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Quest for zero harm in South African deep gold mines

WC Joughin 25072023On 5 April, 2024, I had the privilege of attending the Fall-of-Ground Action Plan (FOGAP) Day of Learning — an event that marked a significant milestone in the pursuit of mine safety. Hosted by the Minerals Council - South Africa (MCSA) in partnership with the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA), the South African Colliery Managers’ Association (SACMA), and the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering (SANIRE), the event showcased groundbreaking strategies to combat fall-of-ground incidents, which remains one of the most significant hazards in mining operations.

FOGAP was developed through the collaborative efforts of the MCSA Rock Engineering Technical Committee (RETC) and SANIRE and is aimed at eliminating fall-of-ground fatalities. The focal points of the day’s discussions were on innovative support systems and improved workplace conditions.

I was particularly impressed by the adoption of permanent mesh support in narrow tabular stopes. This innovation involves securing high tensile steel mesh to the hanging wall using an array of supports including rockbolts, timber props, timber packs, and mechanical props (Figure 1). While rockburst resistant supports, such as rapid yielding hydraulic props and engineered timber props, have been employed for many years, they have not entirely mitigated the risk of fatal injuries during rockbursts, as the rock tends to fail between these supports. Integrating the high tensile mesh into the support system could significantly reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities.

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Figure 1-High tensile steel mesh installed in stopes (left – courtesy: Sibanye Stillwater; right – courtesy: Harmony)

The challenge of installing mesh in narrow tabular stopes has been a topic of concern since I began my career in the 1990s. Due to the manual labour required, often in hot and humid conditions, and the complexity of the installation process, the task was deemed too difficult. Mesh installation is common in tunnels where stress and rockburst damage is a concern; where the mesh is fastened to the rock using rockbolts and sometimes high tensile steel cable lacing.

The landscape began to change around 2012 when in-stope rockbolting became widely adopted, allowing for support to be placed closer to the stope face and increasing the density of support. Coupled with the development of high tensile mesh, the installation process has become slightly more manageable. However, it’s important to acknowledge that poorly installed mesh can exacerbate safety risks, making the development and trial of installation methods critical. Once proven effective, it is imperative to train all stope teams in these methods. Not surprisingly, convincing labourers of the benefits of this additional effort is no small feat. It requires effective communication and demonstration—rolling out such significant changes is a considerable achievement that could substantially contribute to the goal of zero harm.

Another noteworthy advancement is the introduction of LED lighting, which has drastically improved the illumination of underground stopes. These low-power lighting systems can be installed swiftly at the start of a shift and are removed at the end to avoid damage from blasting and scraper cleaning. The enhanced visibility allows for easier identification and remediation of rockfall hazards, further bolstering workplace safety.

Figure 2 illustrates the annual number of seismic-related fatalities in the industry since 1984, revealing a pronounced decline from 147 fatalities in 1990 to none in 2022, which at first glance indicates a dramatic enhancement in workplace safety. However, a more nuanced view is warranted. A substantial portion of rockburst incidents occur in gold mines, often deeper than 2000 metres. Concurrently, there has been a notable decrease in both gold production and workforce within the gold mining sector (Figures 3 and 4). South Africa’s gold production peaked in 1970 at one million kilograms of gold, the highest recorded by any country in a single year. This figure has since steadily declined to just 100 000 kilograms by the end of 2023. Similarly, the workforce in gold mines has diminished from nearly 400 000 individuals in 1995 to 93 589 by the end of 2023.
The question then arises: Does the decline in fatalities accurately reflect enhanced safety measures, or is it merely a consequence of the contraction of South Africa’s gold mining industry? For a more reliable evaluation of safety performance,

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Figure 2-Fatalities caused by seismic events in South African Gold Mines from 1980 to 2023 (from Minerals Council and SAMRASS database)

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Figure 3-Gold production in kilograms (

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Figure 4-Yearly employment numbers in South African Gold Mines (Stats SA and DMRE)

it is imperative to control for certain variables. Historically, the MCSA reported fatality rates per 1000 workers, but this metric was later changed to reporting the absolute number of fatalities to emphasize the human cost and foster greater empathy. While the latter approach has its merits, it complicates the task of objectively assessing improvements in safety.

In Figure 5, I have normalized the fatality figures to account for every 100 000 workers and per 100 tons of gold produced. These reference points are chosen for their approximation to current gold production and employment figures. Furthermore, this method aligns with the World Health Organization’s practice of standardising death rates per 100 000 individuals, enabling comparisons with other mortality causes. Although this normalization could benefit from more specific data, it offers a more reliable preliminary analysis of safety advancements. The data indicates a gradual decline in fatality rates from 1990 to 2008, followed by a noticeable shift between 2008 and 2010. Presently, the rate hovers around five fatalities per 100 000 workers, with 2017 and 2020 being particularly challenging years, and 2022 being remarkably safe with no reported fatalities.

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Figure 5-Normalized fatality rates

This analysis also reveals that year-on-year comparisons may not yield substantive insights, whereas long-term trends are more telling. The observed improvements are likely the result of various interventions, both technological and managerial. The MCSA, in collaboration with the mining industry, has launched several safety initiatives through the Mine Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) programmes and, more recently, the FOGAP initiative. The future will determine if these efforts will lead to further advancements in safety.

In light of the reduction of fatality numbers, both due to contraction of the industry and safety improvements, it is necessary to shift focus towards tracking high-potential incidents to monitor safety performance. Large seismic events and major rockburst damage continue to be prevalent in deep-level gold mining operations, posing a persistent challenge in addressing the risk. Rockburst risk management requires a comprehensive strategy that encompasses multiple components. Each of these components makes a small contribution to reducing the risk, but when all are implemented, it results in a significant reduction in risk. These include optimising mining layouts and sequences to reduce the frequency of large seismic events and to redirect them away from active mining areas, modifying the characteristics of the rock (pre-conditioning) to reduce the likelihood of bursting, improving support to reduce the likelihood of damage caused by large seismic events and reducing the exposure of workers to rockburst damage.

