Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: A hear you had a great week, you became a grandfather.
Creamer: Yes, little Kelly is too beautiful for words.
Gwala: Congratulations to the Creamer family and thanks again for coming through this morning.
New Canadian platinum contenders are showing huge confidence in South Africa’s platinum future, despite the metal’s current problems.
Creamer: Ivanplats and also the Platinum Group Metals listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange showing tremendous enthusiasm about their platinum projects in South Africa, despite our labour turmoil here. Particularly Ivanplats, lead by Robert Friedland, who has been so successful by mining in the world at Voisey’s Bay in Canada, with nickel.
He is looking at a wonderful resource and he has just firmed up more figures on it and put them to the Toronto Stock Exchange. Friedland wants to really do something that we haven’t had in South Africa before and that is to introduce a totally new mining paradigm where you add industry to it. He is looking at a wonderful orebody.
I am sitting here by a table and normally an orebody is as high as a table, but his is many times higher than the ceilings. It is going to go on for hundreds of years in the Limpopo Province in the Northern Bushveld, where Mogalakwena has been so successful. This will be underground and he is looking at a centralised shaft with 360o mechanised mining at about 700 metres deep. He is saying that no one is going to die and he is going to train the people and pay them more.
They are going to be more like skilled surgeons than miners. On surface they are going to make jewellery and catalytic converters. They have got an 18% Japanese partner and they are going to show South Africa a totally new paradigm. Also, out on the Western Bushveld, you see a lot of enthusiasm from Platinum Group Metals teaming up there with a joint venture platinum project along with Wesizwe, which is a fully funded Chinese project.
So, despite our turmoil, we have foreign investors here with tremendous confidence and getting more firming up of figures.
Gwala: Mine union pioneer, Dr James Motlatsi, this week called for radical changes to South Africa’s discredited migrant-labour system.
Creamer: He was the founding Cosatu member. He was the first ever President of the Nation Union of Mineworkers and he still is very close to the mining activity through TEBA which he is the executive chairperson of. TEBA serves the mines and the mine workers in the mining community, as well as in their rural communities, before, during and after employment.
So, they are very much locked into labour. He is saying let’s go for a new idea on this terribly difficult issue of migratory labour. We have had this curse for so many years going back 100 years in mining and we just haven’t actually got close to global best practise. Let’s sit down, work this out and get back to global best practice as far as we can.
Obviously, he is rejecting this fly-in fly-out arrangement because that would just be too impractical for South Africa with such huge volumes of migrant workers in such distant domiciles. That wouldn't work, but he is saying that he believes and he is coming up with this suggestion and should reach some finality on migrant labour.
These migrant workers should be given the opportunity of either bringing their families up to near-mine situations, in other words, urbanise now and come from the rural areas and live close to the mine with their families. Alternatively, if they don’t do that, then they should work on a basis of four months on, and two months off.
It is a very radical thinking arrangement that he has got there but it is all in the interests of getting rid of these social evils and these evils have really been exacerbated by those living-out allowances, which means they have a near-mine family and also have a rural family and never the twain meet.
Gwala: While Australians are succeeding brilliantly in making mining and agriculture work together, South Africans remain hesitant.
Creamer: The Australians, the New South Wales Minerals Councils, has come up with a whole lot of case studies which really impressed me, because often when we raise this issue of combining mining and agricultural trying to cooperate in some way trying to increase jobs on surface and trying to make use of mine land on surface while others are working underground, we often don’t get any firm decisions.
We did have one long time ago when we had a Canadian who headed Gold Fields in South Africa and he set up as a totally separate development the growing of a large long-stem big-headed roses out in Carletonville using mine water and that was a highly successful thing.
Other than that, I can’t think of anything that matches the Australians reports coming through. They really are working well. As coal-miners battle underground, farmers are growing olives on the surface. While there are mining activities going on underground, there are vineyards, which are not only producing acres and acres of grapes but also turning those grapes into wine. One of the farms has got about seven different vintages.
We see that it is possible and it comes against the background of this New South Wales Minerals Council really promoting mining in the area. In fact, they have just come through a new survey that they’ve done, which indicates that 96% of people in Australia actually believe that the mining industry is crucially important for their economy.
We don’t have that sort of momentum here and we have a lot of problems in our mining industry. We have problems that are plunging the industry to a dangerous tipping point, and we need to reverse that because mining is also so important for our economy, and people need to realise that.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.