‘I will try my best not to do a deal for the sake of ticking a box’
EXXARO Resources was one of the first of South Africa’s coal miners to recognise the investment risks of sticking only to fossil-fuel production. Its Cennergi, a subsidiary, has long been developing renewable power facilities to which Nombasa Tsengwa has since added a focus on power distribution infrastructure. More recently, the company announced a strategy to invest in other battery minerals, including copper. But it has found the going hard: competition for quality resources is global and expensive.
Tsengwa has set aside about R12bn for a deal which she is confident will be this year, but in a sign of the difficulties being encountered she has broadened the scope of acquisitions to include a host of other minerals and metals. Shareholders may prefer the cash to be distributed in a dividend rather than suffer the consequences of a panic buy – a worry Tsengwa has sought to assuage. She is also batting back criticism that the firm’s renewable energy push with its low capex-low returns approach is inconsistent with the high-return bet of the capital-intensive approach customary to mining.
So Tsengwa has it all to prove at a time when capitalising on decent thermal coal pricing is being hindered by the tragi-comedy that is Transnet. Exxaro said in a trading statement there had been no improvement in Transnet’s performance last year, when it hit a 30-year low owing to security problems and locomotive shortages. On the legacy front, Exxaro and other South African coal producers face a class action suit spearheaded by human rights lawyer Richard Spoor on behalf of current and former mineworkers who maintain they have contracted coal mine dust lung disease.
LIFE OF NOMBASA
Tsengwa has a PhD in agronomy from the University of Maryland. She has also completed the Executive Development Programme at INSEAD. Long before the term ESG became embedded in corporate discourse, Tsengwa was at the coal face of such issues, having joined Exxaro in 2003 as GM for safety, health and the environment. That’s certainly now a sought-after and coveted background. She moved into operational management in 2010 as GM of Exxaro’s coal and Mpumalanga operations. Tsengwa was subsequently appointed executive head of coal in 2016.