Richards Bay Minerals GM shot dead in latest violent incident to hit operations
Nico Swart, the general manager for Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), was shot dead on Monday morning, according to numerous media reports. RBM is controlled by Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, which halted work on a planned $463-million extension to RBM two years ago in the face of violence and protests.
Swart was reportedly shot dead while driving to work shortly before 7am, according to a local newspaper, the Zululand Observer. It reported police had confirmed the incident and that more than 20 high-calibre bullets had been fired into his vehicle. The attack has all the hallmarks of a planned hit. Read here.
Rio Tinto did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but MiningMX, a news site focused on the industry, quoted the company as saying: “The circumstances of the shooting are unknown at this stage and the incident is being investigated by the South African Police Services (SAPS).”
RBM mostly produces titanium dioxide slag, used in the production of a range of industrial items from paint to toothpaste. Rio Tinto halted work on a $463-million project at RMB in 2019 because of community protests. The company told Bloomberg in April it did not know when work would resume because of security issues. Read here.
A significant investment is being held up because of the social unrest that so often rocks South Africa’s mining industry. Much of it is rooted in the poverty and exploitation that defined the sector during the apartheid years, but more recent causes include conflict within or between communities over access to jobs and the wider spoils.
Swart’s murder comes more than two months after Wels Sempe, a director and union leader at the Blyvoor mine west of Johannesburg, was shot dead – an event that triggered several weeks of protests forcing the temporary closure of the mine, which had been rebuilt after union violence shut it down almost a decade ago. Read here.
Given that Swart’s murder will appear on the radar screen in the boardroom of a massive foreign investor, it comes as no surprise that there has been an immediate political response to it.
“A crime of this nature not only robs the country of good men and women, but also threatens much-needed foreign direct investment in the economy,” said Sahlulele Luzipo, chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy, in a statement.
The Inkatha Freedom Party said in a statement that criminal elements appeared to be targeting the RBM operation.
“We are concerned about what appears to be a growing disturbing culture of violent and criminal activities being orchestrated to eliminate and intimidate leadership of RBM.
“It is clear that there is a motive to render RBM ungovernable by eliminating management so that criminals can rise to power and do as they please,” the IFP said. DM/BM