The town of Prieska has a second chance to correct the past hit and run practice of mining and industrial companies. Natural and human resources were heavily exploited previously to the benefit of a few shareholders while no or little development takes place in the area. With mineral prospecting on the rise and renewable energy investments reaching new heights, Prieska may well become one of the new economic hubs in the Northern Cape.
The Cape Asbestos Company operated asbestos mines in the area since 1893 after the mineral was discovered in the early 1800’s. Asbestos production peaked in 1977, but due the mining companies’ negligence and the previous government’s inapt health and safety legislation, asbestos mining stopped in 2001. According to research by Dr. Brett Williams, only 14% of workers employed in the asbestos mills “lasted” for more than 5 years.
Hopefully new mining companies in the diamond, zinc, copper, tiger eye, gold and other minerals and precious metals industries will learn from the past. Mining companies like Orion Minerals have committed to more investments to the area. Repli, part of Orion’s BEE partner, led by Nelson Mosiapoa, acquired the prospecting rights surrounding the old previous Anglo Vaal owned copper mine. According to reports, Orion has completed a bankable feasibility study into the redevelopment of the zinc and copper mine in Prieska. Orion’s new empowerment partner, Prieska Resources is majority owned by women. The BEE investors are funding their stake from own sources to the tune of R56.68m plus R28.34 at project level.
Another new development that was publicised in March was that the Anglo American Sefa Mining Fund (AASMF) will buy shares in Orion thorough Repli. On full operation, which will be mechanised and continuous, the mine will employ 850 people. “It’s not about working at the rock face anymore. Machines are used for the hard, dangerous work. For us as the next generation miners, we’ve got to find a safe working environment that can deliver the minerals, and then you’ve got a win. That’s where we’re at. Then you’ve got the multiplier effect of all the personnel providing the engineering services and maintaining the machines that keep the rock coming out of the ground,” said Errol Smart, CEO of Orion Minerals and geologist by profession.
The government’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) has earmarked substantial investments opportunities for Independent Power Producers (IPP’s) in the province. Renewable energy investments in the Prieska area are still very low compared to its potential and should see more renewable energy projects launched in the future. Total (yes, the oil company) was selected to build and operate a photovoltaic solar plant in Prieska some few years back. Total and its partners Mulilo Renewable Energy, Calulo Renewable Energy, IDC ,Futuregrowth and Asset Management became the owners of the largest ground mounted solar plants in Africa at the time when it became operational in 2016. The plant’s 75MW output is supplying electricity to the equivalent of 75 000 homes in the country.
Policy makers and legislators of the province must ensure that they are not riding their hobby-horses and leave the masses behind. Mineral beneficiation has been a longstanding policy position of the provincial government, but its implementation remains elusive, contributing to the “paradox of plenty.” The paradox of plenty or resource curse as it is also known, is the contradiction where countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to experience high levels of inequality, poverty and low economic development in comparison with countries with fewer natural resources.
The preaching of a radical shift to an inclusive economic growth path remains just that, talk. Perhaps the new administration will attempt to take on an internationally enabled system of private enterprise where the trade, industry and profits do not benefit the majority of the world’s population. The saying procrastination is the thief of time is relevant not only for the Prieska economy, but also for the rest of the province. The sooner natural resource beneficiation is realised the sooner the people of the province can get jobs; the economy grows at a faster pace; inequality is reduced and poverty tackled.