Awards 2000 The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

The Winner: Richards Bay Minerals

Richards Bay Minerals

Richards Bay Minerals, which mines and processes heavy minerals found in the dunes along the Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu-Natal, spends 777,000 a year to help the 30,000 people of Mbonambi where its mining began 25 years ago. At that time, this impoverished South African rural district had only sparse crops, dilapidated schools and no medical service. Now just about everyone is affected by RBM as employer, cash-supplier to the local economy, school and clinic builder or promoter of crop-growing and small business.

However, RBM, which will leave the area when there are no more dunes to mine, does not want to be seen as universal provider. It seeks to help people make their own way. Thus RBM has helped the Mbonambi retail co-operative with management advice and training rather than subsidy. With this help the co-operative has been able to pay its way though it faces competition from shopping malls in the towns.

Most Mbonambi people, over half of them under 21, rely for a livelihood on wages, crops, pensions or remittances from relatives elsewhere. Many suffer from tuberculosis, a sign of poverty. Many also are HIV-positive. Some are too poor to pay school fees.

Local people told RBM that education was their top priority. So RBM helped the government education service by building five new schools and 215 classrooms and renovating 114 more classrooms. Mbonambi's pass rates in matriculation exams are now well above the regional average; but many pupils who did well have not found jobs. RBM therefore tries to encourage businesses and job creation. It is a leader in South Africa's Private Sector Initiative which seeks help from big businesses for small ones in disadvantaged communities.

RBM has encouraged local small and medium-sized businesses to supply its mining operation with tools, paints, motor spares and electrical goods, to do its building work and to replant dunes after mining. It has a specialist staff member to create opportunities for local businesses. It has given taxi co-operatives a steady inclome through a contract to carry 250 shift and overtime staff. It split a contract for upgrading factory units into four, so that local firms could undertake it. It also split in four the task of building new homes for 30 families displaced to allow mining.

It helps employees to start businesses by guaranteeing them work. The 160 employees of a business supplying labour to RBM bought out their employer and achieved a turnover of 385,000 in their first year. Altogether RBM spent over 2million with small and medium-sized firms in 1999.

Through its Small Business Advice Centre, it helps local businesses with advice and training and has enabled them to create nearly 4,000 jobs. It has provided premises at low rent for motor mechanics, welders and panel-beaters and has encouraged three families to take up egg production. Sewing groups make school uniforms and baking groups cater for local functions. RBM promotes business education in schools. There are many more local households which would like to start a business if they had the money, the premises and/or a power supply.

A report by an independent monitor from Bath University commends RBM for promoting 32 communal gardens involving 640 people. These provide not just vegetables for families but an income for women from surplus produce.

Five clinics built by RBM received 126,000 visits from patients in 1999. Adults who have learned to read at RBM sponsored classes are among the most appreciative of RBM's help. One said: "When I was travelling by bus, I never knew where I was. Now that I can read the signs, I can travel without worrying." Another said: "When I got letters, I had to ask my children to read them. Now I can read them myself." Another: "I checked my grandchildren's homework for the first time this year." And another: "I can now sing hymns in church and read my bible."