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.
After destroying the biodiversity-rich coastal dune forest, dredgers in giant ponds are used to extract sand that contains the mineral ores, then separated using centrifugal and magnetic processes. Minerals are trucked to the smelter, where they are processed into raw materials such as titanium dioxide and pig-iron for export to industrialised countries.
After mining, the remaining sand is dumped back, bulldozed to roughly resemble the original dune, and then crudely revegetated with mostly alien species not found in the original forests that were removed.
The dredging and separation process uses large amounts of fresh water pumped from rivers in the area. Together with the smelter, the mining also uses huge amounts of dirty energy generated from coal, consuming as much electricity as a medium-sized city.
Local people, that have been removed from their land, and endured the polluting emissions and dust from the mining, transportation and smelting on their doorsteps, remain poor despite the great wealth that has been extracted from their land by the mining company.