Palabora Copper (Pty) Limited is an incorporated operative subsidiary of Palabora Mining Company (PMC); a copper mine that also operates as a smelter and refinery complex in Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality, Limpopo Province in South Africa. The mine is 80% owned by the Chinese Consortium comprising of HBIS, Tewoo, General Nice and CADFund through Smart Union Resources South Africa.

 The rest of the percentage is jointly owned by the South African government through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), black empowerment consortium, PMC employees and communities. Since its incorporation in 1956, Palabora Copper (PC) has been South Africa’s sole producer of refined copper although mines other by-products such as magnetite, vermiculite, sulphuric acid, anode slimes and nickel sulphate. 

The Chinese Consortium acquired PC in 2013 when PC was facing two ostensible scenarios; (a) culmination of the life of mine, and, (b) no overhauling of the smelter which was outdated and facing shutdown. Occurrence of the first scenario would have resulted with the loss of employment for more than 3500 employees (direct and indirect) while the second scenario with more than 700 employees from off-stream (smelter).  

Soon after the sale transaction, the new owners fostered partnerships between PC and Chinese companies in various areas such as economic development, trade, skills and technology transfers to achieve ground-breaking and substantive results in extending the life of mine, refurbishing the smelter and building a flotation plant. 

To this end, the Consortium approved R10.4 billion to extend the life of mine, R878 million to refurbish the smelter to ensure that PC continues to produce copper rod and R261 million to construct the flotation plant to improve copper recoveries, operational efficiencies and lower operational costs.

The smelter refurbishment project “smelter retrofit as is called” and construction of the floatation plant are implemented in partnership with China’s Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (BIGRIMM. In addition to technology transfer, BGRIMM has contractually committed to employ 90% of unskilled labour and 80% of the semi-skilled labour from the Phalaborwa and transfer new skills to PC employees who work at the smelter to empower them to operate and maintain the refurbished smelter once completed. 

Before commissioning and construction of the floatation plant, PMC’s Executive Managers and Senior Managers travelled to China for fact finding and comparative analysis missions on floatation plants built by BGRIMM. As part of resource sharing, skills and technology transfer, BGRIMM has sub-contracted work to various South African companies. 

Collaboration between PC, Chinese Consortium and BGRIMM does not only extend tangible and considerable investment and technology transfer opportunities but benefit communities of Phalaborwa as well. Since 2013, the Chinese Consortium – through PC – has spent about R186 500 million in socio-economic development initiatives in Phalaborwa. 

These include; construction and rehabilitation of roads, hosting sporting events such as the soccer tournaments to instill the love of sports on the youth, implementation of enterprise and supplier development programmes to empower Phalaborwa’s Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) to grow and shine the economic candle of Phalaborwa beyond the life of PC and many other socio-economic development initiatives.  

PC success story is one that shows that amid cultural differences, challenges and global growing economic uncertainties, cooperation by companies from BRICS can create favourable environment for growth, technology exchanges and assist in building international cooperation platforms that embody the spirit and ethos of BRICS.