The mining sector in Africa can help to grow economies during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, by harnessing technology and automation, as well as by capitalising on opportunities provided by the green transition, automation company Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa CEO Sabine Dall’Omo said on August 3.
During the keynote address of the first day of the company’s Smart Mining Africa Forum, she highlighted that mining is an essential economic driver for the continent, with 25 countries among those most reliant in the world on the economic contribution of mining activity.
Moreover, mines are frequently the largest employer in their community; may be the primary delivery mechanism for services in the community; are drivers of technical skills development; and are major contributors to infrastructure formation.
Mining is also a major foreign direct investment contributor.
Dall’Omo said mining also came with its own set of challenges, such as its impact on the environment.
Despite the continent having 30% of the world’s mineral resources, Africa accounts for less that 15% of production, which she noted shows that the continent is significantly extractive but not fully capitalising on its resources’ potential.
Moreover, she said the Covid-19 pandemic presented a once-in-a-century challenge for the mining industry.
In South Africa, for example, mining production was reduced considerably during the first lockdown in 2020, and the months of April and May 2020, especially, saw a significant downturn within such an important industry for the country.
However, since May 2020, she noted, there had been a recovery on the mining side, mainly as a result of the country’s main trading partners having started recovering and needing more commodities to fuel their economic recovery from the pandemic’s impact.
Dall’Omo said that while Covid-19 posed unique challenges for the mining industry, it also provided opportunities.
This is seen in South Africa in the rollout of the vaccine, with the mining industry playing a leading role in getting both workers and communities vaccinated.
Dall’Omo said the ‘new normal’ was now about making things smarter, across all industries, including mining.
Given that mining often requires personnel to work together in confined spaces, this has to be mitigated during instances like the pandemic to ensure workers are kept safe, and this calls for using technologies that predict how many people are in a building, for example.
Dall’Omo said that, therefore, one of the learnings from the pandemic was that it accelerated the adoption of technology that companies were previously reluctant to rely on. She acclaimed that Africa was able to leapfrog adaption and acceptance by about five years, which is a considerable win for the continent.
Also, given that mining operations are heavy maintenance industries, during the pandemic, travelling was restricted as was access to certain facilities. Therefore, mining had to adapt to a different way of undertaking maintenance and ensuring operations were supported remotely.
Therefore, the pandemic has forced entire workforces to adjust to a ‘new normal’ way of working that is far more reliant on enabling technologies, she said.
Moving forward, Dall’Omo said, there is a unique opportunity to embed technologies that enhance sustainability into the mining industry.
As recovery and sustainability increase, the world will need different minerals, which provides a lot of opportunities for the mining sector to participate in the green transition, she highlighted.
As it supports these industries, she emphasised that mining must be undertaken responsibly to ensure its impact on the environment and communities was not negative.