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Interview: Marc Nicolle, Dallaglio Investments CEO

Interview: Marc Nicolle, Dallaglio Investments CEO

Marc Nicolle

In 2021 a company brought back to life a Mine that had shut down 20 years back breathing life into the otherwise lacklustre town of Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. There was a rebirth of hope as hundreds of men and women solidified their place as breadwinners after securing employment with Dallaglio Investments’ Eureka mine. As many were preoccupied with the pleasant development little did they know Dallaglio was already a major gold player running another popular Chegutu-based asset, Pickstone Peerless Mine.

By Keith Sungiso

Mining Zimbabwe sat down with the man responsible for Managing the company’s overall operations Mr Marc Nicolle who is the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to learn more about the organization’s operations and its plans for the future. This is how the intriguing exchange with the 41-year-old Mining executive went.

Can we have a brief background about yourself and how you ventured into mining?

Marc Nicolle grew up in Gwanda, the home of Caledonia’s Blanket Mine. My family has been there since the late 1890s and in a gold mining town, mining was always adjacent and part of life. I really enjoyed chemistry at school and I wasn’t sure what to study, I did some assessments and then ended up studying chemical engineering. Chemical engineering then led me to a processing career in the mining industry.

What is Dallaglio’s strategy when it comes to mining growth and development in Zimbabwe, are there any plans for the company to add more Mines to its portfolio?

There is definitely hunger from our shareholders and from the management to grow the business but we want to grow the business in a very responsible way. There is evidence across the world of companies that do too much too soon. We want to be very credible and all of our results today talk of that credibility. Pickstone Peerless was a big step and was an expansion step for a group of shareholders that came together in 2012, they invested in 2014 and brought Pickstone back online in 2015. In 2018 with the success of Pickstone’s rebirth, that same group acquired Eureka which was a dormant asset and brought that back online in late 2021. The group continues to look for opportunities to grow but we want to do that from a strong balance sheet perspective, from a very credible production perspective.

Pickstone Peerless Mine is currently moving from open pit mining to underground as well as adding heap leaching, how is this development going to increase production at the Mine?

Eureka Gold MinePickstone underground will increase the grade that we can feed our mills, it is harder ore and because it’s harder ore it means we will have to increase milling capacity at Pickstone as well in 2023. That higher grade will increase our production to an average of about 80 kgs per month with underground online from the current 40 – 50 kgs per month that we have from the open pit material. The heap-leach is a project that we will detail more in 2023 and we will be looking to make an investment in 2024 if the numbers come back positive, they are however currently looking good for us. With Heapleaching we expect an average of 30 kgs to 40 kgs on top of the 80 kgs per month.

Eureka Mine is currently conducting open-cast mining, are there any plans to go underground?

There is a potential to go underground. We have over 800 thousand ounces in the underground portion of the Eureka ore body, that’s an orebody that we find 650 metres below the surface. Our plan is to mine the first 300 metres on an open pit, the balance is possibly mineable from underground. That planning is also on the radar to be defined in 2023 and early 2024 with the potential on the outcome of that coming to our business plan through 2024. It will take a significant time and investment to get underground at Eureka, our view at the moment is that it will add to the life of the Eureka asset in time.

Eureka has arguably the best CIL plant in Africa. What inspired you to develop such a plant and has it been rewarding vs current production?

All credit for that CIL plant needs to go to one of the founding shareholders, Mark Evans. Mark Evans is an incredible individual and we are lucky to have him as a team. He has pulled together through many suppliers a design for that plant and has delivered it at a wonderful level. Chemics in South Africa were the suppliers of a significant portion of the design, local company Brown Engineering manufactured the tanks on sight from Harare. The local Zimbabwean engineers that we hired did a significant job of putting that CIL plant together.

Does Dallaglio have plans to promote small-scale Mines through knowledge exchange and giving out mining tributary arrangements?

Dallaglio already has some other mining tribute arrangements. They are community-based arrangements that keep the communities around our mines aligned to our objects but also give them an opportunity to make an income.

In the next few years, what are Dallaglio’s plans in terms of investment specifically in Pickstone Peerless and Eureka Mine?

Pickstone Peerless Mine
Pickstone Peerless Mine

At Pickstone we are very excited about Pickstone underground which is in the old Pickstone Trent and it’s down to 5 level. We have Pickstone underground phase 2 which is from 5 level down to 14 level. An investment into that deepening of the Pickstone mining front is very exciting for us. In addition to Pickstone 500 metres North, we have the Peerless trent. Peerless is another ore body that we mined from the open pit. Peerless as a wider ore body from our experience of mining it from the surface, we are doing some conceptual work to see how best to mine that at underground.

