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EVOLUTION in the beneficiation of the country’s rich mineral endowments was brought under the spotlight when researchers, industry and government stakeholders in the precious metals sector gathered in Polokwane for the 7th International Platinum Conference.
Also under the spotlight was how to make South African mining business globally attractive.
While South Africa is home to several mineral deposits, there is very little beneficiation, and most metals are exported raw.
This year’s conference was themed around precious metal based chemistry, catalysts and materials and reflected activities undertaken in the precious metals network.
As researchers and industry players made their presentations on progress made over the past few years, it became apparent that the future of the mining sector was not bright due to political instability and dwindling economic fortunes.
The strategic objective of the conference was to generate economic growth, skills and increased competitiveness through targeted research, development and innovationprogrammes, according to Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy president, Sello Ndlovu.
In her brief address, she said: “The main aim of the AMI projects was to provide opportunities to develop skills aligned with the beneficiation and manufacturing goals of the programme.”
Addressing delegates in his opening address, Mintek’s acting Chief Executive Officer David Msiza, said it was not yet clear what the future will bring in terms of market penetration.
Msiza, however, said: “It is worth noting that since its inception, the AMI, in collaboration with respective higher education institutions, has supported and assisted more than 140 PhD and MSc engineers, scientists and technologists, across the four networks to successfully complete their studies so that they can penetrate the mining sector.”
Anglo-American’s Frick Fourie highlighted safety as one of the major concerns in the mining industry.
“When the question gets asked if South African mining business is globally attractive, safety is probably the biggest concern. This make nice headlines and it sells well. Although the South African mining industry has made huge inroads to improve the situation, credit is not given, and neither have we arrived or happy with the current situation.
“Although I am the first to agree that there is no easy mining operations in the world, if there were, then we would all worked there. In South Africa, our mining is generally highly labour intensive. This is due to the legacy that it was affordable and it created jobs for a large amount of people. This was then when the commodity prices were high, good margins and life was good as we knew it.”
Fourie said the unpredictable world has changed significantly and no one was able to adapt to it.
He noted: “Labour unrest and cost increases were five times higher than the commodity price. The commodity price slumped due to the world recession, reluctance of people to do physical work, many safety precautions have been implemented in the workplace, which is one of the contributing factors for the drop in productivity, resulting in putting the margins under severe pressure as well as increased depth and distance of our operations.”
“We need to develop the technology to make us competitive in our conditions, educate the young to build, service and maintain the equipment/technologies, build and develop equipment and systems to supply others around the world with our leading technology. In my view, this is the solution to make SA investable, safe, productive and cost effective a force to be reckoned with and a commodity supplier of choice.”
Limpopo premier Stanley Mathabatha said he was pleased to note that the reality of Limpopo as a platinum province is now coming to the fore.
With allegations of state capture now on everyone’s lips, Mathabatha said capturing of the state has soiled the reputation of many companies.
He lamented: “The saddest part is that these allegations have and continue to undermine the growth and development of our economy. You will agree with me that it is will be very difficult to attract foreign investments when public and private entities cannot be trusted by those who have to do business in our country.
“According to Stats SA, mining is a very important sector of the economy of the province, contributing 24.1 % to the GDP of our province.”
He said the challenges facing the mining sector are global in nature, further saying, “As you would know, a number of mines, especially platinum mines in the province are currently under care and maintenance. However, what we can never discount is the fact that mining will continue to play a very critical role in our provincial economy for years to come. Our communities also have high expectations from the mining sector to ward off poverty and unemployment.”