Fastmarkets reviews the latest developments in South African ores and alloys supply following the lockdown order from President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday March 23 amid the spread of Covid-19.

Mines and smelters across the country were ordered to shut down by midnight on Thursday March 26.

Samancor calls force majeure
Samancor Chrome sent a force majeure notice to its customers after South Africa entered a government-imposed lockdown in response to the spread of Covid-19, the South African chrome producer has confirmed.

Samancor produces about 3 million tonnes per year of chrome ore, according to its website, and it has capacity for more than 2 million tpy of ferro-chrome production following a series of acquisitions of smaller rivals in recent years. It announced in January plans to reduce annual chrome ore production by 29% and ferro-chrome production by 20% amid poor market conditions.

South Africa’s largest manganese miner declares force majeure 
Miner Tshipi e Ntle declared force majeure on manganese shipments last week. Its owner, Jupiter Mines, also confirmed on Friday March 27 that operations and exports have been suspended for the period of the lockdown. Tshipi sold 3.5 million tonnes of manganese ore in its 2019 full financial year and became the country’s largest miner by export volume in 2017.

Tharisa declares force majeure
Chrome and platinum producer Tharisa declared force majeure on contracted chrome concentrate sales agreements. The miner had already confirmed early last week that it would cease mining and place its operation on care and maintenance. Tharisa recorded chrome concentrate production of 342,500 tonnes for the three months to December 31, 2019, including 81,500 tonnes of specialty grade chrome concentrate production.

Transnet closes bulk terminal to minerals
South African state transport operator Transnet closed bulk terminals to minerals shipments on March 26, after announcing it would do so on March 24. Essential commodities including grains, soya bean meal, fertilizer and wood chips are exempt from the restrictions, Transnet said.

Shutdown indirectly affects security of cobalt raw materials supply
As much as 70% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and much of that reaches South Africa for shipment out of the port of Durban. The lockdown is forcing cobalt raw materials suppliers to either look at alternative ports with a connection to the DRC, or sit it out in the hope the lockdown is short-lived. Ahead of its implementation, there was already concern over the status of March and April shipments, with sellers prioritizing long-term obligations over additional spot inquiry.

“Durban has been cut to a skeleton crew, so there are personnel constraints; that means you’ll be competing for discharging berths and loading capabilities, which have been cut down. Exports are competing with essential [medical] imports, and for warehousing time, so even if you can get a shipment, you might get bumped off,” one supplier source said.

Glencore puts its vanadium operations on care and maintenance
Glencore announced last week that it was placing its vanadium operation in South Africa on care and maintenance in response to the lockdown. Glencore operates Rhovan, an open-cast mine and smelter complex located in Brits, which mainly produces ferro-vanadium and vanadium pentoxide.

In 2019, Glencore produced 20.2 million lb of vanadium pentoxide from its own sources.

Glencore puts its chrome operation on care and maintenance
Glencore’s South African chrome operations have been placed on care and maintenance along with a number of global operations. The company produced 1.03 million tonnes of ferro-chrome in the first nine months of 2019.

Bushveld Minerals stops mining
Bushveld Minerals confirmed on March 25 it would stop mining in response to the lockdown order. Bushveld owns Vametco and Vanchem operations, which will be put on care and maintenance. Bushveld Minerals currently produces approximately 3,000 tonnes per year of vanadium, Fastmarkets understands.

Two South African manganese miners declare force majeure
Two major South African manganese miners, United Manganese of Kalahari and Assmang, declared force majeure on manganese shipments on March 25. UMK produces about 3 million tpy manganese ore, while Assmang produced 1.78 million tonnes in the first half of its 2020 financial year.

Afarak works on plan for its operations
Helsinki- and London-listed Afarak confirmed its South African chrome-producing operation, Mogale Alloys, was affected by the country’s government-imposed lockdown, adding that a plan is in development. Mogale normally produces 110,000 tpy of ferro-chrome and continued to produce 4,000 tonnes per month of plasma charge chrome and 1,400 tpm of medium carbon ferro-chrome after idling furnaces earlier this year.