Guidelines for optimising mining layouts and sequences have been developed over many years, together with numerical modelling tools to analyse stress changes caused by mining. However, the geological structures (faults and dykes) and rock mass characteristics are complex, and therefore the rock mass response will vary in different parts of the mine and between mines. It is important to gather as much information on the geology as possible and to develop structural models to better anticipate the rock mass response. Seismic monitoring systems are essential tools for measuring the rock mass response and evaluating the implementation of rockburst risk management strategies throughout the mine.

Unfortunately, the technology to predict the location and time of a large seismic event has not been developed, despite significant efforts in this regard. If it were possible to do this reliably, it would enable the removal of workers from the danger area before a significant rockburst. At present seismic monitoring systems can reliably measure changes in seismic behaviour, which may provide an indication of an increase in seismic hazard in an area of the mine. However, seismic monitoring systems have contributed immensely to understanding rock mass behaviour and reducing uncertainty, and continue to play a key role in rockburst risk management.

Through the FOGAP programme, the MCSA has initiated a seismic research project. The first phase of the project is in progress, which entails the review of current rockburst risk management practice, locally and internationally. The objective of this phase is to identify best practices and gaps which need to be addressed. While rockburst risk management practices were first developed in South Africa, international mines are going deeper and do experience high stress and high levels of seismic hazard, so there is an opportunity to learn from different approaches applied elsewhere. The second phase will involve the investigation of alternative methods for short term seismic hazard analysis using machine learning and Bayesian statistical methods applied to seismic monitoring data. Ultimately this will lead towards much improved guidelines on rockburst risk management, and training of rock engineers to implement these guidelines.

It is imperative to strive for zero harm and to implement practicable solutions to reduce the risk. Risk is the product of probability and consequence. Since probabilities are expressed as fractions, a probability of zero equates to one divided by infinity, which is mathematically unattainable. However, safety interventions may make the probability of occurrence so low that the resulting injuries and fatalities within the population of mine workers would be so infrequent as to result in effectively zero harm.

W.C. JoughinPresident,


WC Joughin 25072023In February, I had the pleasure of participating in two notable events organized by the SAIMM and SANCOT: the Herrenknecht Seminar, which focused on ‘New Developments in Mechanized Tunnelling and Shaft Sinking for the Civil and Mining Industries’ held in Johannesburg, and the SANCOT-ITA Workshop that delved into ‘Technical and Legal Aspects of Underground Construction, Operational and Mine Accident and Fire Risk’ in Cape Town.

Many of you might already know that SANCOT (South African National Council on Tunnelling) has been operating as a special interest group within the SAIMM since 2003.

However, SANCOT’s roots extend much further back. Established in 1973, SANCOT became a founding member nation of the International Tunnelling Association and Underground Space Association (ITA) just a year later, in 1974.

Today, the ITA is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization with 79 member nations, incorporating both corporate and individual members. The organization is dedicated to promoting the use of underground spaces for the public good, the environment, and sustainable development. It also supports progress in the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and safety of tunnels and underground spaces. The partnership between SANCOT and the SAIMM is reciprocal, with the SAIMM Secretariat providing valuable administrative services and event management.

The primary focus of SANCOT and ITA lies in the realm of civil underground infrastructure, yet the parallels with tunnels and large excavations in mines are quite evident. The civil engineering sector’s experience with the latest underground technologies is a rich source of knowledge. In particular, the area of mechanized tunnelling and boring has seen remarkable progress within civil engineering applications. Tunnel boring machines (TBMs) have become instrumental in the safe and rapid development of long tunnels for road and rail transport, water and sewage transfer, and many other applications. Historically, TBMs have seen limited use in mining; however, the industry is now considering the adoption of newer, compact, and more versatile TBMs.

A good example is Master Drilling’s recent initiative to develop an exploration decline at Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena mine, employing its Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB). The MTB is a horizontal cutting machine that incorporates a full-face cutter head with disc cutters, a concept borrowed from traditional TBMs. This innovative machine is designed for functionality in both inclines and declines and is capable of navigating around corners in access tunnels with a diameter of 5.5 m. It has front and tail shields to temporarily support the rock, protecting operators and the specialized equipment. The integrated bolter rig can install a pattern of 1.8 m long resin rebar bolts. Ground conditions are better with less support, due to the circular tunnel profile and absence of blast damage.

In mining operations, raise boring is a common technique used for excavating vertical shafts and orepasses. However, its application is limited to scenarios where the rock mass is stable and competent throughout the entire length of the excavation because support can only be installed once boring is completed. Addressing this limitation, manufacturers of TBMs have engineered shaft boring machines that have the dual capability of boring while concurrently installing the necessary support. Construction of orepass and ventilation raises could also be carried out with boxhole boring machines (BBRs) to create a pilot hole and boxhole backreaming machines (BBMs) to enlarge to the final diameter. A lining can be installed concurrently during the back reaming process to provide early support in challenging ground conditions.

At the Herrenknecht seminar, the talks covered a range of topics, including selection criteria for TBMs in varying rock mass conditions, innovative technologies for the excavation of vertical shafts, BBR and BBM technology, TBMs for the development of spiral ramps and horizontal infrastructure, pipe laying technology and its potential application in mining, and reef boring trials for narrow tabular orebodies. Reference projects were included where this new technology has been applied. An informative discussion panel on ‘Innovation in Mechanized Excavation’ provided some additional insights.

