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South African miners join race to buy Botswana's Khoemacau copper mine -sources

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Impala, Exxaro, Sibanye in the race: sources

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South32, Sandfire Resources drop out

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Valuation stumbling block for some bidders

By Felix Njini and Clara Denina

NAIROBI/LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) -

At least three South African miners are in the running to buy Botswana's Khoemacau copper mine that is home to one of Africa's largest copper deposits, several sources told Reuters, as growing demand for the metal ensures strong competition for the sought-after asset.

Johannesburg-listed Impala Platinum, Exxaro Resources and Sibanye Stillwater are weighing bids for the copper and silver mine in Botswana, said the sources with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the information.

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A number of unnamed Chinese investors, are also on the list of companies interested in Khoemacau Copper Mining operations, one of the sources said.

Impala declined to comment. Exxaro did not immediately respond to emailed questions. Sibanye confirmed its interest.

"We are looking all the time for opportunities and Khoemacau came up on our radar and we have entered into an non-disclosure agreement to try and understand the opportunity better," Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted told Reuters. "But Khoemacau is a bit more competitive and we are not going to enter into a bidding war that ends up not creating value."

An increase in copper demand for applications from solar panels to electric cars in coming years has prompted miners to scramble for more supplies of the metal.

Copper prices have fallen due to fears of a global slowdown, but longer-term prospects for the metal and a competitive bidding process will make it hard for any of the bidders to strike a bargain, two of the sources said.

Khoemacau's owners - Cupric Canyon LP, a U.S. private equity firm with funds managed by Global Natural Resources Investments (GNRI) and Resource Capital Fund VII LP - said in May they had begun to engage with potential buyers.

The process is expected to take several months and be finalised close to the end of 2023, a Khoemacau spokesperson said.

Diversified miner South32 and Australian rival Sandfire Resources dropped out of the race after the first bidding round due to the mine's high valuation, the two sources said.

Khoemacau may be valued at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, three banking sources added.

South32's CEO Graham Kerr appeared to balk at the cost during the company's earnings results in August, saying: "That's probably a very competitive process and one that will be a little bit too rich for our blood."

South32 declined to comment further.

Analysts at Citigroup said in a note that while the assets could be valued at $1.8 billion, the investment would be worthwhile for South32 at $1.2 billion.

A spokesperson for Sandfire declined to comment on the process.

Khoemacau is located in the Kalahari Copper Belt, a vast swathe of land that stretches from north-east Botswana to parts of western Namibia.

It produces about 60,000 tons of copper and about 2 million ounces of silver per year. Future output could be ramped up to about 130,000 tons of copper and 5 million ounces of silver per year with additional investments.

Khoemacau's owners are open to either a partnership or an outright sale, one of the sources said.

(Reporting by Felix Njini and Clara Denina, editing by Deepa Babington)