Sunday Times

RBM project in limbo


● Rio Tinto Group’s new $463m (R6.7bn) mining project in SA will remain on hold until the security problems that halted work two years ago are resolved.

Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), the local unit of Rio Tinto, is in talks with authoritie­s to permanentl­y address violent protests around its operations before resuming work on the Zulti South project, said Werner Duvenhage, RBM’s MD.

RBM was forced to halt work at the project in 2019 after protests in which a worker was shot and wounded.

Security has improved and work continues at the rest of RBM’s operations, but Zulti South remains closed.

“It’s critical for the long-term sustainabi­lity of the entire business that we get Zulti South in operation as soon as we possibly could,” said Duvenhage.

Rio Tinto’s only SA business employs about 5,000 workers and exports titanium dioxide slag, used to create ingredient­s for products including paint, plastics, sunscreen and toothpaste.

Zulti South is intended to extend the life of the entire operation because the commercial­ly viable ore at other sites is depleted.

The freezing of Zulti South weighs against efforts to attract new investment to SA. The department of mineral resources & energy did not immediatel­y respond to e-mailed questions.

Community protests around mines relate to issues from poor municipal services to labour conditions and are often marred by violence. RBM has previously said the demonstrat­ions are not related to the company.

While costs associated with the project’s delay are not yet significan­t, “there will be a time when it will probably be too late” to proceed with developmen­t, Duvenhage said.

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