Mechanized tunnelling machines represent a significant advancement, yet broader adoption will take time. Adaptions will be necessary to tailor these machines for specific mining purposes. They demand a substantial initial investment and skilled personnel for operation and maintenance. However, these costs could be balanced by enhanced safety measures, accelerated development, and earlier access to reef. Mechanized boring of narrow tabular reefs is intriguing, since it will be much safer, and potentially more productive, but it will take even longer to develop the new mining methods that utilize this equipment.

At the SANCOT-ITA workshop, a variety of engaging presentations were delivered, addressing an array of subjects, including the state of technology for mechanized shaft and tunnel development in hard rock, fire safety in underground facilities, lessons learnt from a challenging rescue after a tunnel collapse, transferring essential skills from the tunnelling industry to the mining industry, contract management, and geotechnical aspects.
The next SANCOT Symposium will take place during October 2024, and I look forward to seeing you there.

W.C. Joughin
President, SAIMM

Mines, Wines, and Art at the Mining Indaba

WC Joughin 25072023I recently had the privilege of attending, and representing the SAIMM at, the inaugural Mines, Wines and Art, which was held in the Convent Courtyard at the Goodman Gallery in Green Point, Cape Town on Sunday 4 February 2024. This event, occurring on the eve of the ‘Investing in African Mining Indaba’, aims to establish itself as a highlight of the annual Mining Indaba gatherings. The Goodman Gallery showcased a thought-provoking exhibition featuring mining-themed works by esteemed South African artists David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, and Sam Nhlengethwa. Fine wines from estates with direct ties to mining, such as Vergelegen, Steenberg, Gabrielskloof, Wildekrans, and Boschendal, were served. The event was organized by the SAIMM and sponsored by Webber Wentzel.

The guest list included the king and queen of Lesotho, his Majesty, King Letsie III and her Majesty Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso, along with Lesotho’s Ministers of Energy (Hon. Professor Nqosa Mahao) and Natural Resources (Hon. Mohlomi Moleko) and the Chairman of the Lesotho Highlands Development Agency (Mr Stephen Phakisi). The Royal Bafokeng Nation was represented by Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi. Also in attendance were the British High Commissioner to South Africa (His Excellency Anthony Phillipson), the CEO of the ICMM (Rohitesh Dhawan), the CEO of the Minerals Council (Mzila Mthenjane), Vice Chancellors of the University of the Free State (Professor Francis Pietersen), University of Cape Town (Professor Daya Reddy), University of Stellenbosch (Professor Wim de Villiers), Chairs and CEOs of Anglo American (Duncan Wanblad and Nolitha Fakude) and Seriti Coal (Mike Teke), among many other dignitaries.

The event, led by Michael Solomon as the master of ceremonies, featured brief but insightful addresses from various speakers, including myself, King Letsie III, Professor Daya Reddy (UCT), Professor Francis Petersen (UFS), and Mzila Mthenjane, all on the theme of a just transition in mining. Christo Els of Webber Wentzel delivered the closing remarks.

Overall, the event was a resounding success, offering guests the opportunity to mingle, explore the gallery, and enjoy a splendid dinner paired with delicious wine.

I extended my stay in Cape Town to participate in and deliver a presentation at another event organized by the SAIMM. This workshop, held on the Friday following the Mining Indaba, focused on tunnelling and was conducted in collaboration with the International Tunnelling Association (ITA) and the South African National Committee on Tunnelling (SANCOT). In an upcoming President’s Corner, I look forward to discussing SANCOT and its role within the SAIMM further.

I did not attend the Mining Indaba in person, as it’s more tailored for investors and my erudite colleagues in the mining, exploration, and ESG fields, rather than a specialist rock engineer like myself. However, I followed the event closely as it serves as a valuable indicator of the mining landscape in Africa.

It is encouraging that the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, attends the Mining Indaba and re-affirms the government’s commitment to the mining industry. Given that the industry contributes 7.5% towards the national GDP, accounts for 60% of exports by value, and employs approximately 476 000 people, this commitment is essential. The transformation of black ownership in the industry from 2% in 2004 to the current 39% is truly remarkable. Importantly, the government acknowledges the crippling effects of unstable electricity supply, logistical bottlenecks (mainly port and rail), and illegal mining, cable theft, and other criminal activities on mining in South Africa. However, the implementation of critical interventions by government and business will determine whether meaningful reform takes place, to make South Africa a more attractive investment destination. The implementation of an efficient, transparent, and modern cadastral system for digital management of prospecting and mining rights applications is crucial for the mining industry, and the President announced that a preferred bidder had been selected to implement the system.

Each mining company underscored the critical significance of responsible mining practices, integrating sustainability into their business strategies, and making steadfast commitments to decarbonization. During the discussions, innovative approaches were showcased, such as investing in renewable energies, ensuring a just transition, and recycling. Not only do these approaches contribute to decarbonization efforts, but they also aid in securing energy requirements.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) announced its intention to amalgamate responsible mining standards into a unified, globally recognized framework, collaborating with the World Gold Council, Copper Mark, and the Mining Association of Canada. This initiative will hopefully address the multitude of standards currently being applied and simplify the requirements for mine owners. The consolidated standard is intended to serve as a single reliable source of information, adopted throughout the industry.

As ESG pressures continue to mount, the focus on critical minerals such as copper for electricity distribution, as well as nickel, cobalt, and lithium for applications in solar, wind, and hydropower installations, along with the production of battery energy storage systems and electric vehicles, becomes increasingly vital. These minerals play a pivotal role in facilitating the global energy transition. This will undoubtably continue to create opportunities in Africa and contribute to the development of people and communities.

