Industry needs long-term focus for sustainable success

5th December 2003 By: nkolola halwindi

Efficiency, safety, health, skills development and long-term strategies will be the main emphasis of the newly-elected president of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), professor Dick Stacey, during his tenure. By investing in the long term, the industry could realise an overall cost-reduction and increased profit margins, advises Stacey.

The practice may be a saviour to an industry which mainly depends on exports and has been seriously affected by the appreciation of the local currency.

As a result, the mining industry is anticipating a R20-billion revenue decline this year alone. Stacey observes that short-term strategies, such as cost-cutting, only result in reduced mine-life and short-term benefits.

Currently, the industry faces the challenge of reducing costs, which Stacey believes goes with good and holistic planning.

Stacey says the shortage of skills could become critical to the industry, noting that the number of qualified workers, which includes graduates, artisans and experienced mineworkers, is dwindling.

“A crisis period is looming where there could be a critical shortage of skills, unless the industry comes up with deliberate measures to save the situation,” he cautioned.

Improvements in health and safety are high on Stacey’s agenda for the year, areas he believes could have a direct impact on the industry.

He hopes the industry will pay attention to safety, in line with government’s requirements on improved safety at places of work.

South Africa has seen an increased emphasis on safety regulations in the last few years.

Stacey says the HIV/Aids pandemic does not only have a significant effect on the economy, but also has huge social implications.

Commenting on the opportunities in the industry, Stacey says the industry should take advantage of opportunities in other African countries.

“There is enormous potential in Africa, a continent that is richly blessed with mineral resources, therefore it is important for the local industry to consider the potential of the continent in the long term,” he advises.

Comparing the local industry with that of the developed countries, Stacey says the local industry is more labour-intensive, which is essential for a developing country with high unemployment levels. Although the developed countries are highly-mechanised and have a high labour cost, the South African industry has highly-specialised expertise in mining, he says.

However, Stacey understands that there has been substantial mechanisation in the industry in the last five years.

“Mechanisation in our mines is not easy and therefore mining will remain labour-intensive for some time to come,” he cautions.

Looking ahead, Stacey foresees more empowerment deals in the industry and expects a significant change in the industry in terms of ownership and management as a result of the Mining Charter.