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May 11, 2012

11/05/2012 (On-The-Air)

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Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Gwala: Yet another black-controlled manganese mine is being built in South Africa’s richly endowed Kalahari Manganese Basin.

Creamer: The normal formula for BEE and black-economic empowerment is that first 14% and the deadline was 2010 and now the 26% for 2014, but that doesn’t apply in the Kalahari, quite interestingly.

The last four start-ups there have been black-controlled, either 50% or 51%. It started off with the Kalagadi and that is really run, by black-woman you can say, led by Daphne Mashile-Nkosi.

She was in the Class of ’76 in Soweto during those riots and now doing an underground mining stint plus a sinter plant and talking about a smelter at Coega. Then Tshipi Borwa, led by Saki Macozoma, former Robben Island detainee, and, of course, deputy chairman of the Standard Bank now.

Also in control of the United Manganese of the Kalahari, although the Russians are in there with Renova at 49% and 51% is black-economic empowerment partner. Now with the first blast going for the new Kudumane Mine, a R1,5-billion mined opened this week, you see the same formula with 51% black-control.

The leading figure that pops up there is someone very familiar to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the former SABC head Zwelakhe Sisulu. Of course, the name Sisulu resounds all around South Africa.

This is a very interesting one, because the strong partnership here with 49% in that deal is the Japanese with Hirotaka Suzuki, a very impressive individual there. His company, privately owned, already has two smelters in China and another being built in Malaysia.

He, interestingly, is talking about also putting a smelter plant, which will require a lot of electricity, inland in the Northern Cape, on site at the proposed Kalahari mine, for all the low-grade manganese. It is just interesting to see that the start-ups in the Kalahari are really black-led.

Gwala: The first major step has now been taken towards the realisation of an ambitious new South African dream – the local manufacture of fuel cells.

Creamer: We have been talking about fuel cells on this programme and how the opportunity exists and the window is wide open for hundreds and thousands of jobs to be created by creating a new industry for the manufacture of fuel cells.

Of course, Anglo Platinum, which is intricately involved, because the platinum is essential there, it is unsubstitutable in these fuel cells, so they are very keen to get this going. That is why we see that this week they launched their own fuel-cell powered locomotive.

We haven’t seen that in South Africa where the locomotives are usually battery driven or diesel driven, now fuel-cell driven. This could be the start of the demand build up. We have always been saying that the fuel cells could be the new engine of our cars.

That has been slow in coming, but if they can do things with locomotives… and why have them there, because they are environmentally friendly. This creates electricity from the hydrogen gas the only by-product is water, which is very benign.

It is very much part of the green economy, this low-carbon world that we are entering into. South Africa, because of the background with having the lion’s share of platinum, as we’ve said before, could be a front-runner here and we see that already there are moves with Anglo Platinum leading the way, by using these fuel cells for locomotion, the first being tested this week and more to follow.

There are multiplicity of products that could use fuel cells and South Africa could well get in on the ground floor here.

Gwala: The State is back in steel thanks to the Scaw deal. This is interesting, because the State has been wanting to get back here for a while.

Creamer: Anglo American, the former owner of Scaw Metals in Germiston, a long-standing steel product producer, has now done a deal with the State-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a R3,4-billion deal, where they are leading new ownership of this very important resource in steel production.

It is possibly also very transformational because we can see the partners there Shanduka Resources Cyril Ramaphosa and also Sipho Pityana with the Izingwe Holdings, so there is a strong BEE element and there probably is going to be a strong transformational element there. We see this being led by the IDC and that could be significant.

They haven’t spelt out exactly what their intentions are or whether this is linked to the Department of Trade and Industries’ ambition to make sure that we get a very developmental steel price, that is still to come out. In the meantime, the competition authorities are going to still have to approve this deal. We can throw our minds back to the time when steel was a State industry here.

It was Iscor and how that got unbundled and when it did get unbundled in 2001 there was a cost-plus-three percent charge for the iron-ore going from Kumba to ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal never quite met its obligation, because they were supposed to get us a developmental steel price, because they were getting developmentally priced iron-ore.

That never happened and we know that there have been court cases and all sorts of things around that. Perhaps there could be some sort of link drawn here and this new Scaw deal could play a role, but we can’t see anything yet.

Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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