At­tack threat­ens Richards Bay Min­er­als’ new mine

Truck petrol-bombed near Sokhulu and mil­i­tant youths threaten frag­ile ac­cord be­tween com­pany and com­mu­nity

CityPress - - Business - PADDY HARPER busi­ness@city­press.co.za

A new at­tack on con­trac­tors at the Rio Tinto Richards Bay Min­er­als (RBM) mine in the Sokhulu area has placed in jeop­ardy the frag­ile agree­ment be­tween the com­pany and lo­cals, who closed the mine down ear­lier this year.

The at­tack – in which a Uni­trans haulage truck was set alight near the mine’s pits – came days be­fore the of­fi­cial open­ing of com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties at nearby Port Durn­ford. This is where RBM’s new Zulti South mine is be­ing de­vel­oped.

The at­tack was car­ried out by a group of about 12 men, who petrol-bombed a truck car­ry­ing pig iron to the RBM smelter at KwaMbonambi, near Richards Bay, on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. The men fled into the bush on the side of the road when po­lice ar­rived.

No­body was in­jured in the at­tack, but RBM stepped up se­cu­rity pa­trols this week in re­sponse to the re­newed threat.

An­other threat by mil­i­tant youths from Sokhulu, this time to dis­rupt the open­ing cer­e­mony at Port Durn­ford, came to noth­ing. The event was at­tended by Min­eral Re­sources Min­is­ter Mosebenzi Zwane and it went ahead as planned, al­beit sev­eral hours late.

Last month, the mine was forced to stop pro­duc­tion for a full week. This was af­ter as­saults on work­ers and the burn­ing of plant equip­ment by res­i­dents of Sokhulu and Mbonambi, who were de­mand­ing jobs and con­tracts at RBM.

The at­tacks ended af­ter the in­ter­ven­tion of then eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu, who was axed in a sub­se­quent Cab­i­net reshuf­fle.

It is not clear what ef­fect the lead­er­ship change will have on an agree­ment be­tween the com­mu­nity, RBM man­age­ment and the unions to look at how to em­ploy as many lo­cals as pos­si­ble, and how to give local com­pa­nies more busi­ness from the mine.

An RBM spokesper­son con­firmed the at­tack, which took place near one of RBM’s link sta­tions, say­ing that it had not af­fected op­er­a­tions and they were con­tin­u­ing as nor­mal.

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Mpho Mothoa, em­pha­sised that the safety of all em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing con­trac­tors, was “our num­ber one pri­or­ity”.

RBM em­ploys about 2 000 con­trac­tors and 2 000 full-time em­ploy­ees, and makes up 50% of KwaZu­luNatal’s min­ing rev­enue.

Mothoa, who has been part of the ne­go­ti­a­tions with local com­mu­ni­ties, con­demned the at­tack “with con­tempt” and said the de­struc­tion of com­pany prop­erty “serves no pur­pose”.

“We will no longer tol­er­ate such be­hav­iour. Our team is work­ing around the clock to en­sure the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in the in­ci­dent are brought to book.

“We ap­peal to any­one who has in­for­ma­tion to come for­ward as this will as­sist us to root out th­ese de­trac­tors,” he said.

Mothoa said the com­pany was work­ing on a frame­work for en­gage­ment with RBM’s host com­mu­ni­ties – in­volv­ing the local tra­di­tional lead­ers, local gov­ern­ment and the broader com­mu­ni­ties.

“The de­struc­tion of as­sets and any provo­ca­tion is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able, and noth­ing more than crim­i­nal, bent on desta­bil­is­ing this process,” he said.

He told the Port Durn­ford au­di­ence, who had come to the open­ing of the mul­ti­pur­pose cen­tre, that “pock­ets” of peo­ple did not un­der­stand the ben­e­fits from the op­er­a­tion and had tried to de­rail agree­ments be­ing struck with the com­mu­nity.

One of the res­i­dents in­volved in the ear­lier protest, who asked not to be named, said he was scep­ti­cal about the agree­ments be­ing reached.

“This process is tak­ing very long. They are still de­cid­ing who should talk to who. We are get­ting very frus­trated,” he said.

The new Zulti South mine is to start op­er­at­ing next year and will ex­tend the life of RBM to 2034.

It plans to use a sys­tem of ponds and float­ing dredges to mine and re­cover min­er­als, in­clud­ing il­menite, zir­con and ru­tile, from the sand.

Smelt­ing, and slag and iron pro­cess­ing will con­tinue to take place at RBM’s KwaMbonambi smelter.

The com­pany sends about 98% of the 2 mil­lion tons of prod­ucts it pro­duces each year to for­eign paint, glass and au­to­mo­tive cus­tomers.

Pro­duc­tion in­cludes 100 000 tons of ru­tile and 250 000 tons of zir­con.

RBM said it hoped the new mine would al­low the com­pany to main­tain ex­ist­ing pro­duc­tion lev­els as min­eral re­serves at the ex­ist­ing KwaMbonambi mine dry up.

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