News that BHP Billiton is involved in discussions with Hulamin about the future of its 97 000 ton a year Bayside smelter inevitably reminded us all about the most important aspect of BHP Billiton’s aluminium operations, namely the wonderful electricity supply arrangement it has with Eskom.

Hulamin sources a third of its aluminium slab requirements from Bayside in Richards Bay and a successful conclusion of these negotiations should help to put the company’s earnings onto a firm upward trajectory – something it’s been unable to do for some years for a variety of reasons including currency volatility, labour costs and production breakdowns.

While the potential benefits to Hulamin are clear, what is less clear is whether or not it will be able to enjoy the same electricity supply agreement awarded to BHP Billiton.

The amount of electricity involved is not significant in terms of overall national consumption but the price to be charged, in the event of successful negotiations with BHP Billiton, would probably be very significant to Hulamin. Getting the electricity at next to nothing – which is the price being charged to BHP Billiton – would do wonders for Hulamin’s considerably stressed margins. Paying full price for power is of course less attractive.

Business Report has found it extremely difficult – indeed impossible – to get an indication from any of the parties as to whether discussions between the two entities extends to the electricity supply.

But for those who think the closure of BHP Billiton’s operations at Bayside will free up loads of electricity – for use in geysers and other such stuff – the disappointing reality is that Bayside represents a very small part of the resources giant’s electricity usage.

Meanwhile, also on the Eskom front, it’s sad to see this once great parastatal making it onto the international stage for all the wrong reasons. Of course there was a time when people weren’t so fussy about poisonous pollution… and when we had excess electricity producing capacity. page 17


Yesterday international delegates attending the World Future Energy Summit departed the city of Abu Dhabi after vigorous talks about where the world of renewable energies is heading to.

The talks gave as much attention to the African continent as the Persian Gulf region as the host of the conference, and attracted more than 30 000 participants from across the world.

As the participants return home, the Abu Dhabi experience is likely to linger in their minds a little longer, thanks to the unique culture and way of doing business in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE).

First, no matter how important a business commitment is, the person undertaking it will not do so without saying “Insh’allah”, which means “God willing”.

But that does not imply that they will slack at their job, in fact, punctuality is a valuable attribute in the UAE.

The country, though still retaining its Arabic feel and architecture, is very modernised as a result of the diverse cultures, races and religions working there.

Only 10 percent of the region’s population are local people, we were told. The other 90 percent are expatriates.

In fact, I bumped to two Zulu-speaking waitresses there, while it took me a couple of months to find one in Cape Town.

Many South Africans live and work in the UAE and the fact that there is no income tax means they probably are better off than the rest of us financially, even though there is nothing like home.

Petrol is heavily subsidised by the government, water is subsidised and the concept of water recycling leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those residents who are used to fresh water.

Desalination is still a new thing even though it is a water-scarce country. But when it comes to electricity, it is clear that the UAE is making great strides in integrating renewable technologies into its energy mix. After all, the sun shines much more on a desert. page 18

MTN Zakhele

After several abortive attempts to launch over-the-counter trading of its shares, the MTN Zakhele broad-based economic empowerment scheme has shut down communication on plans to resurrect trading this month.

It is expected to reveal information for the commencement today, two weeks before cellular rival Vodacom launches over-the-counter trading, of its YeboYethu scheme shares for the first time.

MTN Zakhele has postponed relaunch more than twice since its platform crashed in November last year, shortly after shares opened for trading on November 25.

More than R15 million worth of shares exchanged hands between black shareholders and other interested qualifying individuals over the first two days. Soon afterwards the site could no longer cope with the overwhelming interest and rather than a blessing, being the first to market emerged as a curse.

MTN Zakhele targeted December 17 for the relaunch but later postponed the date to this month. After rounds of testing, further delays were incurred as the scheme was required to apprise regulatory bodies of the changes to the platform. Earlier this month MTN Zakhele promised to relaunch this month but it declined interviews and withheld the date.

Rival Vodacom did not launch over-the-counter trading of its YeboYethu scheme shares late last year as originally anticipated but it will launch on February 3 on the Express Systems platform, which has served 14 clients that include MultiChoice, Sasol and African Bank.

Etienne Nel, a director of Singular Systems, which owns the platform, said in three years the platform had only seen five hours of total down time. Nel, a former stock broker with nearly two decades of experience, was instrumental in formalising local over-the-counter trading as it exists today through specialised software.

“Up until three years ago it was done ad hoc by some stockbrokers.”

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ann Crotty, Londiwe Buthelezi and Asha Speckman.