Global mining giant Rio Tinto announced Tuesday that it has “begun the process of restarting operations at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM),” its main sand mining company in the northern industrial city of KwaZulu-Natal.
However, the restart of operations at RBM, the largest employer in the area, is expected to take some time and the group has yet to lift a declared force majeure in client contracts in June after violence halted the operations. operations.
In May, mine operations GM Nico Swart was killed in a hail of bullets. While no suspects have been arrested, the execution-style murder is believed to be related to protests by local communities seeking greater financial gain from the Richards Bay operating mine.
Read: Force Majeure at Richards Bay Minerals is a wake-up call for SA
It was the second time in less than two years that violence halted operations at the facility and has seen Rio Tinto freeze a major expansion of R6.6 billion in RBM for now.
In its statement announcing the restart of operations, Rio Tinto said the decision “follows a stabilization of the security situation around the mine.”
He highlighted the support of the national and provincial government to help stabilize the situation “as well as a substantial commitment to the host communities and their traditional authorities.”
“Operations will increase their capacity as soon as possible. The overall impact of the suspension of operations, including the closure of furnace number 4, announced on July 21, 2021, has yet to be assessed. At this time, the force majeure declared in the clients’ contracts remains, ”he added.
“The safety and security of our people has been our top priority at all times,” said Rio Tinto Minerals Executive Director Sinead Kaufman.
“We acknowledge the collaboration and constructive dialogue we have had with all stakeholders to put ourselves in a position where we can restart operations and resume contributing to the host communities, KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa,” he added.
Kaufman recognized “the resilience and dedication shown by all of our people at RBM over the past few weeks.”
Enhanced Trust Fund Agreement
Although Rio Tinto did not elaborate on the agreement reached with the affected communities, the local newspaper Zululand Observer reported on Tuesday that the “signing of an enhanced trust fund agreement with various stakeholders on Monday has paved the way for the restart of mining activity” at RBM.
“It was cemented with the release of another R130 million to trusts established for each of the communities surrounding the mining and smelting operation,” the newspaper said.
“With this agreement, all parties have come together to commit to the long-term modernization of trusts for the benefit of host communities,” RBM Managing Director Werner Duvenhage is quoted as saying in the Zululand Observer.
“This is an important milestone and the contribution that GBR makes to the communities through these funds will go towards achieving its intended purpose, which is to directly support local economic development in the communities.
“We are grateful for the support and collaboration of Amakhosi, the provincial and national governments and other stakeholders,” added Duvenhage.
Union welcomes the news
The resumption of operations at RBM has been welcomed by the Uasa workers union and will undoubtedly also be acclaimed by organized companies, provincial authorities and the local community.
“Uasa is pleased with the unique agreement signed between RBM and the leaders of the four host communities around the mine to bring peace to the area, and specifically between community members and the mine,” Uasa spokesperson Abigail Moyo said in a statement.
“Over the years, RBM and its workers have had to live with terrible acts of violence committed by angry community members in protest against the mine,” he said.
This resulted in the loss of expensive mining equipment and some workers were injured on the way.
“By signing the agreement, RBM demonstrates its commitment not only to the surrounding communities, but also to the creation of a safe workplace for Uasa members and other workers,” he said.
“The RBM must remain operational for the benefit of workers and the community. The importance of the agreement is that the mine can resume operations without further obstructions or economic setbacks for the province.
“Uasa is hopeful that the agreement will improve governance, trust and commitment between the parties in the future, as expected. The host communities around the GBR have struggled for the improvement of their living standards and the benefits of the GBR for years and we are confident that the agreement will result in added value for both parties, ”added Moyo.