‘Even if TFR did not have problems, we would do this because it makes sense from a business perspective’
JULY Ndlovu clearly follows Oliver Cromwell’s dictum: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry.” Even while he maintained that the mining industry could work with Transnet to fix some of the parastatal’s problems, Thungela suspended some of its mining operations in South Africa and diversified into Australia. By June last year, Transnet’s annualised exports were down to about 48.5 million tons (Mt) from about 70Mt a few years ago.
The chaos at Transnet got progressively worse, rather than better, during the year, to the point where there was a three-month queue of container ships outside the port of Durban by year-end. More and more coal was being trucked to Richards Bay during 2023 because of the poor performance of the rail line, but this caused so much congestion that by November Transnet Ports said it was not going to process any more coal trucks at Richards Bay. Thungela does not truck coal long-distance, but continued to rail as much high-grade coal as prices permitted. It was not enough. In the first part of 2023 it suspended three underground sections and has revised down its guidance on export saleable production for the year by about 1Mt. All this fully justifies Thungela’s decision to diversify geographically.
In August, it finalised the acquisition of Ensham Resources, an Australian coal producer. Ensham, which cost Thungela R4.1bn to buy, is expected to produce about 2.7Mtpa of export thermal coal at an FOB cost of between $110 and $120/t. In South Africa, Thungela has two replacement projects: the R2.4bn Zibulo North, which will extend the life of the Zibulo complex by 10 to 12 years, and another at Elders, which should come on stream in the first half of 2024
LIFE OF JULY
Ndlovu has headed what was formerly Anglo American SA’s thermal coal business (which was separately listed on the JSE in 2021) since September 2016. Before that, he headed Unki Platinum in Zimbabwe (also part of the Anglo group) for over nine years. He also filled various senior managerial positions in Anglo’s Zimbabwean businesses in metallurgical operations and technical services. He holds a BSc in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe, as well as an MBL. His leadership style is described as respectful and fair.