MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa: Community blockade closes Rio Tinto mine

Published by MAC on 2016-05-10
Source: BDLive, Reuters

A Rio Tinto mine has been closed by community protests in another part of the world; in this case at Richards Bay Minerals in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.

Blockade closed Richards Bay Minerals mine

by Nompumelelo Magwaza

9 May 2016

OPERATIONS at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) in northern KwaZulu-Natal have been suspended after community members blockaded roads leading to the mine’s entrance.

RBM is a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. It extracts titanium iron ore, rutile and zircon from the dunes surrounding these communities.

Residents of KwaSokhulu and KwaMbonambi are demanding permanent jobs and “equal” business opportunities.

“Over the last few weeks, RBM has faced a series of disruptions as a result of protests and road blockages by the community,” the company said yesterday. “After numerous engagements with community structures, the situation remains volatile. All operations are suspended until further notice.”

Fundi Dlamini, a GM [General Manager] for communities and corporate relations at RBM, sought to downplay the protests. It was not all local residents who were behind protests, but rather “a small group within the community who demands employment and skills development opportunities over and above those we discussed and agree with them on”, he said.

Mr Dlamini declined to disclose how much the shutdown was costing RBM, and said the plants were on care and maintenance.

“We are in constant communication with all our customers and we are doing everything we can to minimise the impact and therefore protecting our reputation with customers,” he said.

Sokhulu Youth Committee deputy-general Mandla Mncadi said the protests were a result of unequal treatment by RBM of its host communities.

“We want to be treated the same as host communities. If the other community is getting business opportunities, we must also get them,” he said. Among other demands, the Sokhulu community wants RBM to offer its residents permanent jobs as well as equal business opportunities, said Mr Mncadi.

But RBM said there were currently no vacancies. “We do employ individuals from the community where there are vacancies. At the moment, there are none,” said Mr Mncadi. “RBM is an equal opportunity employer, which means that each individual needs to meet the criteria we have in place.”

Mr Mncadi said while not everyone was qualified to work in the mine, “RMB needs to train and develop skills among interested community members”.

Department of Mineral Resources spokesman Martin Madlala said: “We are engaged in multistakeholder forums to address the situation together with the MEC (for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs) Mike Mabuyakhulu.”

Rio Tinto’s SA titanium dioxide mine disrupted by community protest

Unclear when output would resume.

Zandi Shabalala


10 May 2016

JOHANNESBURG – Production at Rio Tinto’s titanium dioxide mine in South Africa has been disrupted by community protests such as road blocks, the global miner said on Tuesday, and it was unclear when output would resume.

The Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) operation, in which the global miner holds a 74% stake, is located in the eastern province of KwaZulu Natal and produces 1.05 million tonnes of titanium dioxide annually.

“Over the last few weeks RBM has faced a series of disruptions as a result of community protests and road blockages,” the company said in a statement.

“After numerous engagements with relevant community structures, the situation remains volatile.”

Rio’s Iron & Titanium unit is the world’s top producer of titanium-dioxide feedstock, cast iron, steel and metal powders from its operations in Canada, South Africa and Madagascar.

Titanium dioxide is mainly used to produce titanium pigment, the most commonly used white pigment. It is used to add capacity to paper, paints and plastics.

One out of four of the furnaces at RBM was idled due to lower demand for its products, a 2015 company report said.

A violent community protest in 2013 in Richards Bay cost the company more than R200 million ($13 million) in revenue, a report on the Rio Tinto website showed.

($1 = R15.3075)

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