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Robert Friedland (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)
Robert Friedland (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)

Mining

Friedland touts his African strikes Add to ...

After striking it rich in Voisey's Bay and Mongolia, billionaire mining promoter Robert Friedland is switching his focus to Africa, where he says he has made a pair of "Tier One" discoveries that he will soon unveil.

The new discoveries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Africa will be "opening soon at a theatre near you," Mr. Friedland said in a brief teasing speech on Wednesday at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, the biggest annual African mining conference.

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As he spoke, his staff were proudly displaying core samples from the Congo copper discovery at the booth of his privately controlled Canadian company, Ivanhoe Nickel and Platinum Ltd., known as Ivanplats. It's the first "Tier One" copper discovery in Congo in more than a century, Mr. Friedland said.

His claim was met with some skepticism. Two years ago, he announced the same Congo discovery, which he described as having "historic importance" and "world scale," yet he has still not revealed any details of the discovery.

"You've got the same story - 'We'll tell you next year,'" a South African mining journalist told him at the end of his speech. "How long can you keep us going?"

Mr. Friedland responded by comparing himself with the boss of Apple Inc. "Steve Jobs doesn't reveal what the iPad 4 or 5 looks like until it's actually available in the store," he said. "Be patient."

His discovery in South Africa is in the famed Bushveld platinum region, where 70 per cent of the country's platinum is located. South Africa contains about 90 per cent of the world's platinum reserves.

His real challenge in South Africa could be community relations. It will require an intense effort to relocate thousands of people away from the site of his latest discovery, according to another Canadian-based miner in the region.

"There's a huge amount of people that live in and around the property that he has to move - thousands of people," said Joel Kesler, corporate development executive at Anooraq Resources Corp., a Vancouver-based platinum mining company that has a joint venture with Ivanplats at a property in the Bushveld region.

"Water is also a challenge - water in this region is at a premium," Mr. Kesler said. "Base-metal refining capacity is also a key challenge, because a lot of these projects have very high nickel content."

Another Canadian miner in South Africa said he "wouldn't doubt" the latest claims by Mr. Friedland. "Robert's track record is pretty outstanding," said Michael Jones, president and chief executive officer of Platinum Group Metals Ltd.

"I've seen some of the core of the copper in the Congo and what he has here too, and both look quite serious," Mr. Jones said. "He's been very successful in hiring the best of the best from some of the major companies. He has hired great explorationists."

Mr. Friedland became a legend in the mining industry when he sold the Voisey's Bay nickel deposit to Inco Ltd. for $4.3-billion. More recently, he won support from Rio Tinto for his massive Mongolia copper-and-gold property, Oyu Tolgoi, which he describes as a $6.5-billion project.

While those multibillion-dollar projects are much better known, Mr. Friedland said he has been quietly toiling away in "two of the richest places on the planet" - the Bushveld region of South Africa and the Katanga region of Congo.

"For the last 20 years, we have been working assiduously in the countries in Africa that have the world's greatest mineral endowment," Mr. Friedland told the conference.

"Over time, every one really wants an electric car, and the world will need clean power. The metals that conduct electricity have the brightest future. Copper conducts electricity better than anything other than gold and silver, which are quite expensive. And the proxies on gold, like platinum and palladium, have an extremely attractive future."

 

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