As a final note, I read with interest the recent announcement that a fleet of BMW iX5 hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) is now driving on South African roads. They are supported by a green hydrogen refuelling centre in Johannesburg, supplied by Sasol. The initiative was a joint venture between BMW, Sasol, and Anglo American. These luxury SUVs have a 125 kW drive train a 500 km range on 6 kg of fuel. Notably, one significant advantage of FCEVs over battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is their rapid five-minute refuelling time. It’s worth mentioning that the BMW iX5 fuel cell is provided by Toyota, a frontrunner in fuel cell development, who have their own Toyota Mirai, which is the best-selling FCEV in the USA. It will probably take some time for the green hydrogen fuel supply to roll out in South Africa and worldwide, and for FCEVs to become an affordable reality. However, the hydrogen economy holds tremendous potential for South Africa and PGM miners. Platinum and iridium are used in generating green hydrogen and potentially in proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers. Most fuel cells utilize platinum as a catalyst, alongside lesser quantities of ruthenium. Both elements contribute distinctive traits of durability, power density, and efficiency to the fuel cells.

W.C. Joughin
President, SAIMM


WC Joughin 25072023I am sure many of you are aware that the SAIMM established the ESGS Committee a little over two years ago. The Committee deals with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability (S). ESG and Sustainability have become increasingly important for mining companies in recent years.

Climate change and rising global temperatures are affecting biodiversity and leading to droughts, floods, and wildfires around the world. The need to decarbonize is imperative, and has increased the demand for critical minerals required for decarbonization, as well as necessitated the responsible sourcing of these minerals with minimal ESG impacts.

Public perception of the mining industry is extremely unfavourable, to say the least. This is largely due to legacy issues associated with human rights abuses, damaging environmental incidents, and fatal accidents. While mining companies have progressed and improved over many years on all these fronts, more work is required to both meet the expectations of investors, lenders, governments, and the public in general – and, importantly, to update the perceptions of stakeholders. Responsible mining is not only ethically correct, but is now also essential to remain in business.

As far back as the 1990s, the concept of sustainability was institutionalized to address global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation. The United Nations (UN) has proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, which have been translated into laws and standards. ESG can be interpreted as how a company responds to sustainability imperatives, and provides evidence to its stakeholders about its commitments, targets, and performance. The term ESG has become popular in recent years and is incorporated into the six UN Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI). These principles include incorporating ESG into investment analysis and decision-making, ownership policies and practices, and transparent reporting of ESG issues. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has defined 10 principles for sustainable development. ESG is broad-reaching, constantly evolving, and as a result, there is no universally accepted definition. The explosion of new standards in recent years makes it challenging for all industries, and there is a need to rationalize and consolidate standards.

Building ESG into all aspects of the business requires innovative ways of thinking. Policies and practice must be holistic, minimizing environmental impact and improving the welfare of all stakeholders. This highlights the importance of the role of professionals in the mining industry in bringing their knowledge, skills, and experience to create new ideas and approaches to addressing ESG impacts and risks. Our goal should be to create a positive impact on the planet and ensure the wellbeing and success of future generations.

The SAIMM ESGS Committee’s mission is to ‘To build member capability, to influence professional behaviour and enable industry dialogue on Sustainability and responsible mining through Environmental, Social and Governance related matters’. The purpose is to create awareness, understanding, and competence in ESG and Sustainability issues. More information about the ESGS Committee is available on our website. In meeting its objectives, the Committee has presented webinars, a podcast, and a paper.

  • Webinar: Launch of the SAIMM ESGS Committee. Mike Solomon, the Chairperson of the ESGS Committee, introduced the ESGS Committee and highlighted the requirement for and purpose of the Committee.
  • Webinar: Decarbonizing the Mining Sector by 2040. In this webinar, Mike Solomon provides some insights into decarbonization, and some of the programmes implemented by mining companies to decarbonize the sector by 2040.
  • Webinar and Journal paper: Assessing coal mine closures and mining community profiles for the ‘just transition’ in South Africa. Megan Cole, Mzila Mthenjane, and Andrew van Zyl explain the expected coal mine closures and associated community vulnerabilities and local governance challenges in South Africa. These discussions highlight the realities in South Africa and the importance of ensuring an effective transition which maintains energy security while addressing the welfare of the affected communities.
  • Webinar: Mine Closure Risks and Opportunities for South Africa. Megan Cole, James Lake, and Nikisi Lesufi describe the new mine closure risk rating system and explore post-closure land use opportunities.
  • Podcast on the Crucible: The extra S in ESG. In this podcast, Gordon Smith explains the link between sustainability and ESG, and the importance of including these principles in company strategies and developing creative solutions. He provides some insights into the ESGS Committee and elaborates on our objectives.

The SAIMM ESGS Committee is planning to host the first ESG conference ESG in the Minerals Industry - Challenges and Opportunities from 16-17 October 2024. The purpose and focus of this conference are to influence professional behaviour, and foster industry dialogue on sustainability and responsible mining through Environmental, Social, Governance, and Sustainability-related matters.
I invite our members to join the ESGS Committee or participate in ESGS events. Becoming involved in SAIMM initiatives enables you to continuously grow and learn and share your ideas. The SAIMM has also opened up membership to ESGS practitioners and experts and we encourage our members to actively recruit ESGS experts into the SAIMM. Together we can create a positive legacy for the mining industry.

W.C. Joughin
President, SAIMM

Reflections on 2023

WC Joughin 25072023The mining industry in South Africa faced significant challenges in 2023. The robust economic recovery post-COVID that had led to impressive returns for mining companies in 2022 did not continue. In 2023 there was a general decline in revenue and profits across the industry, with the notable exception of gold miners. Volatility in commodity prices emerged as a major disruptive force, impacting the sector as a whole.

Platinum companies, the main contributors to industry revenue, bore the brunt of the challenges, grappling with a substantial reduction in platinum group metal (PGM) basket prices. While the depreciation of the South African rand offered some relief, this advantage was offset by escalating import costs. The industry contended with additional hurdles, including persistent electricity supply challenges (load shedding), logistical constraints, a shortage of essential skills, and the ongoing issue of illegal mining activities. These factors played a significant role in driving down overall returns for the South African mining industry.

