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CALEDONIA Mining Corporation lifted gold output at Zimbabwe-based Blanket Mine by 17% last year, after scaling up throughput at the “game-changing” Central Shaft, an underground operation that blasted off its first bullion in April, according to chief executive officer Steve Curtis.

In a shareholder update on Tuesday, Curtis said the firm scaled up output to 67 476 ounces (oz) during the review period, above its 2021 target of between 61 000oz and 67 000oz, giving impetus to directors’ long cherished ambition to reach 80 000oz by the end of this year.

On a quarterly basis, Blanket bolstered output by 24% to 18 604oz during the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2021, compared to 15 012 ounces of gold mined during the prior comparable period in 2020, Curtis said.

“This has been an outstanding performance and a tremendous team effort…we were able to exceed our revised annual production guidance.

“The commissioning of the Central Shaft, record gold production, along with a continued commitment to safety, all in one year, is an outstanding achievement and testament to the quality of the Caledonia technical team. Now that the Central Shaft is complete, the company will focus on other areas of its growth strategy, as we continue to evaluate investment opportunities, with a vision of becoming a multi-asset gold producer,” said Curtis.

Central Shaft represents one of the most recent significant gold mining investment projects in Zimbabwe that is a game-changer to Caledonia’s local interests.

The asset performed to expectation during the review period, underpinning most of the growth figures released on Tuesday which were in line with the combined sector output announced by government last week.

For Caledonia, 2020 was a tricky period highlighted by continuing tough foreign currency retention thresholds imposed by the central bank.

These were compounded by the effects of heavy rains which flooded shafts at the beginning of the year.

Central Shaft is expected to further ramp up Blanket’s gold production this year, trim overheads and help the firm build fresh capacity to undertake further exploration and development.

Blanket represents part of Caledonia’s bigger Zimbabwean ambition.

Curtis last year announced plans to pounce on at least two more gold assets and expand Caledonia’s Zimbabwean presence.

Before that, Bloomberg had reported that the firm was interested in buying one of Zimbabwe’s largest gold operations as it embarked on an aggressive programme to acquire more assets in the country.

The report said the Jersey-based gold producer was weighing the acquisition of Bilboes Gold’s Isabella-McCays-Bubi mines in northwest Zimbabwe.

The mines can potentially produce more than 200 000 ounces of gold.

Most of the Isabella-McCays-Bubi operations were at the time mothballed as the owners scouted for investors.

The firm listed on the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX) in December 2021.

Caledonia hopes to leverage on the forex-indexed VFEX to fund-raise for its ambitious expansion in Zimbabwe.

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