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Community protests prompt closure of Rio Tinto's Richards Bay heavy mineral sands ops

Rio Tinto'sRichards Bay operationin South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province has been suspended until further noticeafter the entrance to the mine was blocked by local residents who demanded permanentjobs and equal business opportunities, BusinessDay reported May 9.

Richards Bay Minerals,the operating subsidiary of the project is facing a series of protests and roadblocks from the KwaSokhulu and KwaMbonambi communities for the past few weeks. Despitethe company's efforts to negotiate, "the situation remains volatile,"the report said, citing a company statement.

A senior official of the subsidiary, Fundi Dlamini, noted thata small group within the community is demanding employment and opportunities outsideof the commitments that the company has already agreed to.

The company has placed the operations on care and maintenance,but Dlamini did not say how much the shutdowns will cost the company.The project's main mining products are titanium iron ore, rutile and zircon.

Meanwhile, a representative from the Sokhulu Youth Committee,Mandla Mncadi said: "We want to be treated the same as host communities. Ifthe other community is getting business opportunities, we must also get them."However, Richards Bay Minerals has said no opportunities are available.