South Africa’s copper boom

Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson said South Africa could become the largest copper producer in Africa, which could benefit the country in the next few years.

Nelson told BusinessDay TV that just how much copper South Africa has is still unsure.

However, he said Copper 360 is among the country’s few copper players, with over 60 prospects and 12 mines in the Northern Cape alone.

In addition, he explained that one of the biggest advantages of these prospects is that the copper is high-grade and shallow.

In general, copper is becoming increasingly versatile and useful in various industries. 

Many believe the global energy transition to renewables will boost copper production and the metal’s price.

However, Nelson believes that copper will not follow the same fate as platinum group metals (PGM), which also saw a lot of excitement but eventually died down, and the PGM price plummeted.

“The thing with copper is that it is the agent that carries electricity, and everything needs electricity,” he said.

“Maybe at the point when they’re talking about car batteries, then it’s lithium, then it’s nickel, then it’s cobalt, and so it changes, but the one thing that’ll never change is that copper is needed in everything.”

While many have pointed to electric cars as a significant driver for copper demand, Nelson said he believes the metal will also increasingly be used in infrastructure developments that need electricity, cabling, and wiring.

However, he warned that copper mining should not make the same mistakes as South Africa’s gold rush, which saw the country mine and export a significant amount of gold, stripping the country of its resources and shipping the reward to other countries.

“We need to ensure that we beneficiate our products,” he said. “We need to produce the copper, but we also need to have vertical integration so that we create more jobs and not just have a few jobs from a mine where we export all our product overseas, and then it gets sold back to us.”

Nelson pointed out that South Africa currently imports all its copper, and “there’s effectively only one copper mine” in the country.

South Africa also produces copper as a secondary product from PGMs.

“The moment we get this region up and going, and we produce copper, then we don’t have to import copper, which is quite expensive and scarce,” he said.

As the global demand for copper grows, the metal will become even more scarce, and South Africa could struggle to source it from other countries.

Through South Africa producing its own copper, “the cost of installing those networks that will be driven by copper wiring will be cheaper, and that means that we can build more and better infrastructure here”.