It was lovely catching up with Peter Willemse, Lafarge’s quarry manager for the PE Area, who is tremendously proud of what he says are his two women in mining – Moregrove quarry foreman Neo Bepswa and Coega’s Pfariso Khorommbi (see next issue). “Both face huge challenges and for Neo in particular a major challenge is the fact that she is running a mine with neighbours as close as 50 m from the quarry.”
Aerial photograph of the Moregrove operation in Port Elizabeth. Note its close proximity to its neighbours (Courtesy Lafarge Moregrove).
Neo Bepswa joined Lafarge in 2008 as a learner electrician undergoing an artisan apprenticeship which she completed in 2010. “I started off in Cape Town at Tygerberg Quarry and worked with the electrician at that time. I am always striving to learn more and I soon moved into production and became a supervisor in 2012.”
She joined Lafarge’s LAMP (Lafarge Aggregates Management Programme) shortly thereafter and was subsequently promoted to foreman at Moregrove in Port Elizabeth in September 2015.
“I am an artisan electrician by qualification and consider myself to be a very practical person. I love quarrying and my ongoing journey together with the opportunities offered to me by Lafarge are tremendous; to have started off as a learner knowing nothing to becoming a foreman – I see myself already as a manager,” Bepswa says. She has her blasting ticket and sees herself in an electrician, blaster, and manager role. (Editor’s note: Since writing this article, Neo is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams for the future. She has subsequently been transfer to Lafarge’s Saldanha operation as acting, and soon-to-be quarry manager).
“The surprising thing is that people always say that it’s challenging for us as women in mining, but I have been and am surrounded by wonderful men who just want to see me grow. Not a lot of women find that and I have it,” she confirms. She names these as “Peter Willemse, my rock; Patrick Ndlwana and Dave Hierons, my mentors and Hennie Kriel, who gave me the opportunity, believed in me and is ultimately my role model.
“Moregrove quarry is a beautiful quarry closely surrounded by neighbours, so one has to be careful that everything we do is in compliance with the law, and this includes noise and dust suppression. I know other quarries are also concerned about dust but for us it is a major challenge in terms of our neighbours, and we have to constantly plan ahead to suppress dust and to ensure that things run smoothly. I believe the operation is run like a well-oiled machine. We have our challenges but it is our neighbours that keep us on track. They make us shine, and we have a close relationship with them. This comes in the form of regular monthly meetings chaired by a neutral person with minutes which we follow up to ensure that everyone is happy.”
Moregrove is currently mining the D Section and Bepswa is excited about the future of this area. “My challenge is to carry the quarry further.” She has some exciting thoughts in this regard and has reserved these for comment in the future. The plant consists of the primary plant and the secondary and tertiary plants, together with the washing plant. There have been several upgrades over the past few years which include the Dakota air separator and washing plant, among others.
“Pricing is a problem here in Port Elizabeth, but we pride ourselves on quality. Well sell the best and whatever we produce, we make sure it is quality. We don’t want to sell volumes, we want to sell quality,” she points out.
“Our main products are 7,0 mm, 9,0 mm, hydrocone, fine grade and costcrete,” Bepswa says reiterating that quality is a key priority for Lafarge.
Drilling and blasting is carried out by J&B Blasting on an ‘as when’ basis, depending on the requirements for the floor. “I never stop the plant because I don’t have material on the floor and always ensure that there is something for me to crush – I want to make what I sell, not what I don’t sell – and that’s the challenge in the business.
“I love the industry,” she says on our walkabout, “there are new challenges every day and there is never a day that is the same. Safety keeps us very busy because we have to comply with the legal requirements.” Looking at the D Section she says she is so thankful that she has her blasting experience, “because I can see that with the right planning and blasting we have vast potential here. People say the quarry is old and yes it is, but I have been looking around and there are exciting opportunities for us to mine further.
“I am always on the lookout for possibilities, at what we can do better and how we think in blasting. What I have seen in some instances is that a blaster is just a blaster. However, the key in quarrying is to have someone who understands blasting. But if your job is just to blast and then you go home, you won’t concern yourself about the future. There is a lot of potential here,” she says.
Moregrove has several loyal clients including Much Asphalt and at the time of writing was involved with Sanral’s N2 road project.
Fraser’s Quarries purchased the Farm Moregrove in 1942. Additional lots were required later with augmentation and new acquisitions becoming the recurring theme of the Moregrove story. A key investment in Frasers occurred in 1944 when construction firm Murray & Stewart (now Murray & Roberts) took a stake in the PE supplier.
During this period, Fraser’s activities covered not only its relatively modest operations at Moregrove, but Burt Drive and Bethelsdorp quarries in PE, and the Uitenhage Crushing Station which crushed Swartkops River stone on the Kruis River road.
Operations at Moregrove were labour intensive until 1947 when a large crushing screen and storage plant were erected. The vertical conveyor belt was a great advance on muscle-power and wheelbarrows.