Despite these challenges, our mining industry continued to embrace technological advancements and digitalization efforts. This focus on innovation could lead to increased efficiency, reduced operational costs, and enhanced sustainability, positioning the industry for long-term success. The industry also demonstrated an increased commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices, acknowledging the importance of responsible and sustainable mining.

The SAIMM was engaged in a diverse array of events during 2023, showcasing its commitment to knowledge-sharing and professional development. The Institute successfully hosted a total of 14 conferences, 15 webinars, four short courses, two branch events, and two book launches. Furthermore, the SAIMM expanded its communication channels by introducing a podcast platform known as ‘The Crucible’. Over the course of the year, the Institute used this platform to present six podcasts.

The events and activities organized by the SAIMM spanned a broad spectrum of subjects, including the crucial technical aspects of mining and metallurgy and wider themes pertinent to the industry. The topics covered incorporated discussions on ESG, mine closure strategies, and the ongoing process of digitalization. The Institute also highlighted its dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion within the sector. This comprehensive approach demonstrates the SAIMM’s recognition of the multifaceted challenges and opportunities in the field and contributes significantly to the enrichment of industry knowledge and practices.

I would like to personally thank our members who organized and participated in these events. The success of these activities is a testament to their commitment to the needs and demands of the minerals industry. The establishment of these platforms for people to engage and discuss important issues is essential for the future of our industry.

I trust that our members have had the opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved break over the festive season. As we embark on the challenges of 2024, I hope you feel recharged and ready to face the opportunities and endeavours that lie ahead.
Wishing you all a prosperous and fulfilling year ahead.

W.C. Joughin
President, SAIMM

Innovation in the South African mining industry

WC Joughin 25072023I have always been fascinated by innovation and the ever-evolving landscape of science and technology. The allure of innovation lies not only in the novelty of groundbreaking ideas but also in their transformative potential—how they reshape industries, elevate human experience, and address pressing global issues. Curiosity serves as a driving force, inspiring individuals and communities to push boundaries, challenge conventions, and actively pursue improvement.

The terms ‘innovation’ and ‘invention’ are frequently used interchangeably, often leading to confusion. Invention is a term deeply rooted in creation—the act of conceiving and bringing something entirely new into existence. It represents the initial spark of inspiration that leads to the development of a unique or novel device, method, composition, idea, or process. Inventions are not necessarily useful, or in some cases, their uses have not yet been discovered.

Innovation involves the practical implementation of an invention, or the adaptation of existing products or services to make a meaningful impact on society. Creating value is a defining characteristic of innovation. Incremental innovation is the continual refinement and improvement of products, services or processes based on the requirements of the beneficiaries. This is essential to remain competitive in business.

Disruptive innovation occurs when a new product or service creates a new market and renders existing products or services obsolete. While disruptive innovation may be unwelcome, its early adoption often provides a strategic advantage, allowing pioneering individuals or businesses to capitalize on emerging trends and gain a competitive edge. Those who embrace disruptive technologies in their infancy can often position themselves as industry leaders and reap the benefits of being at the forefront of transformative change.

The South African mining industry is associated with conventional labour-intensive methods, due to the narrow, tabular, shallow-dipping reefs in gold and platinum mines. It has been extremely difficult to adapt modern underground mining equipment for use in this harsh environment with confined spaces. These challenges necessitated a comprehensive industry research programme, which commenced in the 1960s, and is summarized in Brian Protheroe’s book entitled COMRO’s Legacy: Research and Development of Stoping Mining Machinery and Technologies, recently published by the SAIMM. This book describes numerous creative and innovative ideas that were conceived and put into practice. While some imaginative concepts could not be applied at the time, there is potential for their use with the aid of recently developed technologies. Regrettably, much of this research was terminated in the 1990s due to a cessation of industry funding. The global gold supply has since been dominated by international miners with more accessible orebodies. However, in South Africa we continue to operate platinum mines and deep gold mines, necessitating further innovation to stay competitive. Two former presidents of our Institute have proposed strategies for adapting mining machinery and embracing new technologies (Rod Pickering, 2007 and Jim Porter, 2014). More recently, the Mandela Mining Precinct has established a ‘Test Mine’ in Rustenburg, to provide an industry hub for research, development, and innovation. The Test Mine also serves as a platform for technology demonstration and testing.

Cutting-edge technologies like drones and satellite imaging are enhancing geological and geotechnical surveys. Autonomous, GPS-denied drones are being used to accurately survey inaccessible underground cavities, using smart navigation and collision avoidance, providing essential data for production and geotechnical monitoring. Additionally, the adoption of real-time monitoring and sensor technologies has increased safety measures and optimized resource extraction. Furthermore, the integration of data analytics and artificial intelligence has the potential to predict equipment failures or provide early warning of instabilities in tailings storage facilities, slopes, and underground workings. This will enable mining companies to make informed and better decisions.

The South African mining industry has also undergone a paradigm shift towards sustainability, recognizing the importance of environmental stewardship and community engagement. Companies are increasingly investing in eco-friendly technologies, renewable energy sources, and water recycling systems in order to minimize their ecological footprint. In addition, there is a growing emphasis on responsible mining practices, with a focus on biodiversity conservation and land rehabilitation post-extraction. This shift towards sustainability not only aligns with global environmental goals but also enhances the industry’s social license to operate, fostering positive relationships with local communities.

In last month’s President’s Corner I emphasized the significance of diversity and inclusion, stressing that a diverse array of skills, experiences, and knowledge is essential for developing novel and improved ideas. Successful innovation relies on effective collaboration between mining operations, research institutions, government bodies, consultants, and technology providers. The SAIMM organizes forums and conferences as a platform for stakeholders to exchange ideas, showcase success stories, and address shared challenges.

