ASX- and JSE-listed base metals developer Orion Minerals has made a significant effort to equip and enable the communities near its Prieska zinc/copper project, in the Northern Cape, to benefit from, and contribute to, the development of a modern, mechanised and productive mining operation, says Orion CEO Errol Smart.
He tells Mining Weekly that Orion has liaised with communities and the SiyaThemba municipality with the aim of preparing residents to exploit opportunities created by the development and eventual operation of the mine. “We’re talking to communities to ensure that they are able to foresee what’s going to happen and then to contribute sensibly to these developments . . . because it isn’t a one-way street – it’s also about how communities can benefit the mine.”
Smart says most South African mining projects are an extension of legacy mining operations and therefore tend to be locked into, and perpetuate, a cycle of inefficient labour-intensive, unsafe operations.Unique Situation
“Prieska is unlike operations in Limpopo or Mpumalanga – where there is a high density of existing mining operations with an existing labour force that the mines cannot retool, and with communities that sometimes justifiably feel disenfranchised. “We’ve got this unique situation where we are starting afresh and so we can, with the benefit of hindsight, get it right the first time.”
One of Orion’s key community programmes is educating young people to participate in the development and operation of a mine that uses Fourth Industrial Revolution concepts and technologies such as Educational Videos on Demand and partnering with companies and nonprofit organisations to provide the best possible tuition for these students.
Another is the use of Supply Chain Network, a national online supply chain portal that allows Siya Themba companies to preregister in an open and transparent manner, enabling local providers of goods and services to access some of the mining opportunities emerging throughout the continent.
“We believe it is unhealthy that local suppliers become reliant on us as their only client . . . we want them to become part of a global industry and to grow to a point where they can outlast any downturn we may experience and potentially outlast the mine itself.”
He notes that the project aims to support and enhance the existing community rather than enable a mass migration to Prieska. “We don’t want to just become an employer . . . we want to be enablers. Rather than employing a mechanic, we’d rather enable a local mechanic to service our fleet, or other mining fleets throughout the region.”
Smart also notes that, with feasibility studies on the Prieska development nearing completion, Orion now has a clearer picture of the potential number of workers it will employ, alongside those it currently does, while educating and directing community members in terms of where job opportunities lie.
Based on current estimates, the Prieska operation is looking to employ between 600 and 800 people because, while it will deliver close to the original mine’s throughput of about 250 000 t a month, a lot more of the processes will be mechanised.
“We’re not inventing new methodologies; the technologies and processes we intend to use are international best practice and are used in the most efficient mining operations worldwide – it might be innovative for South Africa, but it’s not rocket science.”Best Solution
Smart says that, in the long term, Orion is looking to beneficiate material locally, and that there are teams “looking at the opportunity and what’s the best solution for us”.
He says South Africa has almost lost its base metals mining sector and that, while Prieska and Vedanta’s Gamsberg will be coming on stream in the near future, the Northern Cape clearly has the potential to become a base metals mining, processing and beneficiation hub.
“It is remote, with a low population density, and is well serviced by renewable energy in particular . . . the Orange river is there in terms of a water source and it has a great road and rail network.”
With regard to Prieska, he says: “We’re hoping that we’ll have the full updated Joint Ore Reserves Comittee-compliant resource by mid-December.” The company expects to secure its mining right by the end of the second quarter of 2019 and complete its bankable feasibility study during the course of the second quarter.