When Natascha Viljoen takes the helm of Anglo American Platinum in April, she will find a “fierce crocodile” in her in-tray.
In Tswana, that’s Mogalakwena, the largest palladium mine outside Russia.
The metal’s surge to a fresh record is turbo-charging the giant open pit’s cash-generating powers, and the new chief executive officer, announced on Thursday, must decide whether to expand further.
Mogalakwena - half way along the road from South Africa’s capital to the Zimbabwe border - churned out R9.9bn in cash last year. That’s partly because, unlike other mines in the country, it produces more palladium than platinum.
“This is by far the most valuable mine in the platinum-mining industry,” outgoing CEO Chris Griffith said in an interview this week in Johannesburg. “It’s the most fantastic asset with a 100-year life.”
During his seven years at the helm, Griffith has ramped up output at Mogalakwena, helping the Anglo American unit to double its profit last year. The company is enjoying a further 40% jump in the palladium price since December and expects the supply deficit for the metal to widen to 1.9 million ounces in 2020.
When Griffith steps down in April, his successor must decide whether to expand the Limpopo mine’s output of platinum-group metals by another 500 000 ounces. The outgoing CEO said that process won’t be rushed, as the company weighs options for an underground operation against another open pit. Final studies are due to be completed by the middle of next year.
“This is a long game and we must do the right thing and not be chased by prices,” Griffith said. “Mogalakwena doesn’t need these prices to incentivize a new project, we don’t have to rush into anything.”