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Modernisation of South Africa’s mines crucial to extending precious metals mining

9th September 2016

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

  

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That South Africa’s deep precious metals mining methods have to change, is now being spoken from the rooftops.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s May Hermanus last week set out a scenario of platinum and gold mining having very short-life horizons without the introduction of continuous mining.

The Chamber of Mines has shown in a study that conventional gold mining will take the sector into decline as early as 2019 and to a complete death by 2033.

The introduction of reef boring by AngloGold Ashanti was done against a background of only 25 g of gold being brought to surface by conventional means, from 100 g mined underground.

This reef boring has already begun for the mining of shaft pillars but will require permission to mine continuously from the powers that be.

Modernisation can open up lower-grade areas for viable mining. The estimates of South Africa’s three principal gold companies recorded in a chamber document indicate that for every 1g/t reduction in the cutoff grade, there is a prize of ten-million tonnes of additional ore containing 200 t of gold over an operation’s extended life.

This, the chamber outlines, is an indication of the benefits of mining around the clock.

Extrapolating this across the industry as a whole – also to currently working and dormant mines – profitable gold mining operations might be expected to continue well beyond the year 2045.

Modernisation of the mining industry involves mining South Africa’s mineral resources in the safest, most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable manner possible and improving skills, health, quality of life and fulfilment of employees. It also aims to treat South Africa’s natural resources with respect and put an end to wasteful mining.

Mining must also take into account that the country cannot keep mining from the same shafts forever.

Parts of the industry are working only 260 days a year, with increasing depth and distance from the shaft drastically shrinking work time and contributing to rising costs, which have clashed head-on with falling prices.

Ultimately, without a shift in mining methodology, the mining of the industry’s deep orebodies will have to cease, potential wealth will be sterilised and mine closure necessitated.

There has to be investment, which the CEOs of both Northam Platinum and Implala Platinum concurred last week is not happening, even on the stay-in-business, replacement front.

The chamber believes that an integrated suite of locally manu- factured products with real-time monitoring and control is needed to stop the rot.

The industry has set a milestone for the implementation of a cyclical drill and blast suite of equipment that mechanises all activi- ties in the stoping and development cycle, including remotely operated equipment.

Work done to date indicates that such modernisation significantly extends mine life, preserves mining employment, improves safety and health, and allows the mining of lower-grade orebodies and deeper resources.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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