As mistakes go, it was an expensive one. And Debswana Managing Director, Blackie Marole, may be the fall guy although he inherited the mess.
The cash-strapped mining company is reported to have lost millions of pula in production time at Orapa Mine over the past five years after they blundered into buying Russian made heavy earth moving machinery which spent more time at the garage workshop than at the mining site.
The two Russian made Belaz Wheel Dozers estimated at P 7, 2 million, which were commissioned at Orapa Mine in 2004, broke down most of the time and during a two year period were only functioning for a total of 655 hours instead of the targeted 19200 hours.
Although the heavy earthmoving equipment was bought shortly before Marole was appointed to the post, the Debswana Managing director had the worst of it; the Orapa mine production suffered during his term.
A confidential Debswana document that has been passed to Sunday Standard states that “the two machines performed poorly in terms of availability due to premature failure of critical components, being mainly engine, transmission and brakes. In 2004, both machines averaged availability of below 30% against a target of 80% and, in 2005, both machines were not available for the same reasons explained above.”
In 2006, Belaz 1 averaged 31% availability while Belaz 2 was not available.
With the two earth moving machinery down most of the time, the Orapa mine was forced to overwork the other machines, reducing the mine tyre life for large earthmoving equipment to 4400 hours against a target 5000 hours. This posed a major problem for the mine because it came at a time when tyres for large earthmoving equipment were in short supply. In fact, shortage of large earthmoving equipment tyres was identified as risk number one in the 2007 Orapa risk log. The mine was forced to replace both bulldozers after only four years to mitigate risk.
The report further states that “the poor performance of these machines means that 40% of the budgeted wheel dozer capacity is not available.” The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the workshop manuals for the two wheel dozers were in Russian and there was only one person at the Belaz offices in South Africa who could speak English. There was also a problem of spares because there are no other Belaz wheel dozer units in the region.
According to the confidential report, “the quality of workmanship at the South African Belaz workshop was substandard”.
It also emerged that the two Belaz wheel dozers at Orapa were not compatible on most components except for the engine and transmission. The wheel Dozers were also found not to be suitable for the operation for which they were purchased, mainly due to deficiency in blade design.
Debswana has still not responded to a Sunday Standard questionnaire.