Palabora Mining Company has a history and reputation up there with the very best on the continent, but that doesn’t stop the business looking towards long-term sustainability for the future
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Palabora Mining Company (PMC) continues to match an almost unparalleled track record in the mining sector with an equally prevalent dedication to social and environmental enrichment to ensure a sustainable legacy in Africa.
Palabora Mining Company – or Palabora Copper – is a copper mine situated in the Limpopo Province and is South Africa’s sole producer of refined copper. The mine has been operational since its incorporation in 1956 and consists of an underground mining, concentrating, smelting and refining operation.
“PMC continues to focus its efforts to mining beyond compliance by involving our employees as shareholders in the Company, together with our black economic empowerment consortium, Chinese consortium and IDC. PMC successfully extracts and beneficiates copper and other by-products in the Ba-Phalaborwa area of Limpopo Province and provides the local market with 85 percent of its copper requirements,” the Company’s External Affairs and Communications Manager, Lydia Radebe introduces.
The Company owes its origin to the unique formation known as the Palabora Igneous Complex. Nowhere else is copper known to occur in carbonatites as is the case at Palabora Copper and a host of other minerals such as phosphates, vermiculite, phlogopite, magnetite, nickel, gold, silver, platinum and palladium also occur. As such, Palabora operates a large block cave copper mine and smelter complex employing a balanced and diversified workforce of approximately 4,990 employees for both lift 1 and 2.
Radebe continues: “The refinery produces continuous cast rods for the domestic market and cathodes for export. Useful by-product metals and minerals include zirconium chemicals, magnetite and nickel sulphate as well as small quantities of gold, silver and platinum. Palabora Copper has developed a US$410 million underground mine with a production capacity of 30,000 tonnes of ore each day.”
Yet, it’s not simply the scale of operations that the Company attributes as its core day-to-day differentiator; rather it is PMC’s internal processes that facilitate such scope. Open and engaging communication is critical to this end across such a vast operation, and numerous technological adoptions and HR training is carried out accordingly.
Most significant though is its commitment to the Palabora workforce; firstly hiring people of all backgrounds, abilities, disabilities and walks of life, and then laying a path of promotion in front of each individual to create a continuous learning culture.
“Palabora has attained and retained the Top Employer Certification for three conservative years, from 2016 to 2018. For us, this contributes to our ability to attract the best talent there is in South Africa and beyond. Clichéd as it may sound, we believe that our ability to achieve our performance goals is directly influenced by the calibre of people we have,” Radebe enthuses.
Energy efficiency leaders
From a mining perspective, the future looks assured. PMC is undertaking a life-of-mine extension project known as the Lift II. The project aims to extend the life of the business up to 2033 and includes the magnetite reclamation and beneficiation study aimed at creating additional revenue from the 250 million legacy stockpile.
However, inevitably, mining activities are inherently very energy intensive, and this has subsequently led to the launch of its Energy Management Programme which was incepted in 2012; an initiative that epitomises the Company’s ever-growing dedication to environmental preservation.
“PMC partnered with a consulting company resulting in the employment of 12 energy specialists and project managers that would, in conjunction with mining personnel, identify, implement and sustain energy cost saving projects,” Radebe explains. “As a result, 117 initiatives were identified, and following stringent technical and financial adjudication processes, 31 projects were implemented.
“As a result of its productivity approach, over the past five years the Company has saved R232 million through avoided energy costs: consisting of electricity savings worth R181 million; coal and liquid fuels savings worth R43 million; and water savings worth R8 million.”
With the help of external funding mechanisms worth R28 million the Energy Management Programme achieved a net benefit of R173 million at the end of July, 2017.
Radebe continues: “Palabora Mining Company’s Energy Management Programme has not only created a sustainable model making the Company energy efficiency leaders in the mining sector but has also emphasised its standpoint regarding environmental responsibility.
“Additionally, the Company is a certified ISO 14001 business that subscribes to world leading practices and over the past years, PMC has retained a record of being one of the safest mines in South Africa and Africa at large. This is particularly due to our stringent SHEQ regulations and procedures in place and the effective management of contractors on site.”
Reliable and responsible
Corporate social responsibility thrives under many different guises and while environmental adherences certainly address one facet, an equally prominent area of PMC’s work revolves around community enrichment too.
“Over the years, we have invested more than R160 million in developing the communities through the Palabora Foundation, our community project execution partner,” the Company states to this end. PMC is the major mining project occurring in Phalaborwa and is integral to the survival of the Phalaborwa community. And taking into account the integral part played by the mine in relation to the community, PMC has started a number of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the community.”
One recent example includes the completion of the Phelang Wellness and Disease Management Centre; one of the biggest clinics in the Namakgale township which is the largest township in the area. The project was part of the SLP and totalled a little more than R7 million to construct.
Radebe elaborates: “In order to meet the needs of the communities and to raise the standard of services, the Palabora Foundation worked with the SABS to put together a menu of services that would befit not only a clinic but a Wellness and Disease Management Centre that will comply with the a National Standard for Comprehensive Health and Disease Management. The structure of the facility was therefore designed to comply with SANS16001 and is ready for beneficial usage by the communities.
“The objective of the Phelang Wellness and Disease Management Centre is to promote educational awareness and prevention; to deliver the treatment, care and support of HIV, TB and STIs; and to enhance access to social services.”
A further example has been enacted through collaboration with the Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality and other strategic stakeholders for its road rehabilitation project across the roads and streets of Namakgale.
The major scope of work for the project entailed the rehabilitation of approximately 21 kilometres of Namakgale’s roads and also included upgrading drain structures such as side drains, underground storm water drains and subsoil drains, as well as the construction of roadside curbs.
Once again emphasising PMC’s role not just as a mining heavyweight, but as a significant long-term driver of the local economy, the Company’s final example harks back to what it once again maintains is the business’s chief consideration: the ongoing development of the local people.
“Since its inception, PMC has been at the forefront of employment practices in the local mining industry,” Radebe concludes. “The Company has written and developed its code of ethics to follow numerous strategic imperatives and we strive to be a leading corporate citizen within the mining industry long into the future; supplying a high standard of quality products and services, both reliably and responsibly at national and global level.”