Contrary to widespread misconceptions that mining is an industry that does not benefit the communities situated around mining operations, Imerys South Africa is proving otherwise, writes Reggie Sikhakhane.

France-based industrial minerals company Imerys, through its South African mining subsidiary, Imerys Mining and affiliate Rhino Minerals, officially opened its Annesley andalusite mine in Burgersfort, Limpopo, on 27 March 2013 and simultaneously handed over new houses to 246 families who were relocated from Segorong to Praktiseer and Pidima, also in Burgersfort.

“The opening of the mine and the completion of the houses has been a long and arduous 12-year journey, but finally both the community of Segorong and Imerys South Africa have a good reason to celebrate,” says Imerys’ CEO and chairperson, Gilles Michel.

Having gone through all the necessary steps and requirements set out by the Department of Mineral Resources – including social responsibility aspects as well as necessary legal requirements to operate – the company is now on course to deliver 60 000 tpa of andalusite.

What is andalusite?

Andalusite, which is crystal-like in appearance, is a mineral with high alumina content; its refractory characteristics allow it to withstand high temperatures. The mineral is mined and processed, then sold to refractory makers as a specialty mineral, particularly those in the steel industry. Quartz, graphite and other specialty minerals can also be extracted from andalusite and are used in various industrial applications of a technical nature, such as lithium ion batteries.

In 2001, Imerys Mining took a decision to expand its mining operations at Annesley mine in the Segorong area through its affiliate Rhino Minerals. The mine currently employs 120 people and has a life of mine expectancy of 20 years. Because the planned expansion was going to have a direct impact on the land occupied by the Segorong community, it became necessary for Rhino Minerals to consult the affected community to consider resettlement, compensation and redevelopment of the community.

The resettlement, compensation and redevelopment has seen Rhino Minerals invest over R150 million for the relocation packages that were used for the building of the houses, compensation for grazing and livestock, and a cash settlement allowance for the relocating families. Rhino Minerals has also formalised a Community Trust that is being used by the communities as a vehicle for community benefits, including acquisition of mining shares in the mining company.

“It is part of our culture to contribute meaningfully to surrounding communities where we operate through a variety of developmental projects. We take seriously all our obligations, including environmental and social issues, and are committed to running our operations safely and properly,” says Michel.

The project to build the houses was undertaken by construction giant Group Five. “Group Five Construction, represented by Group Five Housing, is proud to be associated with the relocation of villages and the construction of 239 houses varying in size from 51 m² to 180 m² at Praktiseer and Pidima in the Burgersfort area for the Imerys Group’s Rhino Minerals. We were also responsible for all services including water, sewer and the road infrastructure network; new electrical infrastructure for both villages as well as the installation of high mast lights. The successful completion of this quality project without a single lost time injury, ahead of programme and within budget, demonstrates once again that Group Five understands the needs of its mining clients and is positioned to deliver on their requirements,” says Group Five Housing’s contracts director, Peter Whalley.

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