Rio Tinto’s RBM in bid to resolve security issues ahead of $463m project restart

Richards Bay Minerals, KwaZulu-Natal

RIO Tinto did not know when it could resume work on a $463m project at its South African unit, Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), said Bloomberg News.

Citing RBM’s MD, Werner Duvenhage, the newswire said that the company was in talks with the country’s authorities in a bid to resolve security problems that halted work on the Zulti South project two years ago.

“The project is still suspended but we continue to work with authorities to progress work, Duvenhage said. “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 do that.”

Community protests – which RBM said did not relate to the company – resulted in one employee being shot and injured. Security has since improved and work continues at the rest of RMB’s operations, but the Rio Tinto company was still concerned about stability at Zulti South, said Bloomberg News.

RMB employs about 5,000 workers and exports titanium dioxide slag, used to create ingredients for products including paint, plastics, sunscreen and toothpaste, said Bloomberg News. Zulti South is intended to extend the life of the entire operation as the commercially viable ore at other sites is depleted. RMB initially targeted completing the project this year, the newswire said.

Community protests around mines relate to issues from poor municipal services to labour conditions and are often marred by violence.

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