Pickering, R.G.B. 2007. Presidential address: Has the South African narrow reef mining industry learnt how to change? Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol. 107, no. 9.
pp. 557−565.
Porter, J.L. 2014. Presidential Address: Are efforts to mechanize SA mines too focused on machinery
rather than technology? Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol. 114, no. 9.
pp. 681−692.
SAIMM Events:

W.C. Joughin
President, SAIMM

Lessons in diversity and inclusion from the Springboks and others

WC Joughin 25072023As I write this article, our Springboks, led by their inspirational captain Siya Kolisi, have just won the rugby world cup final for the fourth time, beating our traditional rivals, the All Blacks in the final. The journey has been tough for the talented and dedicated team, and stressful for the ardent South African fans. One-point winning margins and seizing the lead from extremely strong opposition in the dying seconds is not good for the hearts of the supporters, but the subsequent jubilation makes it worthwhile. Turning the game around requires team cohesion, confidence in the abilities of fellow players, and absolute commitment to each objective. When the stakes are high mistakes are made, but the team rallies together and provides support rather than criticism. Successes are hard-won and celebrated exuberantly. It is quite remarkable that this level of cohesion is achieved when the team is so diverse, with different backgrounds, races, shapes, sizes, and skills. There is obvious mutual respect among the players and recognition of their individual contributions toward a common goal.

This is an incredible achievement, particularly when you look back to the apartheid era when there were three separate rugby governing bodies, each representing a different racial group. At that time only the South African Rugby Board (SARB), which represented white people, had any say in international competitions, and selected the national team.

John Cruise’s 2011 paper on ‘The gender and racial transformation of mining engineering in South Africa’ summarizes the history of mining legislation ( Legislation in the South African minerals industry actively prevented racial and gender diversity. Women were not allowed to work underground after the promulgation of the 1911 Mines and Works Act. The objective at the time was to protect women and children from exploitation as labourers in mines. Certain racial groups were prevented from holding blasting certificates and other certificates of competency, and this was purely for job reservation. Since these certificates were necessary for more senior roles, it was not possible for these groups to progress in their career. These regulations were repealed during the 1990s to fall in line with the Constitution of South Africa.

Cruise describes the subsequent transformation of mining engineering education until 2010, which was quite rapid. He shows that the racial composition of mining graduates had reached the point at which it matched the country demographics. Gender ratios had improved from zero to around 30%, where they currently remain. Zelmia Botha’s presidential address last year highlighted the relatively low gender ratios (15% to 40%) in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates worldwide, and the societal and environmental factors that contribute to the under-representation. While it remains a challenge to get to 50% representation, there are many women entering the minerals industry.

There is growing evidence to suggest that diverse companies are more innovative, creative, and commercially successful than non-diverse ones. Having a variety of skills, experiences, and knowledge will bring new and better ideas. However, proper inclusion is necessary to unlock the benefits to be gained from diversity. This requires empowering individuals to express their opinions and to pursue their ideas. Steve Jobs famously said ‘If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.’ Leaders need to create a safe, equitable environment, which is free of bullying and harassment. They also need to recognize and celebrate successes. Employees should feel a sense of belonging.

The greatest contribution of a leader is to make other leaders’ Simon Sinek.

Successful and diverse leaders are role models, and attract diverse and talented employees.

W.C. Joughin

President, SAIMM

Facilitated Goodbyes

Facilitated Goodbyes
The ‘Adjourning’ Phase

Zelma Botha 31102022How to say goodbye? Working in the projects environment, I am familiar with ‘projects’ that have a very specific time limit. I know at some point in time, they must end. My time as the President of  the SAIMM is no different. This was a year of learning, of achievements, of meeting incredible people, and of beautiful change. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to say goodbye. During this time of handing over, I was reminded of the work done by Bruce Tuckman. He looked at the ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’, which describes the path that teams follow on their way to high performance.

Usually, a high-performing team comprises excellent leaders. They say  the definition of a good leader is that when the leader is no longer in the room, the team still carries on without any upset. How does a good leader enable and empower their team to be a high-performing team, whether they are present or not?

On one of my mega projects, I was privileged to have a Project Manager that was invested in relationships and our team journey. He initiated a team journey, with specific activities, to support each of the phases described by Bruce Tuckman. The work I’m referencing, was the work of, and presented by, Karien van der Merwe (The Thrive Institute, Work Psychologist, specializing in group dynamics) and was facilitated by her as well.

It goes without saying that the various activities during the team journey, from ‘Forming’ to being a high-performance team (‘Performing’), shown in Figure 1, enabled our very successful adjourning.

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Figure 1

Nonetheless, I want to focus on specific activities that supports the ‘Adjourning’ phase. During this phase, there are members leaving the team, there are feelings of extreme uncertainty, there are responsibilities that shift and handovers that need to happen (Figure 2). It is important to facilitate the disconnection/disengagement of individuals during this time. Facilitated goodbyes, in the form of farewell functions, sessions where team members celebrate and share their learning, and voice appreciation and thanks to each other for the contributions they made in each other’s work-life-journeys, ensures more effective re-engagement on the next project and with future teams. Closure guarantees future engagement in a new environment.

All the change happening in the ‘Adjourning’ phase requires resilience from team members, and to build resilience we focused on celebrating, on highlighting accomplishments, on recognition (of both teams and individuals), and maybe the most important of all, we focused on lessons learned that we could take into the future (Figure 3).

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Figure 2 – Typical behaviour during the ‘Adjourning’ phase


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Figure 3 – Typical activities to support the team during the ‘Adjourning’ phase

I can, again, declare that the SAIMM is truly a family that supports transition and growth. During our year together the SAIMM family celebrated a new SAIMM podcast, a new student initiative, participation of more than 48 countries in our events, more than R3 million in sponsorship from our industry, and many, many more achievements.
And then, finally, a very big celebration of our new President, William Joughin. He believes that our assets are our people. He is a very concise, technical leader, who believes in knowledge and learning. He believes in empowerment, providing guidance and enabling learning. He has a hope for us, to keep growing and to develop our industry and technology. I am extremely excited to keep serving this year, under the guidance of William Joughin.

