Rio Tinto will resume operations at its Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) sand mine in South Africa, after workers were locked out for five days due to safety concerns over youth gangs.
RBM was under attack for a fortnight by two of these groups – the Mbonambi and Sokhulu ‘community groups’ – both demanding full time jobs as well as bursaries to cover workplace training costs.
The company revealed there were no more jobs at the operation or its processing facilities, prompting violent reactions from the youth. They threatened and harassed drivers, blockaded roads, and damaged mining equipment.
Twenty schools were also allegedly burnt down as part of a protest, with other infrastructure damaged.
The miner said employees had been unable to get to work as a result of the public violence, with some workers refusing to return to the job even with police escorts and the roads declared safe.
They also said the situation remains tense.
“After numerous engagements with relevant community groups, the situation remains volatile.”
A government intervention led to the creation of a ‘cross function task team’, a forum to talk about community grievances, however, the South African Government stated that while RBM was of benefit to the country it is not restricted to employing people solely from its host countries.
The mine is expected to resume operations following a meeting and agreement with both communities, according to City Press news.
RBM spokesperson Fundi Dlamini said, “After successfully engaging with both the Mbonambi [Mbuyazi] and Sokhulu communities, we resolved the community challenge. We agreed on certain action items that will be implemented over the coming weeks and all parties committed toward resuming operations to normal.”
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Bhekani Ngcobo said that workers will need to discuss the plant’s safety situation, saying their team met with management to discuss paying the workers during the time the mine shut down.
“We are also not sure that the situation is normal. They are not going to start work until after they meet to discuss those issues,” she said.