Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor John Gericke speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gericke: Zambia and Glencore going green, I see.
Creamer: Zambia swooped into town this week and said they are going all the way towards having as much green energy as possible. They have even appointed a Green Ministry. They are looking to the sun, wind and geothermal. They will continue with their hydropower, but only in non-drought-prone areas. Glencore, of course, are doing a just transition.
With the world cold shouldering coal, they are looking to depleting the coal they have. COP26 said out with coal and in with greenness. Glencore Coal is taking it seriously down in Mpumalanga, that is the land of coal and coal-fired power. They have switched from coal to wheat with the just transition in mind. They are farming on coal-mine land as part of a pilot project, and the crop, can you believe it, is winter wheat. What is surprising is that foreigners come in and they say why are you growing this or that crop when your environment is actually better suited to grow what we often don’t try out in these parts.
They are growing winter wheat and I couldn’t believe the smiles on the faces of the farmers on these coalfields where this wheat is up, green and growing for everyone to see – and is probably destined to be used in our breakfast cereal.
Gericke: I see there is a lot of talk about exploring for gas just off our coast of South Africa, attracting a lot at the moment.
Creamer: What South Africa should be focusing on is exploring onshore for metals and minerals, particularly critical metals and minerals. We want lithium, rare earth, graphite, nickel, copper, cobalt.
One of the things that is really disturbing us is that the exploration pace is so slow that we are now attracting less than 1% of global investment in greenfield exploration because of our poor exploration administration. If we don’t switch this around, people are soon going to say to our 18 year olds, don’t go into mining, because when you turn 40, you will be retrenched. That is the thing at the moment. We have always relied on mining. It is a big industry, but what we have fallen down on is exploration and we have got to catch up.
Gericke: What is South Africa like when it comes to these new metals that are used in batteries and green power.
Creamer: South Africa is failing completely in greenfield exploration, and our neighbours are showing us up. Mozambique has discovered lithium, Namibia has discovered lithium, all the countries around us seem to have discovered one or other of the new critical metals and you even find in Australia they look for gold and then suddenly come up with lithium during assaying.
We are not even checking our own assays to see what we have got. It is almost certain that we have got some of these critical metals and minerals here. We’ve just got to look for them and there are so many new ways of doing that because there is so much new technology. You can fly equipped planes over prospective territory and learn what is in the ground pretty fast. But our administration of exploration is shockingly slow and in need of completely new vigour.
Gericke: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.