South Africa remains a resource-rich region, but has missed opportunities to take advantage of the resources boom. As such, it has suffered more than other resource-rich regions during the industry downturn, says mining networking platform African Mining Network chairperson Yolanda Torrisi.
She explains that South Africa was largely developed on the back of the mining industry, lamenting that “it is terrible to see it in such a poor state today, with little hope of recovery in the short to medium term”. Mineral deposits have become increasingly difficult to find, develop and extract, with miners being forced to mine deeper, resulting in an increase in mining costs, as well as higher safety risks, she says.
Opencast Mining in SA
“As far as opencast mining is concerned, South Africa still has some of the world’s largest pits, including Cullinan, in Gauteng, and Palabora and Mogalakwena, both located in Limpopo, but those that are still operational are getting very deep, with the same cost and safety factors at play as in underground operations,” Torrisi explains.
She says that these factors have made many opencast mines unprofitable, which has led to a number of mine closures, with more closures likely, despite the recovery in commodity prices. However, Torrisi adds that the situation in the rest of Africa is significantly more positive for the mining industry, owing to the fact that mining is not as established in neighbouring countries, and resources are easier to exploit.
Another potential challenge in opencast mining in Africa is creating “predictable, stable and competitive policies and regulations”, which will help establish increased mining investment, which will, in turn, support the industry’s development.
“The future of opencast mining in South Africa, as well as in the rest of Africa, is very much dependent on new technologies that reduce the impact of many of the factors that have derailed opencast mining in South Africa, and threaten to do so in the rest of the continent,” Torrisi explains.
Many of the technologies required in exploration, drilling, blasting, logistics, crushing, processing, tailings and smelting, and in areas related to the environment and reclamation are available in Africa, Torrisi says. Where these technologies are not available, “there is every chance that they are available or being developed in mining strongholds such as Australia or Canada, or the engineering powerhouses of Germany and China, and it is imperative that they are introduced into Africa,” she emphasises.
Innovation, especially regarding technological advances, is essential for the African continent. If innovation is not embraced, the continent risks being left behind, Torrisi concludes.