The SAIMM is a professional institute with local and international links aimed at assisting members source information about technological developments in the mining, metallurgical and related sectors.
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A monthly publication devoted to scientific transactions and specialist technical topics is unlikely to be on the priority reading list of the majority of the mining and metallurgical community. But it is the ambition of the Publication's Committee to make the Journal of much wider interest to our general membership from technician trainees to mine managers to CEO's of our constituent companies. It is to entice general readership that some 1200 words of valuable space are devoted to the Journal Comment each month. This is intended to highlight some of the features and impact of the papers to excite and activate attention.

To entice this preliminary glance before confining the publication to the book shelf or even the wpb, the author has to call on a large measure of journalistic licence in style, titles and quotations. It is essential to be spicy, controversial and even provocative to separate it from the abbreviated authoritative but necessary scientific style of the bulk of the contents.
The Journal Comment aims to be an enticement to dig into some important feature of the papers in the issue. For this reason it has been decided to include it as a separate item on the Institutes Web Site. This might provoke those who enjoy twittering, blogging and googling to submit comment and criticism, all of which will be welcomed and responded to. At least it is proof that somebody has read it.
R.E. Robinson

Student projects’ issue

‘The biological (if not the aesthetic) value of remembering Is not that it allows one to reminisce about the past but that it permits one to calculate coldly about the unknown future’ Colin Blakemore

The Institute has always considered it well worthwhile to produce an issue devoted to student projects. These are a requirement in the final year and an important component of university training to expose the prospective graduates to research procedures. Inevitably they will be exposed to research in their careers as participants, sponsors or users. These projects have to be undertaken at the final year when examinations are looming, and time does not permit the same level of detail expected from a postgraduate researcher. The limited number that can be published is a selection from a large number with some attempt to cover the main university departments that contribute to mining and metallurgy. I started my perusal of the papers with that of Louise Bircumshaw et al., on the mathematical modelling of the biochemical leaching of refractory pyretic concentrates.

Mining, management, metrics and mathematics

‘Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said what a good boy am I’ Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953)

Through the ages, mining has been the gambler’s happy hunting ground. More so in South Africa than in any other part of the world. One has only to recall the the discovery of diamonds, the Witwatersrand gold fields, Barney Barnato, Hans Merenski and the platinum riches of the Bushveld Igneous Complex and the Phalaborwa carbonitite to recognize that we have had more than our fair share of plums in the pudding and the magnate millionaires to pull them out. This gambling addiction continues.

The Cinderella of tertiary education

‘Lord Finchley tried to mend the electric light himself. It struck him dead. And serve him right! It is the business of the wealthy man to give employment to the artisan’ Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953)

In the last decade, government and public attention has been focused on universities and the upper levels of tertiary education and on promoting the culture of toplevel technical innovation and the need for scientists and engineers capable of high-level research.  What seems to have been on the low burner is the ground floor of ‘tertiary’ education. I am referring to the army of artisans, the apprentices, the technicians and engineering technologists. Such trainees do not aspire to the same level of mathematics and theoretical science as traditional university graduates do. They are more suited to the practical skills. But what does not seem to be appreciated is that the number of this artisan and technician category should far exceed that of university graduates, probably by a factor of two or more, as is the case in most first world hi-tech countries.


‘A government study across a number of countries showed that, when it came to paying skilled workers, South African wages were at the bottom, but, when it came to paying managers, they were at the top’ Alec Erwin: Address to the Metal and Engineering Union Bargaining Council.

There was good news and bad news from the Minister of Public enterprises.
The good news was that the government was planning to spend R320 billion in the next five years on the Public Sector infrastructure development plan.
The bad news was that as much as 40% of this might have to be spent outside South Africa because of the decline in capabilities of the private sector as a result of deterioration of skills and expertise.