With the acquisition of the Kangra Colliery, Canyon Coal inherited a vocal local community, writes Leon Louw.
Community and labour issues were in the spotlight when Mining Mirror visited Kangra Colliery, close to Piet Retief in Mpumalanga recently. The mine organised an event to celebrate the company offering free-carry shares to workers and the local community.
When official proceedings got underway, they were momentarily interrupted a few minutes later when members of the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) handed over a memorandum to Canyon Coal CEO Vuslat Bayoglu. Bayoglu patiently listened to the concerns before accepting the memorandum. He then assured the group that all the matters raised would be attended to immediately.
All complaints in the memorandum pertained to issues which were brought to the attention of the previous owners of Kangra, Madrid-listed energy firm Gas Natural Fenosa and SA-based Izimbiwa Coal Investments. Canyon bought Kangra only in December last year, and there is a backlog of community issues at the mine.
Bayoglu assured all stakeholders that the new owner would prioritise community and social development issues. Twenty minutes after receiving the memorandum, Bayoglu handed over a symbolic share certificate to the local leader of the NUM, Isaac Mbonani, which signified a 5% shareholding in Kangra Coal. Mbonani thanked Menar for giving shares to workers and the company’s willingness to address the concerns of the employees. “We welcome the new beginning of Kangra and we hope the new shareholders will keep their promise,” he said.
Another five percent of the company’s shareholding was handed over to the trustees acting on behalf of the local community. Kangra is the first mine to allocate shares to workers and communities since Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe issued Mining Charter III. The Charter requires mining companies to allocate shares to workers and communities. The initiative was driven by investment company Menar, of which Canyon Coal is a subsidiary.
Billed as the ‘Kangra New Beginning’, the event was held near the mine, which is in the Mkhondo municipality. The municipal leaders, traditional authority leaders and other community leaders joined the celebration.
Speakers at the ceremony lauded the initiative, saying it laid the foundation for the redefinition of the relationship between workers, community and the new mine owners.
Chairman of Menar Mpumelelo Mkhabela said the share allocation to employees and community was different to the usual employee share-ownership schemes where shares are granted for a limited period.
“This is a permanent arrangement. For as long as you work at Kangra, you will own shares. If the company makes profits and dividends are declared, you will also benefit from dividends that will accrue to the employee trust,” Mkhabela explained.
Canyon director Dr Sakhile Ngcobo provided a broad overview of Kangra’s operations, explaining that the company is involved in the mining and processing of thermal coal, through the operation of an underground mine, along with several opencast pits, located in the Mpumalanga coalfields.
Kangra currently produces about two million tons a year of saleable coal with the majority of its high volatile coal sold on the export market, and the rest sold to independent users.
Menar social licensing manager Xolile Mankayi emphasised that Menar greatly valued its relationship with local communities and organised labour, and was committed to uplifting the communities in which its mines operated.
“At Kangra we are working on creating a model that can be used for fruitful engagement with workers, community leaders, local municipalities and traditional authorities. We are excited that we will be working with all stakeholders to develop a model that will be beneficial to all parties,” he said.
Kangra has become involved in a number of community issues. Improving the sanitary situation at schools was high on the list of things to do. Kangra recently improved ablution facilities at Qalani, a public school in Saul Mkhizeville under the Mkhondo Local Municipality, in the area where the company operates.
Previously, the ablution facilities at the school comprised old pit latrines that would often overflow with raw sewage, posing a health and safety concern for the learners. When Kangra Coal community liaison officer Simo Yende was made aware of the plight of the school and the safety risks posed to its learners, he arranged for the mine to donate four mobile VIP toilets to the school.
“Kangra Coal donated the VIP toilets as a temporary solution, while the plan is to build a proper more permanent ablution facility. We are in discussions with our large contractors to partner with us to build modern, permanent toilets for the school as part of their CSI spend,” says Yende.
Canyon bought Kangra in December 2018 and as part of the deal also received an 1.94% interest in the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), from where the company will be able to move 1.6-million tons a year. The mine currently employs about
1 458 people, of which 605 are permanent employees. According to Kobus Rothmann, chief operating officer at Canyon Coal, most workers are from surrounding communities. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) represents 83% of the mineworkers, while 3% of the workers are affiliated with the United Association of South Africa (UASA), and 5% with Solidarity. Nine percent of Kangra’s workers do not belong to a union.
Rothmann says that Canyon Coal is currently assessing all options to improve operational efficiency and optimise productivity at Kangra. “We are also preparing for investment into the extension of the mine operation,” he says.
Kangra is currently mining the Gus and Dundas seams, and produces mainly RB2 and 4800, which is trucked to Panbult Siding, from where it is loaded and railed to Richards Bay. The siding is structured to cater for both these products.
Kangra Colliery consists of an opencast and an underground mine. The open pits reach a depth of about 40‒48m. The underground mine was initially developed as a bord and pillar mine, however, it is now retreating and extracting the pillars on a squat pillar methodology.
The mine uses Joy Continuous Miners, Joy shuttle cars, Fletcher Twin Boom Roof Bolters and Load Haul Dump (LHD’s) loaders in one section of the Gus seam. In another of the Dundas seam section, Sandvik Continuous Miners, Joy Shuttle Cars, Phillips Battery Haulers, RHAM Single Boom Roof Bolters and LHD Loaders are used by a mining contractor. Kangra uses two mining contractors — one in the underground Dundas seam and the other doing opencast mining. The in-house mining team works on the Gus seam.
In the open pit the stripping ratios vary from 1 to 5.5:1. The maximum gradient of the inclines and declines at which the trucks need to haul the coal are between 10˚ and 12˚. According to Rothmann, the latest technology in blasting techniques are used during 40m strip mining intervals. “Pre-splitting is done with all blasts when strip mining,” Rothmann explains.
Kangra has three processing plants near Maquasa East, which are equipped to handle varying coal qualities and produce a mix of different products. The plants are flexible and able to wash Run of Mine (ROM) or discard product. The total design capacity of each plant is 1.5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa).
Kangra Colliery is on the national grid, however, the office lighting, weighbridges and the main surface ventilation fan for the underground mine are run of generators. The mine sources its water from two water boreholes, as well as from an offtake point in the Heyshope dam. The water from the dam is used in the administration buildings of the mine. All water is recycled.
Kangra has only about two years of mining life left on its Maquasa mining right, which includes Maquasa East and Maquasa West, and according to Rothmann, they are currently awaiting regulatory approvals to expand the mine through the Kusipongo project.
The Kusipongo development project is adjacent to Maquasa and will replace it in the medium term. The area has a total gross tonnes in-situ of approximately 263 million tonnes (Mt). The current mining right granted is for the extraction of 32.2Mt. “The expansion project is crucial in the medium term if we are to maintain existing jobs and ensure smooth longevity of mining operations,” says Rothmann.