Rio Tinto, Australia’s second-largest mining company, has suspended operations in South Africa’s Richards Bay and declared force majeure on customer contracts as security fears at the site intensify.
The decision comes after general manager Nico Swart was shot and killed on the way to work in May, becoming the third employee of Rio’s majority-owned Richards Bay Minerals to be killed since 2015.
In recent weeks, members of the public have been setting fire to bulldozers and other heavy machinery on the site.
“The safety of our people is our top priority,” said Sinead Kaufman, Rio Tinto’s head of minerals.
“We continue to offer our full support to the investigating authorities and I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the regional and national governments and South African Police Service as we work together to ensure that we can safely resume operations.”
Rio Tinto, which owns 74 per cent of the Richards Bay mineral sands mine which produces ilmenite, rutile and zircon, has previously had to curtail production and shelve a planned $500 million growth project due to violent protests.
Staff among Richards Bay Minerals’ 5000-strong workforce are fearful Rio may opt to close the site entirely.
The United Association of South Africa trade union is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the police to intervene and stabilise the situation.