Bernard Swanepoel
Bernard Swanepoel

Bernard Swanepoel

(Image : Times / Telegraph)


When Alan Sutherland made his Rothman’s July winner’s speech as the breeder of the first and second home (Teal and Barellen), he made specific reference to Summerhill (we are neighbours), and suggested the roles had been reversed. Pointedly, he said “now Mickey Goss knows what its like to be living next door to Alice!”. In more recent times, properties neighbouring on Summerhill, have reached an all-time high in popularity terms, with people of the ilk of Moneyweb’sAlec Hogg, top French breeders Xavier and Natalie Bozo (of chocolate manufacturer Lanvin fame) and one of South Africa’s most famous mining sons, Bernard Swanepoel, having invested on our borders.

This weekend, the Sunday Times carried an article on our man, Swanepoel, which not only complimented him, but flattered those who live in his vicinity.

“Entrepreneurial mining engineer Bernard Swanepoel said he is ready to take on the role of “coach” while leaving the corporate responsibilities of running a business in the hands of others.

Swanepoel said the advantage of having retired three times by the time you are 50 is you can really go into what you enjoy in life.

“Instead of having to deal with all the administrative and corporate duties a CEO takes on every day, I would prefer to go to a new acquisition like the contemplated Blyvooruitzicht gold mine and assist the guys on the ground start making money from this asset.”

The ex-Harmony CEO created a new vehicle, Village Main Reef (Village), in recent years to take on ailing mining assets and make them profitable. The company proved the strategy in its latest results, which saw the troubled Buffelsfontein operation become profitable.

“Even though we have now only taken the mine from intensive care to rehab, this is the most successful turnaround I have seen during my 30 years in this business. We expect the mine to turn into a world-class athlete,” said Swanepoel.

The company took over Buffelsfontein and Tau Lekoa mines from Simmer & Jack (Simmers), where Marius Saaiman was CEO and also “the last man standing”, according to Swanepoel.

Saaiman, now chief financial officer, will take over from Swanepoel early next year.

Village plans to mine Tau Lekoa for the rest of its life - about five years. “Running this mine at current gold prices is like printing cash,” said Swanepoel. But the company plans to sell the property across from Tau Lekoa, Weltevreden, also inherited from Simmers, in the first half of the new year.

Swanepoel described ConsMurch as “a cute little thing”. The company bought it for R30-million, an amount it now makes every six months from the mine.

Saaiman said the operation has a strong management team and significant value has been added. The company might look to the East for a 50% buy-in in the antimony producer, used to make fire-retardant products.

Village recently doubled its inferred platinum resource base to 41.8million ounces at Lesego. “The project has lived up to even my wildest expectations, and I have had some pretty wild expectations over the years,” said Swanepoel.

Swanepoel emphasised that the story is not a “Harmony take two” but a different game altogether.

He explained that the current operating environment is not at all like that of the time he headed Harmony. “Back then it was all about size, but right now it is all about the D-word - dividends - which is what our business plan revolves around. We ourselves are heavily invested in Village. We want to almost be like demanding shareholders, not corporate fat cats with helicopters and glass buildings. We unashamedly want it all, great safety, great returns and next month we want more,” commented the aspirant coach.