Exxaro’s Leeuwpan coal mine situated near Delmas, Mpumalanga, was at imminent risk of running out of coal. On Friday, 28 September, it breathed a sigh of relief as a new road made way for it to access precious coal reserves.
“Leeuwpan needed to develop an area where it could mine another 5.1 Mtpa to extend its life by a further 10 years,” informs Mervin Govender, Exxaro Group Projects Manager.
A national road – the R50 – ran over the identified area and another private access road, the Thaba Chueu Mine (TCM) road servicing the nearby silica mine, was also affected. Both roads needed to be redirected in parts for Leeuwpan to reach the new mining area.
It was a race against time. “A project like this would normally take 14 months, but Exxaro needed it completed in eight months to avoid the mine closing in 2019,” says Mervin.
The project team went one step further and completed it two months ahead of a fast-track schedule! The R50 and TCM roads were handed over to Exxaro at the end of August and opened to the public on 28 September.
As testimony to the quality of work despite extreme time pressures, the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport signed off the road without any amendments, the first time ever that a public road has been completed to the Department’s complete satisfaction.
“The successful completion of the construction of the R50 deviation and new TCM access road now opens up the OI block for mining and extending the life of Leeuwpan , resulting in significant investment and economic growth for the Delmas area,” says Nombasa Tsengwa, Executive Head Coal Operations.
Skills transfer, and training were a valuable by-product of the project investment as local labourers who worked on the road received certification to enhance future employment opportunities.
However, the reach of Lifex was broadened beyond construction when Exxaro built a training facility in Delmas for young people to reduce their dependency on the mine and find employment outside of the mining industry. The project gave learnership opportunities to 55 local youth. These youth are given a subsidy of R2 000 a month as well as one meal a day while they study basic IT skills.
As with any sound project, success can only be built on a solid foundation. In this instance, it was dialogue.
Good communication started where it mattered most: with the Delmas community. An early appointment to the project team was a dedicated stakeholder manager who discussed the employment and procurement opportunities available to the community, thereby allowing them to buy into the project before it took its first steps.
“It is important that our host communities are included and experience the benefits of Exxaro’s operations,” says Mangaliso Sethethi, Business Unit Manager.
At peak, 343 people were employed, with 70% recruited from the Delmas community. To date, direct capital spend from the life extension project (Lifex) amounted to R280 million (Box-cut and Road diversions), with 31% spent in the Delmas community.
Further benefits will accrue in the next stage of the project, which includes building homes for residents who have been relocated.
Communication was also the golden thread that kept this fast-track project from unraveling.
Nico Pretorius, CEO of Jodan Construction, confirms that everyone was made aware of the common goal from the outset: to have the roads ready in time so that the mine could access the coal reserves and not be forced to close.
“The urgency united us as one team working towards one outcome. We knew that the life of the mine – and people’s livelihoods – depended on us moving and repositioning the roads in time and we aligned all the construction goals with this one big Exxaro goal.”
This required an unusually hands-on approach with a schedule managed on a day-to-day basis to avoid any lags in production. “Our team knew what they had to achieve each day and were measured at the end of each day on their progress.”
At peak construction, with 171 people and up to 80 pieces of plant on site, the project took logistics management to the next level.
“Exxaro’s involvement in their projects is on point,” says Pretorius. “At any minute of the day they knew what was happening on site and if anything threatened the progress, they stepped in to help. We never felt that we were just a contractor, but rather part of a team. This support played a major part in the success.”
Theunie Visage, a senior representative of JG Africa, the firm responsible for the design of the road, agrees that while the project was more challenging than normal due to the time constraints and traversing a wetland, Exxaro’s constant cooperation and willingness to find solutions helped them finish the project within the timeframe. Daily meetings and visible leadership added further support.