Copper Mining in Africa
Copper mining in Africa goes back as far as antiquity, where
copper was a main
commodity used in art, as currency, and most importantly, in the making of bronze –
a copper alloy made by smelting and adding tin. Copper production lulled for centuries
during the Middle Ages, during which the use for copper as burial ornaments became ever
more popular in Mesoamerica.
Today, copper is well-known to be a soft, ductile metal which is highly thermally- and electrically-conductive.
Copper also has aesthetic qualities. These properties create a large, worldwide demand for the metal.
Copper is used in various alloys, in construction, art, and in electrical systems, as
copper is the second most electrically conductive metal – apart from pure
Copper is also a trace element in living organisms, making up 1.4 to 2.1 grams per kilogram of human body mass.
Various mining methods were developed specifically for
copper mining in Africa. These included the development and use of trolley-assist haul truck systems in open cast mines. Methods for
copper mining in Africa also began to include in-pit crushing, and computerised truck dispatching. Underground ore extraction is also a typical method of
copper mining in Africa.
The beneficiation process typically begins at the comminution stage, where mined ore – from open cast mines or underground mines – is crushed into small particles. Particles are then separated to remove any gangue. The following steps involve the physical liberation of metal from the rock by either the hydrometallurgical liberation process or the froth flotation methods, depending on whether the ore is oxide ore, or sulphide ore, respectively. The now concentrated ore is smelted for further refinement, eventually reaching purity levels of between 99% and 99.5%.
Industrial-scale copper mining in Africa typically goes back as far as 1966, to when the Palabora Mining Company opened the first open-cast
copper mine in
South Africa, known as the Palabora
Copper Mine. This mine is iconic for copper
mining in Africa, as it is one of the
largest and the deepest open cast mines in
This mine is 230m below sea level, while the
diameter is over 2 000m – the largest
man-made hole in Africa. This mine, located
in the Loolekop central zone in north-western South Africa, forms one of the central zone areas for
copper mining in Africa.
The main copper-producing countries are
South Africa, and the Katanga Province in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, which typically dominate copper mining in Africa. In 2008, Zambia produced 502 998 tonnes of copper,
South Africa produced 89 700, and the
DRC produced 131 400. This, against a global production of 15.8 mega tonnes in 2009.
Copper mining in Africa is furthermore supported by numerous
mines throughout the continent, including the Bou Azzer mine near Marrakech, Morocco, the East province mine in Cameroon, the Selebi Phikwe mine in
Botswana, and the Chibuluma West and South mines in Zambia.
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