At Eureka, we have the beginnings of the underground as we spoke earlier, so we have that portion below the open pit down to the bottom of drilled resource that is open at depth to consider for underground mining. In addition to that we have done some test work on ore sorting, layser ore sorting has shown good potential to upgrade the grade of ore fed to the mills which will allow us to mine faster and achieve quick returns.

As the world is going green there seems to be a global lithium rush. Are there any plans for Dallaglio to diversify and potentially get into Lithium mining?

Dallaglio InvestmentsAt this stage, we don’t have plans to diversify into lithium mining. We have our hands very full at Pickstone and Eureka realising the value that we can see. It’s not to say that if the right opportunity comes we will not consider it.

Zimbabwe is generally relegated as a risky investment destination. As a company operating here, what are your comments on the experience?

I’m a Zimbabwean and I’m very proud to be back in Zimbabwe applying my trade, my skills and leading fellow Zimbabweans in making this country what it can be. I understand the international community’s view of Zimbabwe simply because capital in mining is hugely scarce and it must chase a good return. My experience on being back is that there is a willingness from the government and all stakeholders to make it work but it must work in a way that is good for everyone. It must work for communities, it must work for the government and it must work for the investor and I think that the ubuntu aspect of Zimbabwean mining is something that once we can adopt, we will see a very positive change. My experience has been positive, there have been decades of under investments in the mining industry and those decades produce many opportunities.

What is the current production level and are there plans to ramp up?

In 2022 we averaged 160kgs per month, in 2023 we hope to grow that in terms of a double-digit percentage.

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How have you (at Eureka) managed to be one of the top gold producers in the country while mining a low-grade gold deposit?

We achieve over 93 per cent gold recovery at Eureka. Our attention to detail in that mining operation allows us to quickly manage costs.

What is your employment policy at Eureka Mine i.e. in terms of employment of the local community?

In general, at Dallaglio, we want to be the employer of choice in the community. Our approach is to look from the local community to supply people to our mines. As I mentioned before, growing up in Gwanda the community of a town is amazing if it is contributing to the local industry. That said though, we have a very high need for top skills, mining and doing mining well require excellent professionals. We will therefore look for those skills in general and deploy them to our mining sites. But I will give you a good example, our group Processing Manager Obert Chiyangwa is from Guruve, our group treasury is also from Guruve.

There is a presence of GRANODIORITE rock which is well known for being extremely hard and tough. How are you handling this rock and managing costs at Eureka?

When you mine it is much more cost-effective when you blast correctly in the pit. So, our first port of call is to blast it in the pit. We blast it correctly in the pit we then move to crushing. Crushing is also effective for us, to date we have that particular process under control.

Are u doing in-house mining or contract mining? If it’s contract mining, how are u managing the contractor?

We are doing contract mining. Our General Managers on both sites are mining engineers and both have a wealth of experience in open-pit mining. We through the General Manager’s structure have a mining technical service team that does mining planning. We then have a Mining Manager who oversees the contractor implementation of our mine planning. So one person defines the recipe and the other cooks the cake and through that, we manage our contractors well.

What is the confidence level in the Eureka Mine Resource Model? What measures are in place to ensure that there are no surprises in the Life of Mine Plan as a result of flaws in the resource model?

The confidence level in the Eureka Mine resource model is high, it’s the highest in our group. We have taken data that was gathered by previous owners. We reassessed that in a geological structural model. From that definition of the structural model we then took the grade data within the confined structural model, the model is Jorc compliant.

What would you want to see change in Zimbabwe Mining?

We are sitting on an asset that can be world-class (Zimplats has proven this over a decade). When we are able to free up some of the funds that come into the country. If a business can deploy capital and then get a good return on it, our industry can grow significantly. Our ability as Zimbabwe to produce at an international scale will be visibly incredible. I do understand the history I do understand the need to balance what we have at the government level but I think if we will be going at any boom at the moment, the boom will be like Copperbelt DRC.

Besides the Mining business whats Marc Nicolle into?

Marc is a father of four, happily married to his wife Sophia. I live a very fulfilling life with my children. Im into cricket which I enjoy very much, I enjoy hiking so Domboshava has been a feature. I enjoy good conversations with good people, it’s always nice to talk to people.

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