Rustenburg’s reputation as a platinum-rich town might well be faltering as the world’s biggest platinum producers shut mines and cut jobs, but the local municipality insists it has a plan for life after this mining legacy ends.
The Rustenburg Local Municipality holds platinum group metals reserves in its vicinity with an estimated lifespan of up to 30 years, but there is a need to explore alternatives to keep the area’s economy afloat.
The mining industry accounts for about 70% of Rustenburg’s economy.
The changeover from mining could result in former rock drill operators getting new skills and working as bricklayers, being employed at plantations or guiding tourists on a simulated underground mine experience.
Platinum mining companies have been restructuring due to depressed platinum group metal prices as they seek to minimise their production costs, leading to massive job cuts.
Rustenburg mayor Mpho Khunou said they saw this coming.
“We began getting concerned as far back as 2011 and embarked on a process to look into a master plan, which has now become known as ‘Rustenburg beyond mining’,” said Khunou.
“We have kind of known of the vulnerability of the economy, which prompted us to go around to talk to captains of the industry, as well as the national and provincial governments, in a bid to come up with something aligned to the National Development Plan – it all later culminated in our master plan,” he said.
The plan entails the repositioning of Rustenburg municipality as a regional centre for education, health, sports, agriculture and renewable energy.
Khunou said they were knocking on investors’ doors and speaking to government as they tried to find funding for the municipality’s projects and ideas.
Here are the elements included in the municipality’s master plan:
. EDUCATION: Khunou said the plan was to turn Rustenburg into North West’s “education hub” by establishing a university.
He said that an advertisement had been placed calling for expressions of interest for the set-up of the institution, and this had attracted overwhelming interest.
“Land has already been allocated. We’re at the proposals phase and expect to appoint the preferred bidder soon as part of this rigorous process. We want to build not only a university, but an agricultural college and similar institutions to offer various disciplines of skills and training,” he said.
“There is also a need to have quality high schools as this will address skills shortages and ensure that our population is better prepared for the fourth industrial revolution.”
. AGRICULTURE: The plan is to return Rustenburg to what it originally was in the 1800s – a fertile farming area.
“We have good average rainfall in Rustenburg, and you will remember that this area was once a thriving agricultural area before platinum mining, and our studies show that we still have the capability.
“Agriculture forms about 2% our economy at the moment, and we’re planning on increasing that,” Khunou said.
He added that major agricultural projects were in the pipeline, including a fresh produce park.
. MANUFACTURING: “We’re thinking about manufacturing and industrialisation. A special economic zone will be established, as well as a mining supply park. Most of the suppliers are located outside Rustenburg or the province … we want them to have a place to work from here in Rustenburg,” Khunou said.
“The objective is to develop a logistics and mining supply park to drive the industrialisation process in Rustenburg.”
There is a plan to manufacture items such as grinding balls, protective clothing, equipment spares and other mining supplies so that they can be sourced locally.
. TOURISM: “Rustenburg is suitably situated on the busy N4 route and we already have facilities, including the Rustenburg Kloof resort,” Khunou said.
He said a platinum theme park was being planned for areas around Chaneng village, which is close to Sun City Resort.
“Visitors will enjoy the same experience as they get at the Gold Reef City mining museum, where the experience of going underground into a mine is offered,” the mayor said.
Medical tourism is also part of the plan in the new development, which will include full-service hospitals, specialist clinics, health resorts and new hotels.
The aim is to make Rustenburg a commercial hub in the province.
Khunou said construction of a new 40 000m2 retail centre was set to start soon. It will be built close to the current central business district.
He said there would be a mix of shops and residential units.
The Tlhabane Mall is also on its way.
“There are lots of infrastructure developments on the horizon. We’re also expecting to upgrade and augment electricity and bulk water supply infrastructure as the town grows,” Khunou said.
“We’re engaging with landowners in the city and there is a buy-in from national government through the National Treasury to fund the central business district rejuvenation project. The plan for Rustenburg beyond mining is not only focused on urban areas, but also rural areas, which will continue to be part of our human settlement plans,” Khunou said.
The municipality said that it sought to build a “world-class city where all communities enjoy a high quality of life and diversity”.