KZN puts mining into school syllabus

In April this year the MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal Peggy Nkonyeni announced that her department would embark on a pilot project for the introduction of mining as a subject in grade 10 in five districts, starting in July. “As the department we have started initiatives to diversify our curriculum as a value-addition to the requisite skills base for radical economic transformation,” she said.

The planned introduction of mining in the school syllabus is probably much needed – according to Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal (TIKZN) ilmenite, rutile and zircon are mined on a large scale for their titanium and zirconium contents from aelian beach dunes in the northern areas of KwaZulu-Natal, while large ore reserves are held by Richards Bay Minerals, a leading producer of heavy minerals, which mines a stretch of land along the coastline north of Richards Bay (the City of uMhlathuze).

Mineral-rich

Impressively, Richards Bay Minerals meets about a quarter of the world’s demands for these products, generating billions of rands in foreign currency. The region is also rich in other minerals such as aluminium, anthracite and calcitic marbles.

Ticor South Africa, launched in 2001, is also situated in the Richards Bay/Empangeni area and represents an investment of R3-billion in the production of titanium slag.

In 2007, a study undertaken by Mintek (which specialises in minerals and metallurgical technology) and commissioned by TIKZN, found that 20 farms in the region had high potential for coal mining. 

The constituent minerals for many building materials like ceramics, cement, bricks, aggregate, sand and dimension stone have also been identified in the province.  According to the study, even gold deposits have been found south of Vryheid and uranium north-east of Port Shepstone. 

At the time, TIKZN stated that the findings would be used as a marketing tool and would make it much easier to talk to foreign investors about opportunities in the province. 

A recent TIKZN publication outlining investment opportunities in the province highlights several exciting potential projects in the mining sector.

These include:

•          The production of aluminium discs using primary aluminium produced in nearby refineries:  The aim of this project is to establish a 12?000 tonne per annum greenfield aluminium slug plan in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone.  The slug can then be sold to global manufacturers of aerosol cans, medicinal tubes, bottle caps and automotive filter casings.

•          The manufacture of aluminium pistons:  South Africa’s last remaining piston manufacturer closed down a few years ago, meaning that we now import pistons (used in the automotive industry) from overseas.  However, South Africa has the raw material and foundry capability available to manufacture pistons locally, and a concept study carried out by TIKZN highlighted a growing market demand for this. 

•          The manufacture of magnesium metal: the goal is to manufacture 44 000 tonnes a year of magnesium metal, either using magnesia imported through the port of Richards Bay or utilising domestic aluminium, ferrosilicon and limestone or dolomite. 

•          The production of aluminium alloy wheels using aluminium sourced from a proximal refinery. The end goal is an aluminium alloy manufacturing facility to provide products to both the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and after-sale markets, locally and internationally.  According to TIKZN, negotiations have already begun for the export of the product to the UK and for the local supply of OEMs Ford, Toyota and Hyundai. Raw material for production is readily available from BHP Billiton’s smelter in Richards Bay, and the technology required is readily available. 

World class

According to the TIKZN website, KwaZulu-Natal’s world class aluminium smelting facilities “have generated significant overseas interest, with Canadian-based Consolidates Trillion Resources (CTR) entering into an exclusive agreement with Goswell Developments in South Africa to market and utilise technologies already in use”.

“This venture aims to increase production from the current 22 million pounds of aluminium ingot per annum to 40 million pounds. There remains scope to increase take up for extruded products, but capital investment is high and margins are low, with competition from scale operations,” states the website.

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