accounts for about 30% of the country’s government income. However, it isn’t only diamonds waiting to be discovered under Zimbabwe’s surface…
Bilboes Gold Ltd, a subsidiary of Bilboes Holdings, are situated in one of Zimbabwe’s most lucrative gold-rich areas. It is no secret that the country’s economy has struggled under the rule of its recently retired President, Robert Mugabe, with sectors from agriculture to mining suffering not only challenges, but violent controversy. With the new President, Mugabe’s ex VP Emmerson Mnangagwa, taking power, it is unclear what the future holds for Zimbabwe. Many are hopeful, relieved to see the back of the autocrat that plunged the nation into poverty – yet it will be some time before change can filter down to those most in need.
A resource-rich country, change is possible, and if it comes, mining will be one of the supporting pillars of this new world. The potential in their land is well known by the Zimbabwean people, so much so that illegal miners had turned to the land’s gold in a desperate search for wealth. This ‘gold rush’ is just one of the many challenges companies like Bilboes Gold have had to navigate and operate in, and yet it is a testament to their Zimbabwean tenacity that their business has flourished and persevered.
Bilboes Holdings Limited is a gold focused mining and exploration company. Since it was founded in 1989, Bilboes has produced 234,000 ounces of gold from oxides through open pit mining. The company holds a total of 11,000 hectares in mineral rights and an additional 198,000 hectares of exploration license applications. In total, the company currently owns and operates four mines – Isabella, Bubi, When and McCays – all situated in the Bubi Greenzone Belt of Zimbabwe. The company acquired the mines from Anglo American Corporation Zimbabwe Limited in 2003, along with most of Anglo American’s gold mineral rights in the country. This investment was made 14 years into the exploration company’s operations, when they became ready to move on from exploration, drilling and metallurgical test work, and decided to harvest the fruits of their work for themselves.
Gold mineralisation occurs in veins and quartz stock works associated with disseminated sulphides, mainly arsenopyrite and pyrite. Pursuing these sulphide resources, and the oxide materials that lay beneath them, Bilboes Gold invested US$3 million on a drilling programme dubbed the Matabeleland Oxide Project, as well as a further US$4.5 million spent on additional exploration, infill drilling and testing. The areas of exploration are underlain by felsic and mafic schists and greywackes of the Upper and Lower Bulawayan volcanic units that form part of the Archaean Bubi Greenstone Belt. The area is also transected by three major structural breaks known as the Peter Pan, Robin Hood and Courtleigh faults, with a number of associated northeast-trending splays that control the hydrothermal vein and replacement mineralisation. Through their drilling and tests into this area, it was estimated that there lay 4 Moz of gold in sulphides across the Isabella, McCays and Bubi Mines. The claims are located within the Mutare Greenstone Belt, where gold deposits are scattered throughout the belt within the surrounding quartz diorite stocks. Most of them have high silver content with associated lead, zinc and nickel, and of the sulphides present included are galena, chalcopyrite, pyrite, pyrrhotite.
However, an unexplained bump in 2016 led to the closing of these mines and a halting of these operations. Whether resources, funding or excavation complications, the mines are open and running once more, producing at a rate of about 10,000 ounces per annum. Alongside this recovery, Bilboes have been investigating the feasibility of a new mine, which should have a 200,000 ounces production capacity per annum, and they are attempting to raise US$7 million to upgrade the efficiency of their existing mines.
The mining industry requires heavy investment before any returns are seen, including the equipment and hours needed behind exploration, lab work and even the acquisition of land and drilling rights. As well as these early costs, and what can be many years of work, mining operations also call for constant re-investment in safer, up to date resources, and upgrading operations as Bilboes are currently doing. Just as equipment and tunnels need refreshing, so do employees. All staff at Bilboes Gold go through rigorous training before participating in their operations, ensuring that they have the knowledge and safety required for mining and heavy machine handling. Due to this heavy investment in the training and growth of their staff, the company also places a strong focus on internal promotion, understanding the value of experience, as well as the loyalty of a workforce who know they are looked after, and have advancement opportunities without needing to look elsewhere. This loyalty breeds a familiarity in the team, which in turn allows workers to trust each other as they handle potentially dangerous equipment and situations.
They may be called Bilboes Gold, but this company are no small operation, and they have kept working towards their goals with heroic dedication. The road may seem to go ever on and on, but the years of exploration and investment are indeed paying off for Bilboes, and now that they are successfully back in operation, seem set to do so in the years to come. Hopefully, the near future holds a brighter outlook for Zimbabwe, but whatever happens, Bilboes have the pieces and people in place to persevere. A combination of strong leadership, solid relationships and a history of experience have equipped Bilboes Gold to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.