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Richards Bay Minerals dune mining, South Africa


Mining of ilmenite, rutile and zircon from deposits in forested coastal sand dunes has been taking place since the mid 1970s, by Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), a subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Richards Bay Minerals dune mining, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal
Location of conflict:15Km north of Richards Bay
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Ilmenite, Rutile And Zircon
Iron ore
Titanium ores
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Titania slag capacity is 1 Mt/year and pig iron production 550 000 t/year. Rutile output totals 100 000 t/year and zircon 250 000 t/year - in total, nearly 2 Mt/year of mineral output, 95% of it for export.

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Project area:6,000
Level of Investment:Billions
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:Future generations
Start of the conflict:1980
Company names or state enterprises:Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) from South Africa
Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom - formerly Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ)
Relevant government actors:Department of Mineral Resources, Department of Trade and Industries, Department of Water Affairs, Department of Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:groundWork (Friends of the Earth), Isolemvelo Community Environmental Group (ICEG), Timberwatch Coalition
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Establishing a local watch-dog organisation to raise awareness among local communities. International pressure to change the mining companys behaviour.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsIntroduction of invasive alien plants and loss of ecosystem function
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsExposure to radiation from Monazite, dangerous work, water contamination. Loss of medicinal plants.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women
Other socio-economic impactsThe migration of work-seekers from other regions into the mining area has created competition for limited jobs and land. Increased incidence of social diseases. Contract workers poorly paid with little security.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The mining company has failed to honour its original undertakings in terms of worker benefits (housing, medical etc.) and failed to deliver the environmental protection and restoration that was promised.
Development of alternatives:The problem is what might happen when the mining in the area comes to an end, as there are no guarantees or funds in trust to ensure that the area will be properly restored.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The impacted community has limited resources and most community members who are aware of the problems feel intimidated by the public relations propaganda power of the mining company and by the political support and protection the mining company receives.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Constitution

Mineral Resorces Act

National Environment Management Act (NEMA)

National Water Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


The Gulliver File - Roger Moody

Campaign for St Lucia (CSL) video

SABC TV 50/50 Pro and anti mining video inserts (Available on DVD)

[click to view]

[click to view]

Mines and Communities -
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

To be added later

Other comments:The mining company has managed to subdue community resistance through so-called community development projects and token donations to schools etc.
Meta information
Contributor:Wally Menne
Last update18/08/2019
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