SALDANHA Bay is set to become a hub of industrial activity in the Western Cape with the announcement this week of a plan to build a R15 billion rare metals industry complex, with a titanium smelter, at the West Coast town.
Other industries envisaged for Saldanha are ship building, maritime-repair industries, steel production and manufacturing, oil and gas support industries with a floating dry dock and a land-based dry dock, manufacturing of renewable-energy components and renewable-energy generation.
The Saldanha Municipality has signed memoranda of agreement with 14 foreign investors indicating the local authority’s support for their proposals.
Wesgro, on behalf of the provincial government, has commissioned consultants to conduct a feasibility study on the potential of Saldanha to become an Industrial Development Zone (IDZ). The first phase has been completed and potential development projects have been identified. The study also identified the availability of land, environmental constraints and available infrastructure.
The second phase is under way, looking at the economic impact of setting up an IDZ and its design. The final stage will result in the development of a business model and plan.
Trade and Industry minister Rob Davies announced on Wednesday that the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) would explore the potential of co-financing, with local and foreign investors, of a rare metals beneficiation complex at Saldanha.
The empowerment fund facilitates black empowerment deals and would drive the project. It would produce metals with a high value, including titanium, zirconium and silicon. About 7 000 jobs would be created at the plant.
Davies said South Africa exported titanium sands for $400 (R2 690) a ton, when the country could get $1 000 a ton through setting up beneficiation plants. It was important that South African started to maximise benefits of its rich mineral reserves, he said.
Shane Cordom, head of strategic development at Saldanha Municipality, said the rare metals complex was likely to be set up alongside the ArcelorMittal steel factory, formerly Saldanha Steel.
He said Exxarro Sands, formerly Namakwa Sands, mined the sands at Brand-se-Baai on the West Coast, 350km north of Cape Town.
“The titanium sand gets exported to China and other countries, but the plan is to produce titanium from the sands from a beneficiation complex at Saldanha, and so increase the worth.
Cordom said the move involved a partnership between the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the NEF and Rare Metals Industry, a Russian company. The company has a titanium smelter in Russia and the UK.
The rare metals prefeasibility study cost R25m, he said.
Jacyntha Maclennan, a senior manager at Wesgro, said that once the study to determine the feasibility of establishing an IDZ at Saldanha had been completed, it would be submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry.
Michael Bagraim, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the plans for a rare metals industry as well as the inclusion of in the department’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) for 2012, of the oil and gas industry and boat building industry.
He said the rare metals complex would be a catalyst for further growth in Saldanha, which could become a major industrial centre.
Bagraim warned that a great deal depended on a reliable energy supply and said it was time for the Western Cape to generate more of its own electricity using gas and renewable sources.