Extraction of zircon, rutile and ilmenite – used in ceramics and paint, paper and plastic production – is expected to start early next year from a beach north of Strandfontein on the west coast of the Western Cape.
In December 2008 Australian-listed Mineral Commodites (MRC) won the mining rights for the Tormin heavy minerals project, as it has been named by the company. The operation is not far from Lutzville, most famous for its liqueurs, and Vredendal, which is a major town serving the brandy-producing region.
The mine will be situated on the beach next to the Geelwalkaroo farm, not far from Koekenaap and about an hour and a half by motor vehicle from Vredendal. It is close to Eskom’s 100 megawatt Sere wind farm project, which is expected to be fully operational this year.
The company is confident the project will inject “more than” R1 billion a year into the provincial economy for a period of five years, believed to be the lifespan of the mine.
Mining analyst Peter Major of Cadiz Corporate Solutions believed that sea replenishment might lengthen the life of the mine considerably.
Pressed on how the company derived the R1bn figure, Cape Town-based MRC chief executive Andrew Lashbrooke said it was worked out on a five-to-one multiplier on the expected running cost of R220 million a year.
While a limited number of direct jobs would be created – about 40 in the construction phase and about 100 once operational – Lashbrooke believed that an additional 400 indirect jobs would result from the expansion of the transport and other feeder services.
The salary bill would be in the region of R25m a year while the fuel supply bill would likely be about R80m a year.
“It (the mining employment) will have a ripple effect,” he said.
Work would begin shortly to build a heavy metals separator plant on site. The mining will be carried out with a pump mounted on an excavator on the beach. At a concentrator plant, wet magnetic separators will remove ilmenite and garnet and a final zircon-rutile concentrate will be washed, filtered and bagged on site. At a dry separation plan garnet concentrate will be produced.
MRC, through a subsidiary company, has also won the prospecting rights to the Xolobeni mineral sands project on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, near Port Edward. This project has been a source of some controversy as some of the Amadiba community who live on the land where the mining will take place have objected to the mining.
Lashbrooke acknowledged that there were also some objections to the Xolobeni project from the Wild Coast Sun, which had argued it would cause environmental damage in the area.
The Xolobeni titanium-bearing mineral sands could be a 25-year project but mining is not expected to start for another five years.
The Amadiba community have been brought on board as part of MRC’s empowerment partner for its Tormin project.
A number of members of the community’s leadership were flown in from the Eastern Cape for a tour of the Western Cape beach site last Thursday. They included Mqutshwa Yalo, a member of the Amadiba royal family, Khaliphile Baleni, the head chief of the Amadiba administrative area, and Jackson Dimane, a community member and ward councillor in Xolobeni.
The community of about 45 000 people are represented in a trust which has established a subsidiary firm, the Xolobeni Empowerment Company.