At Blyvooruitzicht, a 77-year-old gold mine southwest of Johannesburg, almost everything had been stolen except gold-bearing ore in the looting after the operation was closed in 2013.
Now, New York University graduates Bastiat Viljoen, 31, and his brother Dane, who was an intern at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., want to revive the ailing mine, which they say may contain 9 million ounces of gold, worth almost $11 billion at current prices. They are partly financed by South African mining entrepreneur Peter Skeat.
With their backgrounds, the Viljoens and their partners would look more at home in Silicon Valley than South Africa’s rust belt of aging gold mines, some of the deepest and most dangerous in the world. The challenge at Blyvooruitzicht, which means happy prospect in Afrikaans, is formidable: to rebuild a mine and win over a restive local community, who described the area as a war zone when it was overrun by thieves and illegal miners after falling into liquidation in 2013, Johannesburg’s Sunday Times newspaper reported in 2014.
“We’re trying to bring a start-up mentality to an industry that’s been around for thousands of years,” said Dane Viljoen, 28, in an interview at the mine’s head office under broken light bulbs and surrounded by mine maps from the 1950s. “We’ve been gifted this reset button. It’s a massive opportunity.”
While the partners have big ambitions, they plan to start small. They want to rebuild Blyvooruitzicht’s processing plant and begin mining a single waste dump in 2017. Waste material, or tailings, from decades of mining is deposited in giant mounds that still contain a small amount of gold, which can now be accessed with better technology.
Reviving the mine will be difficult, said Louis Venter, a retired gold-mining analyst who used to follow companies that operated Blyvooruitzicht, including DRDGold Ltd. and Village Main Reef Ltd., at Anglorand Securities Ltd. in Johannesburg
“I don’t like making sweeping statements but Blyvoor is beyond repair,” Venter said by phone. “That infrastructure is completely destroyed. One would assume that when private investors spend money on an asset like that they see some value somewhere, but I don’t know what that will be.”
The dump to be mined contains about 400,000 ounces of gold at a grade of 0.33 gram (0.01 ounce) a ton, similar to that being mined by DRDGold, which also processes such deposits, albeit on a bigger scale. To get mining up and running will cost 150 million rand ($10 million) to 200 million rand, according to Richard Floyd, a business partner of the Viljoens.