KwaZulu-Natal based Richards Bay Minerals, a subsidiary of international mining corporation Rio Tinto, halted operations last week in the wake of mounting violence in surrounding communitites which saw one worker shot and injured.
RBM, on South Africa’s east coast, employs about 5,000 staff and contractors, and exports titanium dioxide slag, used to create ingredients for products including paint, plastics, sunscreen and toothpaste. An expansion project announced in April is seeking to maintain output of high-margin products at the site amid a strong market outlook, according to Rio.Rio Tinto Group halted mining operations at its Richards Bay Minerals unit in South Africa amid escalating violence in surrounding communities that led to an employee being shot and injured.Smelters at the site in the KwaZulu-Natal province are operating at a reduced level and a $463 million expansion project has been temporarily paused, London-based Rio said Wednesday in a statement. There’s been an escalation of criminal activity directed at the operation’s staff, Rio said.Output for 2019 is now expected to be at the low end of a guidance range of 1.2 million to 1.4 million tons and Rio is contacting customers to minimize disruptions. It isn’t clear when operations will resume and the company is appealing to the government to step in and end the violence, Werner Duvenhage, the managing director for RBM, said by phone.
The National Union of Mineworkers on Wednesday expressed concern at what it called the snail’s pace in finding a long-lasting resolution to the violence at titanium dioxide producer Richards Bay Minerals, which has been put under care and maintenance for an indefinite period.
Some of its members had over the past three weeks encountered road blockages and “ambush shootings” while on their way to work.
“Our member was shot at while travelling on the bus to work and till now no arrest has been made. We call upon law enforcement agency to do their job. NUM further calls for a speedy resolution to this ongoing problem to save the lives and jobs of our members,” the union’s KwaZulu-Natal regional secretary Muzikayise Zakwe said in a statement.
“We plead with all stakeholders to play their roles in ensuring that the environment is conducive for our members to go to work safely and the mining processes continue without any problems.”
Rio Tinto chief executive J-S Jacques said: “Rio Tinto has a long history in South Africa, and today’s investment underscores our commitment for the coming decades and beyond. Zulti South is one of the best undeveloped minerals sand deposits in the industry, and will significantly extend RBM’s position as a world-class, first-quartile asset.”
Rio Tinto Energy & Minerals chief executive Bold Baatar said the company’s investment in Zulti South would ensure it maintained its contribution to the province and partner communities.
“We want to recognise the support from the government of South Africa, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial leadership and, most importantly, the invaluable support of our host communities – Mbonambi, Sokhulu, Mkhwanazi and Dube – in securing the future of this world-class business.”
Durban-based economist Bonke Dumisa said the investment was “very significant” as the country needed as much investment flow as it could it get.
He added that any investment should follow the proper planning and approvals and lead to job creation.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sihle Zikalala said it was encouraging that more business organisations such as RBM continued to express their commitment to the growth of the provincial economy.
“The investment by RBM is a major vote of confidence in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, one of our two special economic zones that have attracted R11.9bn of investments since its inception a few years ago,” said Zikalala.
He said companies were investing in KZN because government had created a conducive environment for businesses.
“We call on the people of KZN to continue working with us in ensuring that we make investors feel that this is a province where they can come and settle.”
He said KZN was targeting business prospects worth more than R200bn, which was announced when the province launched its investment booklet recently.
Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe also welcomed the RBM investment announcement.
“The investment is an affirmation of South Africa’s attractiveness as an investment destination. It confirms South Africa’s stable and predictable policy and regulatory environment,” he said.
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