The 1950s saw a decade of increasing competition from Savage & Woodward (S&W). Andrew Savage was a prime mover in the rapid development of S&W, a quarrying operation he founded in 1952. This quarry grew out of a transport business opened by his father and uncle. The trucking company had a transport contract with Snows Quarries, which allowed it to establish good contacts in the construction sector. Snows ultimately closed its own operation and joined forces with S&W. The operation, with Frank Woodward as its first quarry manager commissioned new plant in the centre of what is today the Moregrove property. The new plant increased production capacity and gave S&W an important edge in its competition with Frasers.
By the early 1960s, PE was poised for growth. Major works were planned by the provincial administration and PE was becoming a main point of focus for the national roads programme, while local industrialists had expansion plans of their own. Andrew Savage’s projections on the quantities of aggregate needed for this PE construction boom were daunting – neither Frasers nor S&W could cope, but as a merged operation with new, expanded plant, they would be positioned for profit and growth.
This scenario appealed to JW Robertson, then head of Murray & Stewart (major stakeholders in Frasers) and a deal was struck. In the process, the merging companies took over a tiny company, PE Holdings, which had certain sand pit rights, but no capital.
New capacity was rapidly designed and installed at Moregrove, the hub of the combined operation. A joint enterprise was agreed with Ready Mixed Concrete of SA and the Moregrove operation began to emerge.
A ready mix concrete plant was built alongside the S&W quarry at Moregrove and a modern quarrying plant was commissioned 15 months later in March 1964. In the 1960s, the washing, mixing and batching equipment at Moregrove was among the most sophisticated in the world. In the 1970s and 1980s the quarry maintained its reputation for successful innovation with new product development while achieving leadership status in product quality and control.
The next major change was in January 1989 when Murray & Roberts and Blue Circle consolidated their quarrying and ready mixed concrete interests into one company, Ready Mix Materials.
Operator safety, social and community responsibility became areas of increasing interest with Moregrove becoming a South African pioneer in the field of social and environmental responsibility. The operation has played a crucial role in the modern development of PE and the Eastern Cape. Its contribution is well documented but there is little public awareness of just how substantially it helped change the face of the region; every major construction or civil engineering project in the area used materials from Moregrove.
Aggregate from the old workings at Fraser’s quarry and S&W, was used in the residential building boom of the post-war period. During the construction boom of the 1960s, the merged operations at Moregrove provided the building construction material that helped transform PE into a modern Port City. Every bridge and interchange in the area was built with Moregrove materials. All national roads and municipal projects in the area used these materials.
The contribution extends far from the city to the Mossgas pipeline, the dolosse that protect the coastline from erosion, the Blaukrans Pass project, Sterkspruit Dam and Middleton Road. The list goes on and on and is continuing well into the 20th century.
The 1990s gave Moregrove a new lease of life, and at that time, the rezoning of the eastern portions of Section D for open mining, extended the life of the quarry by some 48 years.
At Moregrove, the long-term environmental impact has always been of major importance. Much of the workings are below the water table – creating opportunities for a wetland breeding habitat for aquatic birds. The opening of Quarryman Park was the start of an extensive greenbelt, with tree and protea planting and general rehabilitation having started in the 1980s. The greening of Moregrove began long before environmental concerns became a major issue.
Moregrove and innovations are synonymous. The ready mixed concrete concept was introduced to the Eastern Cape from Moregrove, and there has been a succession of firsts and notable achievements over the decades.
New products developed at Moregrove in the early years included topping, retarded mortar, plaster, ready flow concrete, underwater concrete, lean-mix, trench fill and no-fines concrete. Cemented-treated sub-base and emulsion-treated sub-base were also pioneered by the Moregrove team as was foamed concrete.
Its laboratory was the first in the country to be awarded a SABS commercial laboratory listing. Moregrove was the country’s first RMC plant to be awarded SABS 0157recognition for quality management systems production, and it was the first quarry in the country to receive this coveted certification.
That long-term commitment continues to this day, a case in point being its achievement in the 2014 Lafarge Global Awards where the award-winning project executed under the then team leader and quarry manager Peter Willemse, was chosen as one of the six worldwide winners out of 170 top project submissions from 35 countries.
This project addressed the problem of the high fines content of its stone which was limiting sales of asphalt sand. After investigation, it was found that the quarry’s air separator had the ability to move much of the fine sand particles. The asphalt sand’s quality was improved and a profitable outlet for the recovered fines in the manufacture of bricks, blocks and other precast concrete products was determined. The project’s benefits were enormous and included:
- Successful reduction in fines -0,075 mm from 16% to 10%.
- The fines were separated and can be blended with another product (-4,75 mm) to produce a blend which is in high demand for brick and block precast producers.
- The improvement in fines quality was cost effective.
- Low maintenance solution.
At that time, this proactive thinking resulted in R8-million revenue/year and an increase in asphalt sales.
Clearly the Moregrove people now under the leadership of Peter Willemse and Neo Bepswa (who made a considerable input as quarry foreman), continue the respected traditions which have taken the Moregrove operation into what it is today. The people of Moregrove have always been forward thinkers and are leaders in quality and customer service, continuing to plan the successes which will take it well into the future.
MQ wishes Sidwell Rafefume who has taken up the new position at Moregrove much success in his career.
Report by Dale Kelly