Vedanta Zinc International – Mining for Everyone

Vedanta Zinc International is setting the benchmark for sustainability and equality within the zinc production sector.

Vedanta Zinc International (VZI) owns a number of zinc assets across South Africa and Namibia, under the sixth-largest Diversified Resources Company in the world, Vedanta Limited. Recently the company invested ZAR 5 billion into VZI’s flagship, the Gamsberg open pit and concentrator project in the Northern Cape province, which was inaugurated in February 2019 by President Cyril Ramaphosa and is now fully operational. This pit forms part of the Black Mountain Complex cluster which also includes two underground operations, Deeps and Swartberg. VZI has several projects under its belt today, but its priorities remain consistent across its portfolio.

Sustainability is a key value-creation lever at Vedanta,” Pushpender Singla, Executive Director and CFO of Vedanta Zinc International. “We also set ourselves exacting standards and benchmarks regarding our environment and social performance. We are proud of the progress that the company has made to improve internal systems to manage environmental and social performance, empower our employees – especially women in the workplace, and give back to society.”

A Woman’s World

It is clear, talking with Singla, that gender diversity and equality is a key priority for Vedanta Zinc International. He is also under no illusions about how much work it will take to promote that.

“Changing approaches and expectations concerning women in mining is not something that women can do alone,” Singla says. “It takes a conscious effort and support from the industry. We believe that increased training support for women; the use of suitable personal protective equipment; construction of decent accommodation, change houses and bathrooms; and the addressing of sexual harassment will significantly increase the 12.4% representation of women in mining and keep them in the industry.”

Vedanta Zinc International’s Business Head, Laxman Shekhawat, believes that for gender parity to become a commitment, the entire mining industry can agree companies need to develop clear, specific, and measurable targets for increasing the number of female employees in an operation.

“At VZI, there is a strong focus on the employment and career advancement of women in their workforce. The company always seeks to hire a woman in a new or vacant position,” Shekhawat says. “Currently, 15% of the BMC workforce are women, a number that is steadily growing. This is slightly above the South African industry average, which is currently at 12%.”

Indeed, using the business to empower and upskill people through recruitment is a cornerstone of Vedanta Zinc International’s business model.

“Vedanta is focused on hiring the best talent and has, over the years, created a culture that engages and empowers.,” Singla says. “Our philosophy encompasses an inclusive approach to become an industry-leading employer across all businesses. The core values of the organisation nurture innovation, creativity, and diversity. The idea is to create a high-performance culture that recognises and rewards performers in a fair and equitable manner. “

VZI’s focus is on providing opportunities for local residents and more than 61% of employees are from the local Namakwa District. To this end, VZI has also implemented a range of training initiatives to uplift the skills set of the local community.

“Vedanta’s Black Mountain Mine (BMM) has also established a seven-year employee share ownership plan. This is aimed at empowering employees to have a shared voice in the growth of the mine,” Singla explains. “A Trust was established to do what is right for BMMs employees, to empower them through economic transformation, and to ensure that they have a better future.”

Zinc’s Sustainable Future

As well as gender equality and local economic empowerment, Vedanta also holds up sustainability as a core value of the company.

“At Vedanta, sustainability is ingrained in every activity we do across our businesses; we work towards a better environmental outcome in the areas we operate, invest in our host communities, successfully reduce our carbon intensity, and aim to increase our carbon intensity dependency on renewable energy sources,” Singla says. “But, most importantly, the safety of our people remains at the forefront and the heart of our sustainability strategy.”

VZI’s vision is to create an integrated world-class regional zinc complex comprising Black Mountain Mining (including Gamsberg) and the Skorpion Zinc mining and refining operations. Its values of Safety, Trust, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Excellence, Integrity, Respect and Care form the core of the business.

Of course, as Vedanta has made that vision a reality, it has faced challenges, particularly as the company has expanded its operations.

“With the acquisition of mines, there are always a few known and unknown challenges and issues,” Singla admits. “However, as a company focused on delivering stakeholder growth, we like to foresee risks and plan accordingly. In fact, we are known to take challenges in our stride and turn companies around.”

Vedanta is also looking to give back in other ways, includes $1.7 billion of investment in Southern Africa, and over R100 million in CSR projects across South Africa and Namibia over the last five years.

“We anticipate that at the peak operation of the Black Mountain Mine complex it will contribute R4.5 billion a year to South Africa’s GDP and add R1.1 billion in revenue to the national treasury,” Singla points out. “The most notable story here is the economic impact on local companies. In 2018, an Enterprise and Supplier Development Fund was started to promote the advancement of local suppliers in the economy.”

Looking to the future, VZI remains focused on prioritising growth projects across its operations in Africa. The company’s growth plans for Black Mountain Mining include further expansion of its mining operations through Swartberg Phase II to extend the life of mine of BMM’s underground operation. But Vedanta is also looking to launch new projects.

VZI has also undertaken advanced steps towards developing a 3 MTPA iron ore project, with the first production seen from the pilot plant it started, which is expected to grow significantly in the current financial year,” Singla tells us. “Phase 1 of the project expects to produce between 0.7 to 1MTPA Iron ore, comprising two products, namely Sinter feed and DMS feed. BMM worked with global industry experts and partners to design a process capable of producing a high-quality product.”

Shekhawat adds, “The Iron Ore project will add another scalable product line to the VZI-BMM operations and offer the best-in-class product to our customers. The first part of the project will utilise feed from existing operations and produce high-grade iron ore (67%+) and Dense Media Separation Products (DMS), to be utilised as feedstock for the steel and coal industry; respectively.

“This innovative project will assist in transforming our existing VZI BMM operations to be competitive, globally cost-efficient, and sustainable. It will also enhance the life of mine of the existing operations, thereby enhancing our Environmental, Social, and Governance footprint across our Southern African operations.”

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