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Surface-mining skills shortage a concern – association

An image of Letisha van den Berg

LETISHA VAN DEN BERG The opencast and surface mining sector can supply all the products to fix the construction and maintenance issues currently associated with road and water infrastructure

3rd May 2024

By: Lumkile Nkomfe

Creamer Media Reporter

     

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Amid the current economic challenges in South Africa, local mining and quarrying industry representative organisation Aspasa stresses the importance of discovering smarter ways of mining economically and calls for the creation of platforms for young people to develop in the industry.

The association asserts that small-scale surface mines provide a broad spectrum of exposure for individuals entering the mining industry, as they can acquire a well-rounded knowledge while being deployed in surface mining operations.

The small-scale surface mining industry is shrinking, owing to stringent legislative requirements that make it difficult for new entrants, including small, medium-sized and microenterprise (SMME) entrepreneurs, to start a mine, highlights Aspasa director Letisha van den Berg.

A key challenge for this sector is addressing the interests of near-mine communities: “There is such a huge need [for] education in rural communities, and small surface mines can only assist a small number of these community members. But where we do operate, we make a positive impact on learners, [as well as] SMMEs and infrastructure.”

Van den Berg adds that the public should be aware of Aspasa’s incremental efforts to develop and improve educational facilities, such as classrooms and eating facilities, at near-mine schools.

Further, in terms of assisting members in lobbying and with sector recognition, she points out that the organisation gathers input on legislation and guidelines, and assists in drafting such information to ensure that the small-scale surface mining industry is recognised.

Aspasa also emphasises networking as one of its biggest strengths and, Van den Berg says member representatives are always ready to assist one another.

In helping members address the environmental impacts of their small-scale surface mining activities, Aspasa asserts that it conducts yearly independent environmental compliance audits, which include environmental, social and governance audits.

“Our auditors get around many operations and also mentor and train members on possible solutions [for problems] they encounter across South Africa. We also stay ahead of what is needed through [the] Minerals Council South Africa and other environmental specialists,” Van den Berg notes.

Aspasa also undertakes independent health and safety audits at its member's operations to ensure that there is an adequate level of compliance at all times at the mines, in addition to hosting a yearly awards evening at the Institute of Quarrying to recognise the mines that perform well.

Challenges

Van den Berg laments the threat of illegal mining and stresses that more sustained efforts are required to address the situation; illegal miners can also sell their products at very low prices because they do not have any compliance measures to adhere to or investments to be made.

Ensuring compliance applies to legitimate mining companies or operations comes with a significant increase in operating costs, resulting in Aspasa members struggling to compete with minerals products being sold by illegal mining networks.

Van den Berg says that less restrictive, and more accessible, legislation is required to ensure that existing legal mines do not have to contemplate closure as a result of significant red tape.

Highlighting the importance of small-scale surface mining to South Africa’s economic growth prospects, she asserts that the opencast and surface mining sector can supply all the products to fix the construction and maintenance issues currently associated with road and water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in considering diversity and the advancement of women in the mining industry, she adds that the association aligns itself with the Mine Health and Safety Council’s Women in Mining pillars, which highlights the importance of implementing robust and effective prevention strategies against gender-based violence and sexual harassment in the industry.

“We drive women in mining structures at the small surface mines and have two meetings a year to ensure that the focus is continuous with other days celebrated, such as International Women’s Day [and] National Women’s Day. “We have also started an inclusivity awareness campaign with a monthly topic.

“The Aspasa management committee has also agreed to focus on the success stories of women in surface mining,” notes Van den Berg.

Despite these efforts, she says the resilience of women should not be underestimated and that not every aspect of the mining environment requires mechanisation simply to suit these interests. Aspasa remains committed to the zero harm journey in all of its initiatives.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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