Rio Tinto PLC (LON:RIO) said all mining and smelting operations at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) in South Africa have been halted until further notice and the FTSE-100 company declared force majeure on customer contracts due to an escalation in the security situation at the operations.
"The safety of our people is our top priority,” said Rio Tinto chief executive Minerals, Sinead Kaufman, in a short statement.
“We continue to offer our full support to the investigating authorities and I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the regional and national governments and South African Police Service as we work together to ensure that we can safely resume operations."
There have been a number of violent incidents at RBM, South Africa’s largest mineral sands producer, over the years. Nico Swart, the general manager of RBM, was killed in an ambush in May on his way to work.
Operations were halted twice in 2018 due to violent protests by contractors, and in late 2019 the Anglo-Australian miner was forced to curtail operations again due to escalating violence in the communities surrounding the operations and after a RBM employee was shot and seriously injured.
The Zulti South project has remained on full suspension since the security and community issues in 2019.
Rio Tinto holds a 74% stake in RBM. In April 2019, the FTSE 100 company agreed to invest US$343mln, its portion of a US$463mln investment, to sustain RBM’s current capacity and extend mine life.
RBM, located in the KwaZulu-Natal province, produces predominantly rutile, zircon, titania slag, titanium dioxide feedstock and high purity iron.