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Mark Creasy could put South Africa on map as hot mining destination

One of Australia's most successful mining entrepreneurs, Mark Creasy, has turned to South Africa in the hopes of finding the next big deposit, a move that could be just the key to bolstering the country's image as an attractive mining jurisdiction.

The mining world witnessed what the renowned U.K.-born prospector did for the Fraser Range region of Western Australia, with his discovery of the Nova nickel deposit that is now owned by Independence Group NL.

That discovery drew several explorers out of the woodwork as they sought to uncover something just as valuable as Nova, and the flurry of activity propelled the largely underexplored and little-known Fraser Range into a highly prospective mining destination.

Prior to making the Nova discovery, Creasy — who has been prospecting since 1968 — unearthed gold in the Wiluna region of Western Australia, which led to the development of the Bronzewing and Jundee mines that are now owned by Northern Star Resources Ltd.

The sale of the two deposits to the Joseph Gutnick-backed Great Central Mines Pty. Ltd. for A$130 million in 1994 marked the beginning of a string of financial windfalls made through various mining successes in Australia.

Creasy, who is now estimated to be worth just under £300 million, subsequently created the Mark Creasy Group, which funds the biggest private prospecting business in Australia and South Africa.

He has stakes in about 40 to 50 other listed companies, most of which are junior explorers. Creasy usually takes big stakes and maintains joint venture interests, which pay off when a major discovery is found.

His philosophy in this regard is that he only makes money if and when other shareholders make money.

The Mark Creasy Group is understood to control about 54,140 square kilometers of tenements through at least 30 different holding companies in Australia and more than 3,500 square kilometers of tenements in South Africa through private company White Rivers Exploration Pty. Ltd.

White Rivers, which Creasy founded and is a major shareholder of, owns 14 exploration properties in the Witwatersrand basin and Kwa-Zulu Natal regions of South Africa.

The Johannesburg-based company, which is the second-largest tenement holder in the gold-rich Witwatersrand basin, now looks to have stumbled onto a potentially large gold find near Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd.'s Target mine.

In early September, White Rivers revealed it had made a discovery of 11.5 million ounces at 8.9 g/t of gold in an area it holds in joint venture partnership with Harmony.

White Rivers Executive Chairman Neil Warburton has confidence in Creasy's ability to be as successful in this latest mining endeavor as he has been in the past.

"I was very surprised when I went to London to speak about White Rivers, Mark has got a very, very good reputation in London like he has in Australia," Warburton told SNL Metals & Mining.

"He has been a very successful entrepreneur and mining investor over a number of years and Mark's involvement in White Rivers just adds credence, I think, to the concept that South Africa is a good place to invest. He has been very successful in Australia and I think he will be very successful again in South Africa."

Possibly the key to Creasy's success is his strategy of investing in a downturn, a time when investment in exploration is a luxury that most miners decide they cannot afford.

"He's a very anti-cyclical investor," Warburton said. "Where he sees an opportunity, he goes in there and pegs the ground, gets tenure to the ground, explores the ground and when the cycle does turn, obviously he is sitting pretty for a large capital gain."

Creasy is also not afraid to take a punt on a higher-risk jurisdiction such as South Africa.

"He puts his money where his mouth is," Warburton said. "While people weren't in South Africa, Mark was putting his own money at risk in an area that probably people thought wasn't a safe investment, but that's Mark. He goes into areas where other people probably think it is not the right time to invest in."

Creasy is now looking to float White Rivers on the LSE via a £25 million to £30 million initial public offering opening in March 2017 for listing on the bourse in late April 2017.

At 72 years old, he is reluctant to hang up his boots and continues his search for the next "big one."