Richards Bay terminal. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Richards Bay terminal. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay Minerals in KwaZulu-Natal says workers are reporting for duty after violence and protests that started more than a week ago shut operations.

The mineral sands operation has been closed since Friday as a result of violent service delivery protests in which a security guard was killed.

"Following a significant improvement in the security situation, employees are returning to work today and we will safely ramp up operations over the next few days," the company said in response to questions.

The Rio Tinto unit suspended operations after employees of a contractor company blocked access to the site.

A security officer was killed amid violence and an illegal strike, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu said on Sunday in a statement.

Safety priority

Richards Bay Minerals made up half of the mining sector by value of output in KwaZulu-Natal, said a Rio Tinto spokesperson.

"Due to the escalation in activity around the blockades on the access roads, staff were sent home on Friday.

"Our highest priority is the safety of our people," the spokesperson said.

Mzi Zakwe, the regional secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, said 900 members of the union were on forced leave because of the violence, which he said was rooted in grievances between the company and contractors.

The ANC’s provincial task team co-ordinator, Sihle Zikalala, said on Monday the unrest had to come to an end.

Zikalala said Mchunu, community safety MEC Mxolisi Kaunda and Zikalala himself had been in back-to-back meetings with Richards Bay Minerals management, contractors, traditional leaders and employee and community representatives.

Bloomberg and Reuters