AMLive anchor Sakina Kamwendo on Friday presented another Update From The Coalface with Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.
Kamwendo: Australia is beating South Africa hands down in the race for a slice of Africa’s mineral resources.
Creamer: I’ve been watching this very closely for the last decade and we’ve had the Africa Down Under conference as it’s going on in Australia and when you go there you find more Africans there than you do in South Africa. It’s almost as if Australia has become a part of this continent and we are detached from this continent and it’s all about public relations, which they’ve been exercising over an extended period, and helping them a lot are their diplomatic representatives who go into Africa and don’t only deal with political issues, but they look very strongly at economic issues. They build up a good public relations platform and before you know it an enterprise has come from Australia into a country, looked at the geological survey and found out what opportunities exist for mineral resource exploitation and also now agriculture. We see this week again at Africa Down Under, they’ve just signed a mining tie, Western Australia, one of the states in Australia tying with COMESA, which is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa where there are 19 countries there and included in that block is the DRC which we know is the prettiest girl on the mining block, you know, they’re getting that tied up. There’s also zambia, there’s also Kenya, and even Madagascar. This sort of atmosphere is linking Australia to Africa in a way that is tighter than we are linked to Africa and we are right on the continent here and I think that our diplomatic representative have to realise that we’ve got to do a much more job in the line of public relations and getting our enterprises attuned to the opportunities that exist there in resources and in agriculture. We are really not matching the big tempo that has come from Australia and it’s over a long period of time and we need to play serious catch-up.
Kamwendo: London-listed coal miner Glencore this week pledged its full support to Eskom.
Creamer: I think we should realise how important it is to have close ties with the private sector who can give you wads of funding to do the things that we desperately need, like coal mining. Here comes Glencore and it says, “look, we want to invest in your country, we are investing in your country, we’ve done up to 40-billion rand worth of investment in the last period of up to 4 years and we want to continue to do that.” Of course, journalists were peppering them with questions about the strategic nature that is going to be given to coal and the actual setting of prices of the coal and how it’s going to affect them and they’re saying, “look, obviously, we have to look at returns on investment, that is our first call, our shareholders demanding that we get a good return-on-investment and we think governments are smart when they really allow the private sector to get that return–on-investment, because we bring that capital that they need and we are pledging full support to Eskom, provided we get a return on capital that we can say to our shareholders this is worth while, otherwise we will look elsewhere and say, no, we’re getting a better return on capital there, we’ve got to go there.” It is so important, I’ve just come through from 3 days of not having power, you know, when you sit at home and you haven’t got electricity for 3 days, you realise you can’t live without electricity and therefore we need every bit of support that a coal miner can give and these people give Eskom something like 20 million tons a year, they are prepared to give more, they are exercising all their prospecting rights. They are acting like first class corporate citizens. We should realise in South Africa that business needs some support, and not the disjointed legislative framework which we are faced with here, and it is really disjointed. If you go into the actual laws that are governing mining now, they are clashing left, right and centre. We can’t afford that, because we need the support of business.
Kamwendo: Iron-ore miner Kumba is bridging the digital divide in township schools with the sun’s help.
Creamer: Mine companies come in for a lot of flack, so they are going overboard now to do a lot of good public relations, because they know that corporate social investment is extremely important. We know that Kumba Iron Ore, which is part of the Anglo American group has had great returns on its iron ore mining in the Northern Cape and here now they burst out of their near-mine community and they come to Thembisa and on Monday they set up a great little school, it’s an internet school and I thought it was fascinating. They spent 10-million rand on this, and here they are showing the kids that you can get linked to the world on the internet. They’ve got the computers, and iPad’s and tablets there, but you can do it with the energy of your Thembisa sun coming down there, that sun can give you that energy and not only that, with that 10-million, and they’re doing it over 4 schools they also engaged in school feeding schemes. They’ve got market gardens going up there, more than that, they actually collect the waste, and they’ve got biodigesters which then convert that biodigested material, which is waste material into gas, it then becomes cooking gas. This is tremendous insight for these young students to see exactly the sort of energy that can be drawn on in this modern world to actually educate them and feed them and I think this is a great gesture from Kumba Iron Ore and it shows you what can be done with iron ore millions.
Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He’ll be back At The Coalface at the same time next Friday.