BHP Billiton’s signboard outside Richards Bay. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
BHP Billiton’s signboard outside Richards Bay. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

BHP Billiton remains committed to investing in South Africa, its regional chairman Xolani Mkhwanazi said during a presentation at the Mining Indaba on Wednesday.

“It has been alleged that we want to leave South Africa; we are committed to South Africa, there’s nothing furthest from the truth than this.... We have always been ready to put more money where our business makes sense,” he said.

He cited as one example of BHP Billiton’s commitment to South Africa the $91.2m it is investing in a manganese smelter in Meyerton, south of Johannesburg.

Dr Mkhwanazi said the project demonstrated BHP Billiton’s commitment to the government’s manganese beneficiation strategy, and downstream investment goal. But a new smelter might raise the alarm given that BHP Billiton’s Hillside aluminium smelter in KwaZulu-Natal stirred controversy over the legacy agreement the company entered into with Eskom two decades ago.

However, Dr Mkhwanazi emphasised the new manganese smelter would not be a similar energy drain.

The M14 smelter would lead to a more efficient production process, which would also lead to energy efficiency.

“Improvements were included in the design of the furnace components to ensure improved emissions,” he said.

An additional investment of about $97m was earmarked for an oil exploration project.

BHP Billiton was one of the petroleum companies issued with a prospecting right by the Department of Energy in 2010 to explore for oil on the Western Cape’s west coast.

Although the global Anglo-Australian petroleum and resources miner has its roots in South Africa via Gencor, which was merged with Broken Hill Proprietary and Billiton, it is often accused of divesting from this country.

For instance, BHP Billiton sold its remaining 37% interest in Richards Bay Minerals to Rio Tinto in November.

In South Africa, BHP Billiton has three divisions: BHP Billiton Energy Coal SA, its Hotazel manganese mining operations in the Kalahari Basin, and its aluminium operations.

BHP Billiton’s share gained 0.45% to close at R303.50 on the JSE on Wednesday, doing slightly better than the resources index, which rose 0.26%.