Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, CEO and founder of Kalahari Resources. Picture: Katherine Muick-Mere. © Sunday Times
Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, CEO and founder of Kalahari Resources. Picture: Katherine Muick-Mere. © Sunday Times

TRANSNET Freight Rail says it has conducted computer-simulated tests to almost quadruple the throughput of manganese to 16-million tons a year on the Hotazel-to-Port Elizabeth railway line.

The planned expansion from about 4.5-million tons of manganese ore a year will allow beneficiated manganese products to be exported, in line with government plans to add value to SA’s mineral exports.

The expansion coincides with the development of a new manganese export terminal at the Eastern Cape’s port of Ngqura, and a proposed value-added high-carbon ferromanganese smelter in the Coega industrial development zone.

Manganese is essential in iron and steel production, and has important uses in industrial alloys, particularly stainless steel.

To quadruple throughput, Transnet Freight Rail said the logical step is to increase train lengths to maximum safety. But the railway line, classified as a general freight corridor between the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, is known for its difficult topography.

The expansion also relies on increasing output of manganese ore from the Northern Cape region.

This refers especially to the R11bn Kalagadi Manganese mining, sintering and smelting joint venture between global steel maker ArcelorMittal and empowerment company Kalahari Resources, chaired by Daphne Mashile-Nkosi.

However, this venture has of late been hit by difficulties. Last year, ArcelorMittal, which holds 50% of the venture to 40% held by Kalahari Resources, stopped funding Kalagadi over governance issues.

The group has also said it wants an independently compiled study on the viability of the as-yet-unbuilt Coega smelter to be presented to the Kalagadi Manganese board.

ArcelorMittal has invested more than $430m in the overall project. The matter subsequently went to court, with ArcelorMittal ordered to pay R241m into the venture.

"ArcelorMittal has been granted leave to appeal," a group spokesman said yesterday.

However, Ms Mashile-Nkosi, who is also executive chairwoman of Kalagadi Manganese, said yesterday that things had been resolved. "We don’t have a problem, we’ve resolved the issue in court and nothing has changed with the project’s status."

Ms Mashile-Nkosi said the venture’s sintering plant at the mine near Hotazel had been "cold commissioned" about three weeks ago, and would be "hot commissioned" by the end of next month.

Up to 3.7-million tons a year of manganese ore would be beneficiated in the sintering plant. The bulk would be shipped to Coega for export, and about 320,000 tons a year of this would be smelted into value-added ferromanganese ingots.

The freight division of Transnet said it had done "extensive" rail-handling simulations that assessed the possibility of doubling the 104-wagon trains to 208 wagons.

It said this improved train handling through severe terrain, giving it the ability to run the same number of trains a day, but cost-effectively doubled volumes from 6,552 tons per train to 13,104 tons.