RBM to re-open after Rio Tinto’s Stausholm holds crisis meeting with SA president Cyril Ramaphosa

Jakob Stausholm, CEO, Rio Tinto

RICHARDS Bay Minerals (RBM) is to resume operations on Monday following a crisis meeting between South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and Jakob Stausholm, CEO of Rio Tinto which has a 74% stake in the mine.

According to reports from KwaZulu-Natal’s local press, RBM has agreed to reserve at least 40% of the currently available general worker jobs for members of the Sokhulu community with an ultimate target of 50%.

“Yesterday we held another meeting led by the His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa and that virtual meeting was attended by the CEO of Rio Tinto, the holding company of RBM,” KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala was quoted as saying in The South African, an online publication.

He said the meetings held on Thursday (July 8) formed part of ongoing efforts led by the government to resolve the impasse between Richards Bay Minerals and the four host communities. “There will be more engagements with other stakeholders as we will not rest until we reach a long-lasting solution.

“We recognise the immense economic impact that RBM operations have in the region and we believe that RBM operations and its employees must be protected,” he said.

RBM and the Sokhulu community had found common ground on “fundamental issues” including that RBM will afford more job opportunities to people from Sokhulu Community as guided by the Labour Relations Act, said Zikalala.

Other concerns raised by the community included the environmental risks posed by RBM’s operations in the region.

Stakeholders represented at the meetings included Inkosi of KwaSokhulu, members of the Traditional Council, youth representatives from KwaSokhulu, and regional mayors as well as RBM executives and government’s provincial and national departmental officials.

RBM said on June 30 that it had shut its facilities and declared force majeure on customer contracts owing to the deteriorating security at the South African minerals sands mine.

Security problems have plagued the operations for at least the last two years. In May, RBM’s GM, Nico Swart, was shot dead whilst travelling to work. Earlier this month, a group of community members arrived at the mine and burnt four machines.

Rio Tinto told Bloomberg News in April it was unsure when a $463m expansion of RBM would proceed because of security risks. Work on the project was halted two years ago.

The project, known as Zulti South, is intended to extend the life of the entire operation as the commercially viable ore at other sites is depleted. RBM initially targeted completing the project this year, the newswire said.

Rio Tinto has said the Zulti South project was on full suspension since the security and community issues in 2019.

RBM employs about 5,000 workers and exports titanium dioxide slag used to create ingredients for products including paint, plastics, sunscreen, and toothpaste.