Randgold Resources Ltd. poured the first gold bar at the Kibali gold project in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on September 24; the project schedule had previously called for the first pour to take place during Q4 2013.

The Kibali project is 45% Randgold-owned, 45% AngloGold Ashanti-owned, and 10% owned by Congolese parastatal Sokimo; Randgold is developing the project and will operate the mine.

A ceremony celebrating the start of gold production at Kibali was attended by representatives of the provincial government, various national ministries, and the offices of the DRC’s president and prime minister, traditional leaders, and executives of Randgold, AngloGold Ashanti and Sokimo.

Kibali currently has 11 million oz of gold reserves in a resource base of 21 million oz. The life-of-mine plan envisages average production of about 600,000 oz/p of gold for the first 12 years of operation.

With it’s earlier than scheduled start-up, the project now is expected comfortably to exceed its 2013 production target of 30,000 oz and is on track to meet Randgold’s 2014 production forecast of 550,000 oz.

The Kibali project is being developed in two concurrent phases at an estimated initial cost of $1.7 billion. The first phase is an open-pit operation. An underground mine will follow and is scheduled to access ore in 2015, with stopping operations starting later that year.

The Kibali plant’s oxide circuit has been commissioned and is treating oxide ore from a stockpile of more than 1 million mt already produced by the open-pit mine. A sulphide circuit will be commissioned in the second quarter of 2014.

Kibali project development included the resettlement of more than 4,000 families to a new model village and substantial upgrading of local infrastructure.

Speaking at the gold pouring ceremony, Randgold’s general manager of operations for Central and East Africa, Willem Jacobs, said, “Over the lifetime of Kibali, approximately half of its profits will go to the DRC state in the form of royalties, taxes, and dividends. By next year, it will be providing employment to more than 2,500 people on site, almost all Congolese nationals. More than half of its senior management staff are Congolese, while almost 100 Congolese have been trained as skilled operators at our West African mines. In addition to our locals-first employment policy, we also give preference to sourcing our goods and services from local suppliers, which spreads the economic benefit of our activities even wider.

“Important as this day is, it is still only the first step in achieving this project’s great potential,” added Kibali general manager Louis Watum. “With gold sales set to start next month, our focus is now on the commissioning of the rest of the metallurgical plant and the hydropower stations, as well as progressing the underground development.”