South Africa has the largest known deposits of manganese ore in the world and is the largest producer of iron ore in Africa, making mining operations in the arid Northern Cape critical to the national economy and one of the largest employers in the region.

Production volumes among the two biggest players in the regions mining sector Assmang and Anglo American continued to increase at a tremendous speed. To cater for new employees and respond within the ambit of the revised mining charter, published by government in late 2010, both mining houses are planning on creating new and upgrading existing accommodation, with a number of housing projects both on the drawing board and under construction.

Gary Westwood, sales manager for the Free State and Northern Cape region, says that Corobrik takes pride in being a part of the progress of a sector that is the greatest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product.

“For example, Anglo American‘s Kumba Iron Ore operation, which is located in Sishen near the town of Kathu, is believed to be one of the seven largest opencast mines in the world. It produced 38.9 Mtpa in 2011. Kumba is currently building 60 mine management houses with our Blue Barley Travertine and Roan Travertine face bricks. A contract for the construction of a further 47950 m2of houses has been awarded to Steffanuti Stocks and is scheduled to begin before year end,” Westwood says.

In addition, production at the Kolomela mine in Posmasburg came on stream in May last year and is expected to add additional production of 13 Mtpa. This Kolomela mine expansion saw Corobrik delivering some two million Corngold Satins for the building of 400 staff houses. This project has been divided into three projects, namely Postdene, Airfield and Boichoko, he adds.

Quoting the revised Mining Charter of 2010, Westwood points out that during the apartheid era, the mining sector was known for the appalling living conditions under which its workers lived, which led to a myriad of social ills including the destruction of the social fabric of communities, substance abuse, as well as the contraction and spread of diseases.

“A review in 2009, prior to the amendment of the charter, indicated that many mines were making solid efforts to upgrade housing, with many moving away from controversial hostel systems to create quality family homes. To build on this, new policy guidelines have since been put in place to ensure that accommodation was not only consistent with international best practices, but also to help facilitate home ownership for all mine employees by 2014. It is a stipulation that home ownership must be both affordable and sustainable,” he adds.

He says that, in meeting the objectives of the mining charter, the use of clay brick in housing projects goes a long way to provide both affordable and sustainable housing. Very importantly, a clay brick house meets the aspirational requirements of the prospective home owners to live in proper houses and all the dignity associated with that. Miners keen to be housed may consider themselves fortunate that South Africa has not compromised and digressed from its well-entrenched masonry tradition and all the associated benefits that clay brick brings to house construction.

Brick fits all three dimensions of sustainability. At a social level nobody wants the stigma attached to living in a prefabricated box and there is no good reason that they should. Clay brick construction is proven to be as economical as built and its record of performance, its robustness, its durability assures a low lifecycle cost. Clay bricks have mineral properties that meet all necessary requirements for healthy living, release no toxic fumes under both normal and fire conditions to impinge on air quality, have natural sound insulation properties to support quiet indoor environments and sustainable value emerges in a unique holistic context.

Westwood adds that in light of the fact that the region borders the Kalahari desert and has some of the most acute temperature fluctuations in the country, the energy efficiency that resulted from the use of clay brick is particularly important. The real benefits of clay brick construction are realised in our long hot summer months when the natural thermal properties of clay brick help attenuate the impact of high outdoor temperatures.

“The value of thermal mass the clay brick walls provide slows the heat flow to the inside by 6 to 8 hours over the hottest parts of the day, moderating internal conditions and providing target thermal comfort for longer, reducing artificial cooling interventions. The use of clay brick in this instance complements the priority being given to the use of solar power in these projects,” he added.

Westwood said that one of the most critical housing projects in the Northern Cape and one of the greatest challenges faced by the mining industry as a whole is the resettlement of residents to facilitate the expansion of a mine.Plans are currently being finalised to relocate the entire town of Dingleton, situated 12 km south-west of Kathu, to allow further expansion at the Sishen mine. This will require the building of more than 500 houses as well as schools, police stations and commercial properties.

Assmang owns both manganese and iron ore production facilities in the Northern Cape, with its iron ore mines being located in Kathu and Posmasburg, and its manganese operations in the towns of Hotazel and Black Rock.

The recent fall in manganese prices has forced it to delay its capital projects in Black Rock and Hotazel. However, we believe these which include 200 mine houses, a gym, a new guest house and accommodation for 40 students are expected to go ahead towards the middle of2013. In Posmasburg, they are currently busy with the construction of some 700 new houses. In Kuruman, 800 houses will be built. The first phase, which comprises 89 units, was scheduled to start in January 2013. A combination of Nevada Travertine, Nebraska Travertine, Corngold Satin and Opal Satins has been specified by Assmang for these projects.

In Kathu, there are plans to build 700 houses. Group 5 is already busy with the construction of 300 houses using our Sapphire Satin, Nevada Travertine, Montana Travertine, Nebraska Travertine and Opal Satin. VHB Developments is also busy with 60 houses, which are being built with Sapphire Satin and Corngold Satin. Approximately 200 have already been completed and there are plans to extend the total number of houses to approximately 1 000!

Westwood understands that Assmang staff homes will be built by the mine with the intention to sell them onto the workers at subsidised rates. To help facilitate this,staff receive a housing allowance of R2 500 while they are in Assmang‘s employ that can go towards bond repayments.

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