Governor warns against retrenchments at Rössing

By Jade McClune

GLOBAL mining giant Rio Tinto officially handed over the management of Rössing Uranium Mine to its new majority shareholders last Thursday after China National Uranium Corporation Ltd (CNUC) acquired Rio Tinto’s shares for a cash payment of US$6.5 million.

Rio Tinto said a further US$100 million payment for its 68.62 percent stake in the mine would be “linked to uranium spot prices and Rössing’s net income during the next seven calendar years. In addition, Rio Tinto will receive a cash payment if CNUC sells the Zelda 20 Mineral Deposit during a restricted period following completion.”

At the handover last week, Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua noted that part of the agreement stipulates that no retrenchments would take place for at least two years. “I would like to see that we just don’t retrench at all,” he said. Mutjavikua also said he would like to see a long-term sustainable relationship develop with CNUC.

Despite indications to the contrary, the Namibia Competition Commission ruled that the transfer to a Chinese state-owned firm would not create a monopoly in the local uranium industry and “that the proposed transaction is unlikely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or in any undertaking acquiring or strengthening a dominant position in the relevant market.”

CNUC is wholly owned by the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation Ltd (CNNC), but China’s Ambassador to Namibia Zhang Yiming responded to fears of a Chinese monopoly over the local uranium industry at the handover last week. He was quoted as saying CNNC and state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN owns 90% of Husab mine) are “independent business entities that compete against each other fiercely. Monopoly by them is out of the question.”

Rössing spokesperson Daylight Ekandjo said the company did not intend to issue any further media statement about the transfer of ownership to CNUC beyond the recent announcement by Rio Tinto on the completion of the sale.

In response to questions as to when the mining company intends to release the long-awaited findings of its long-range health study on the impact of work-related exposure to radiation on the health of its workers (which was to include all workers who had been at the mine for more than a year since its inception in 1976) she said there had been “a delay in the completion of the study.”

Ekandjo noted that “Rössing was informed earlier this year that the University of Manchester’s School of Combined Health Sciences, the expert group commissioned by Rio Tinto to carry out the study of cancer rates among Rössing mine workers, has indicated a delay in the completion of the study.

“The delay is a result of a number of factors, including additional time taken in data gathering and work required to analyse the complicated data sets; the results are now expected in the coming weeks.

“It is important to note that the study will continue to progress, irrespective of the sale. Rio Tinto remains committed to the completion of the study and the communication of its findings in a transparent and open manner, whatever the timing.”

There is much unease among former mineworkers about the delays in releasing the results, given that a company statement, dated 21 June 2018, previously indicated that the statistical analysis of the data had been completed and that “A preliminary analysis result will be presented by the research team at the end of June 2018, and the final report is expected in December 2018.”

Rio Tinto chief executive J-S Jacques earlier this month the company’s divestment from Rössing “demonstrates Rio Tinto’s commitment to further simplifying and strengthening our portfolio and brings the total divestment proceeds received since 2017 to US$11.2 billion, of which US$9.7 billion has been returned to our shareholders.”