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

A glass half full for SA for SA exploration and Mining

Zelma Botha 31102022As I looked into the future, I started thinking about exploration projects in South Africa. It made me curious since exploration has an immediate socio-economic impact on our country’s development. Every R1 billion spent on exploration by mining companies potentially contributes about R1.2 billion to the gross domestic product through direct, indirect, and induced impacts. For example, in 2019, mining contributed 7.8% to the gross domestic product, was the largest earner of foreign revenue, and directly employed 454 921 people. During March 2022, the mining industry marked the second most significant quarter-on-quarter increase of 2% in employment. Commentary in the literature suggests that for each mineworker employed, ten people are directly dependent on mining activity.

Without a vibrant exploration sector, the life of our industry will be finite. Even so, it seems that exploration activities in South Africa face quite a few challenges, among which financial challenges are mentioned the most. I would like to quote Roger Baxter, outgoing Minerals Council CEO.

‘ In the Toronto stock market, they’ve got 1600 listed junior resource companies. On the Sydney stock market, they’ve got about 600, and on the JSE, there are only about 12. Why the difference? Canadians have got a set of specific incentives that encourage the flow-through of venture capital funding from people from a tax perspective to invest in junior resource mining and their listing requirements are generally small and they raise capital, and they go and find deposits. In South Africa, our investment community are generally conservative and favour big mutual funds. Our return on a liquidated company is about 20c in the rand, whereas in a country like Canada, their liquidation and business rescue rules are quite different, so you get a much higher rate of return if you go into a failed company, even if it’s a junior resource company, which is venture capital funded. For some of the smaller companies, to list on any stock exchange is a very expensive business and the cost-benefit of listing on a stock exchange versus raising private equity capital may be a lot more to do on a stock market, so that’s why many are going the private route, but I think there are lessons we can learn from both Canada and Australia. South Africa’s fiscal framework still does not have the same incentives around encouraging junior resource companies to set up in South Africa or to look for capital in South Africa.’

Corroborating these statements, the literature often mentions lack of exploration investment as a key barrier to greenfield exploration activities in South Africa. Specifically, that the lack of listing of exploration companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) limits access to resources underpinning exploration activities. The lack of diversity of available fiscal/financial instruments for junior miners is a major risk. The literature also has ample commentary on regulatory and policy matters, very specifically mentioning the existing timeframes for exploration and the principle of ‘first come, first served’ as barriers.
So, what is necessary to move forward and create more opportunity and support for greenfield exploration in South Africa?

Figure 1 shows that our Minerals Council is interacting directly with Government to promote very important initiatives in our industry. First of all, increasing global market share through a cadastral system that would make it easier to apply for the relevant rights designated in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). During March 2023 the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), in collaboration with the State Information Technology Agency, issued a Request for Bids in respect of the design, implementation, maintenance, and support of an online mining licencing system to replace the SAMRAD system. If successful, this system could enhance regulatory certainty in the context of applications, speed, and efficiency of processing and dealing with issues of overlapping applications.

Also, tax incentives are necessary to attract investors into exploration ventures. The Canadians have been highly successful in developing these specialist junior exploration companies, largely by using the flow-through share tax incentive model to attract equity investors into the sector. During October 2020 the Minerals Council, in collaboration with advisors including Fasken, one of the largest business law firms in Canada, submitted a proposal to the National Treasury regarding the introduction of a local tax incentive based on the Canadian flow-through shares model, proposing tax incentives for purchases of equity in entities undertaking exploration activities.

Roger Baxter Minerals Council Q4 2022

Figure 1–Taken from Roger Baxter, Minerals Council, Q4 2022

To address regulatory barriers, there are recommendations on the table for appropriate amendments to the regulatory framework to allow for adequate data collection to enable a qualitative-based system (as opposed to ‘first come, first served’), whereby the processing of applications will be determined based on how best applicants will achieve the objectives of the MPRDA.

In summary, there is plenty of positive activity in our industry at the moment. The Minerals Council has been very active in facilitating engagements between the JSE and its junior, emerging, and exploration members and associations. Samuel Mokorosi from the JSE is attempting to make it easier for companies to get onto, and remain on, the exchange, while ensuring that investor protection is of the highest calibre. For example, the Junior Mining Accelerator Programme, aimed at introducing the smaller companies to financial markets and taking the complexity out of listing on the JSE. Two small black entrepreneurial exploration companies are already on the programme, and both have reported that it has really been beneficial. The Exploration Strategy for South Africa’s Mining Industry (Exploration Implementation Plan), published by the DMRE on 14 April 2022, is intended as a roadmap for us to achieve our objective of reviving South Africa’s appeal and market share in the global minerals sector. South Africa’s share of global exploration activity stood at 5% in 2003, but has now declined to below 1%. This comes at a time when the race for rare earth minerals and minerals of the future is at a critical point, thus making the strategic placement of mineral-rich countries a key focus.

At the time of doing this literature survey, there were some major new projects on the horizon, for example, a project by Hive Hydrogen (a partnership between UK-based Hive Energy and South Africa’s Built Africa) to establish a green ammonia export facility. The plant will be developed for an estimated US$4.6 billion (R70.5 billion) at the Coega Special Economic Zone in the Eastern Cape. The facility is expected to produce approximately 780 000 t of green ammonia per year from hydrogen through a process using renewable energy and nitrogen extracted utilizing an air separation unit. The first phase should start operation in 2025, with full operation planned for 2026. An Australian exploration and development mining firm, West Wits Mining, is looking at an underground gold mine in Gauteng. The DMRE approved the mining right application in July 2021. A scoping study estimates total resources at about 29.1 Mt, an average steady-state annual production of 80 000 ounces for 18 years, and a 22-year life-of-mine. The project will be implemented in five stages. The first, development of the Qala Shallows mining area, is underway following the completion of a feasibility study in September 2021. It is expected to provide a 40% of the total output. The estimated peak funding requirement for this stage is US$50 million (R767 million). In renewable energy, the DMRE has announced 25 projects as preferred bidders, of which 19 projects are led by or include foreign investors, as part of the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP). These projects have a total estimated investment value of R38 billion and involve four major foreign firms.

