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Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay manager murdered on way to work

Richards Bay Minerals general manager Nico Swart. Credit: Rio Tinto.

Local police confirmed on Monday that a senior manager of Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) was assassinated in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, Zululand Observer reported.

According to media reports, Nico Swart, RBM’s general manager of operational services, was shot and killed on his way to work Monday morning. More than 20 high-calibre bullets were fired into Swart’s vehicle as he was driving by the corner of Dune Road and Kolstertkring in Meerensee shortly before 7 a.m. local time.

In a statement, RBM said the circumstances around the shooting were unknown at this stage, and the incident is being investigated by the South African Police Service.

The Richards Bay mineral sands mine – in which Rio holds a 74% interest – has seen several violent incidents over the years.

Operations were halted twice in 2018 due to violent protests by contractors, and in 2019, RBM was forced to suspend activities again following the shooting of one of its employees.

Despite Rio approving the $463 million Zulti South development to extend the mine life, the project has been put on hold until security issues have been resolved.

In April, RBM officials said they were in talks with the country’s authorities to “permanently address violent protests around its operations before resuming work on the Zulti South project.” The latest incident casts further doubt on normal resumption of activities at Richards Bay.

Recently, the National Union of Mineworkers in KZN had expressed worries about the state of the mining sector in the province, citing challenges including high unemployment, endless road blockages to mining companies, and ambiguous social and labour plans.