Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|March 29, 2022|4 Minutes|In Opinion


Africa pays back the Cousin Jacks

There was a time when Africa couldn’t get enough miners from the Cornish tin mines on  England’s wind-swept peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. A green strip of land with poor weather in winter, but rich resources all year round. Now a Cornish mine is  using African expertise.

Cornish miners were sought after by the new mines that sprang up across southern Africa – from Johannesburg to the copper belt in Zambia -in the late 19th century. They were expert hard rock miners, used to difficult shafts and hard work back home. They were a tight-knit community who brought many of their Cornish place names with them, like New Redruth, in Alberton, Johannesburg, after Redruth in Cornwall from whence many of them came.

South African miners used to call them “Cousin Jacks” because if they couldn’t do something in the mine, they had a cousin called Jack – who could. Now the skill circle between Africa and Cornwall is complete with a new venture involving one of the foremost investment and mining experts that the continent has ever produced. They call him “ Mick the Miner” with good reason. Sir Mick Davis, born in Port Elizabeth in  South Africa, has spent a lifetime building mining companies with a shrewd eye for investment and the price of resources. He cut his teeth at Gencor and Billiton in South Africa before building Xstrata into an international force to be reckoned with.

A company called Cornish Metals has raised more than £40 million to pump out an old tin mine, near Redruth the home of the Cousin Jacks. It was raised with the help of a group of investors, including Sir Mick. The mine is South Crofty which dates back to the 17th century. I went there for a story, in midwinter, nearly 30 years ago when the tin mine was in danger of closing. I can tell you it is one of the most exposed coastal spots in the country, with a wind strong enough to knock you off your feet; the prospects for tin – at the time – were equally bleak. It was only a matter of time before the wheel at the top of the headgear, towering over Redruth, stopped turning.

The tin prices dived and South Crofty closed in 1998; the water took over.

Now Cornish Metals hopes to get South Crofty up and running again by 2026 creating 270 jobs for modern-day Cousin Jacks. The investment will go to pumping out the mine and a study, after which a decision on construction will be made in 18 months’ time, according to the Financial Times in London. The reason for the remarkable revival is a worldwide shortage of tin and a skyrocketing price on the markets. Tin traded at $13,000-a-tonne in March 2020. Exactly two years later, the tin price shot up to $50,000-a-tonne. It is estimated that the world will need around 400,000 tonnes of tin by the time South Crofty is expected to reopen in  2026. Half of it is used to make solder, some of which end up in our electronic devices. South Crofty is sitting on 65,000 tonnes of tin worth around $2.7 billion at current prices. So, Mick the Miner’s eye for underground opportunities and resources prices appears as clear as ever.