I choose to focus on these very positive initiatives and I’m choosing to see a bright future for exploration in the South African mining industry.

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

The neuroscience of high-performing teams

Zelma Botha 31102022I am going to be honest … I have a little bit of an obsession with neuroscience research and how that can be utilized to create high-performing teams. I have been exposed to this by a fantastic project manager and a brilliant industrial psychologist. Neuroscience can show us how we build relationships, react to our environment, respond to learning, and learn to work collaboratively. How do multiple, unique, and different individuals, each with their own perspective, ideas, thoughts, skills, and abilities, contribute to the success of a working, whole unit? I believe, for the most part, that a large sum of that success is how the team enables each member to feel included, valued, heard, and safe. Neuroscience can show us how to do this.

Knowing a little bit more about how neuroscience influences your own performance can help you contribute to the wellbeing of the whole team. Through scrutinizing neuroscientific research, Neurozone has identified all the drivers (outer sphere) and conditions (inner sphere) for optimal performance (Figure 1).


Figure 1–An example of a Neurozone Model, taken from a Neurozone report, April 2019. Since 2019 the Neurozone model has been updated. It now refers to high performance rhythms, not foundational drivers. When operating from a regulated state of being (the four high performing rhythms), social interaction will be easier to engage in


This ‘model’ shows granular responses of the internal system; small, nuanced behaviours that make up our complex response to our environments. This refers to the following: types of exercise and mobility, the components of sleep and mindfulness training, our emotional-energy-releasing responses (such as optimism, gratitude, enthusiasm, and humour), ways in which we learn and solve problems, as well as the ways that we ensure collective creativity through belonging, bonding, and mining diversity. This complexity and adaptability in response allow us to have many ways to solve a problem.

External changes require internal adaptations. If you know the ‘reprioritizing code’, then you can assign the most energy to the right behaviour, leading you to act in the best interest of not only yourself, but the group.

This is a very good description of building resilience. Resilience, of course, refers to adaptability and capacity to respond appropriately in changing situations. Resilience is not about personality; rather, it’s about behaviour. That’s why it is so important to continually assess and monitor behaviour so that you can ensure you get the highest yield for the energy ascribed to the tasks of living, surviving, and thriving.

Neuroscience, and more specifically the Neurozone model, supports the development of our capacity to maximize personal optimization so that we maximize other higher-order entities that we form, such as teams and organizations, by shining a light on the complex connections between the brain, nervous system, and immune system (This is taken from CEO and Co-Founder of Neurozone, Dr Etienne van der Walt, neurologist and a subject matter expert in clinical neurology, 5 July 2023).

I believe we desperately need to remember, and understand, that we are wired for connection and empathy. There is power and healing in relationships and community. Dr Bruce Perry, a renowned brain development and trauma expert, child psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and principal of the neurosequential model of brain-based therapy, has proven this in his book What Happened to You? (Perry, B.D. and Winfrey, O. 2021. Flatiron Books).

He says: ‘Marginalized people — excluded, minimized, shamed — are traumatized people, because as we’ve discussed, humans are fundamentally relational creatures. To be excluded from an organization, community, or society you are exposed to prolonged uncontrollable stress that is sensitizing.’

The key difference between team members NOT affected by trauma and those affected by trauma is that members ‘sensitized’ by trauma can escalate more quickly into states of dysregulation. In Figure 2 you can see how a sensitized person can easily end up in a state of fear or terror daily. 


Figure 2–Stress-reactive curve, taken from What Happened to You?, Perry, B.D.and Winfrey, O. 2021, Flatiron Books

As we move between different emotional states, from ‘Calm’ to ‘Terror’, the amount and type of access we have to our cognitive abilities changes. This is also confirmed in the book by Malcolm Gladwell, ‘Talking to Strangers’. We lose our ability to do creative problem-solving, with our prefrontal cortex, when we perceive ourselves to be under threat and we consequently move back into amygdala regulation, where we resort to freeze, flight, or fight, which not only leads to destructive conflict, but also complete disengagement (Figure 3).



Figure 3–Accessing the Cortex, taken from What Happened to You?, Perry, B.D.and Winfrey, O. 2021. Flatiron Books

How do we combat exclusion in a team? How do we ensure that one of our team members are not exposed to chronic stress?

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal (health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University), with her TED talk ranking under the 25 most popular TED Talks of all time (updated January 2023), shows that while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. She urges us to see stress as a positive and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others. Again, connection plays a crucial role in resilience. When any individual perceives the stress response to be chronic, their whole brain-body system will continually be in fight mode, which will lead to burnout, ill health, and ultimately, death. From a neurobiological perspective, the best protection against this is resilience. This capacity of the brain-body system to prevent implosion under severe stress is underpinned by the ability to belong and contribute to the group. To solve a problem or fashion novel products that are adapted for the group, promoting group survival and thrivability. We need forces that will foster a cohesive whole so that we can surpass the sum of its parts. According to Neurozone, there are four themes that could combat exclusion in a team and ensure that one of our team members are not exposed to chronic stress.

Are you practising this in your teams?

Table I
Four themes to ensure connection, inclusion, and resilience for high-performing teams. This is my own representation of work done by Dr Etienne van der Walt and his team at Neurozone.


Z. Botha
President, SAIMM