After mining research in South Africa disintegrated markedly, there is now a positive new thrust emerging from the research, development and innovation (RDI) units at the Mandela Mining Precinct, in Carlow Road, Johannesburg.
These RDI teams are making use of the wonderful new technologies that are sweeping the globe in a bid to make mining safer and more efficient.
The keenness was catching at last week’s Southern African Mining Supply Chain Conference and Strategy Workshop, which was hosted by the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Mandela Mining Precinct, in partnership with mining supply chain clusters, alongside the Local Southern African Manufacturing Expo, at Nasrec’s Johannesburg Expo Centre.
The people who addressed this gathering did so against the credible background of the new modernisation thinking taking place at the precinct.
‘Minds for mines’ are being put to work at this jointly funded public– private partnership. The energies of government, business, equipment manufacturers and innovators are being harnessed with the aim of providing the declining South African mining industry with longevity.
This important journey must be walked together to mark the end of mining’s fragmented past. What must be delivered is safer and healthier mining, the preservation of as many conventional jobs as is economically feasible, the creation of new-era jobs linked to advancing technologies and unconventional equipment, and the lowering of costs to optimise rumpled returns.
The short-term quick wins must be trumpeted from the rooftops to provide confidence for government and the private sector to invest what is required to put mining back on the map for the benefit of the South African people.
Mining’s success will mean greater industrialisation through the backward integration of local mining equipment in a South African Development Community (SADC) region that is predominantly a mining economy.
The strategies are all in place in the form of the South African Mining, Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) platform that aims to maximise the return of South Africa’s mineral wealth through collaborative and sustainable research and innovation, leading to the development of new mining technologies.
The SAMERDI strategy served as an input document at the Mining Phakisa of 2015, when it was decided to direct South African mining away from potential disappearance through the implementation of an effective modernisation programme.
All over the world, mines are being constrained by depth. Creating mining solutions for mining at depths of 4 km, 5 km and 6 km would result in South Africa becoming the ‘go-to country’ for ultradeep mining technology and equipment.
Hard-rock narrow reef is also a crucial South African challenge. The country’s hard-rock orebodies are typically 220 MPa, compared with a global average of 160 MPa, and they are also much narrower, typically about 800 mm high, compared with 1.5 m.
There is potential for successful new technologies to be marketed into the SADC, Africa as whole and then the rest of the world, into which the Mandela Mining Precinct can extend the theme of RDI collaboration.