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Journal President's Cornerpages

A great start to the year end

Seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

It’s been a great start for me as President of the SAIMM, since mid-August 2019. However, the rest of the year has passed at a dizzy-speed to December but I’ve been able to maintain my ‘wits about me’.

Some key insights from these first four months of my Presidency include the financial status of the Institute. It’s dire and requires urgent attention, which it is receiving from the Office Bearers in terms of seeking better and additional revenuegenerating opportunities. Cost-saving initiatives will never suffice and therefore the efforts from the TPCs, our largest revenue generator, are encouraging.

In addition, the SAIMM has a great network of relationships, both in terms of its membership as well as with local and global associations. However, we have to demonstrate our value-add to both these networks for our continued sustainability. We are evolving to take advantage of opportunities around us of providing a better service to members, as well as to reinvent the organization in terms of its operating model. Today’s technologies and innovations, such as webinars and social media, offer numerous advantages that can improve the reach and delivery of services to members. We are exploring, and planning on implementing, these innovations.

The SAIMM remains a crucial institution in the industry as regards technical and academic development of its members. However, we recognize the importance and advantage of partnering and collaborating with ’like-minded’ institutions to achieve this objective, in order to share resources and reduce the risks of over-expenditure in implementing membership development initiatives. This development effort remains a core capability of the Institute, and one which I will continue to promote and grow.

The year 2020 is now in sight – the numerical tonation’ rolls off the tongue very smoothly, but realistically this year will not be such a smooth ride. Firstly, looking back at 2019, the macro environment has been dominated by the trade-tennis match’ between China and the USA, which has wreaked havoc on business sentiment as a result of the uncertainty it has created for business planning and volatility in the
equity capital markets. The socio-economic and political context in South Africa, epitomized by the fiscal situation of the country, has been a true test of resolve for our society. In the midst of all this despair, some shoots of hope are emerging, such the South African Investment Conference, led by our President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. An additional R300 billion was raised in this second year, bring the total over the two years to about R600 billion. While this may not be new money, it’s playing a role in arresting the growing negative sentiment towards South Africa as an investment destination. More is still required in terms of policy to reach the billion rand target. More can be achieved through, inter alia, mustering the courage to make the difficult decisions to implement the necessary state and policy restructuring, and to invite collaborative relationships between private and public sector to share the resources, risks, and upside of these efforts. The year 2020 should be about realizing the benefits of these efforts and for the South African society to begin growing that sense of hope. There are signals that the resources sector will begin to see reinvestment. Although this is in the equity capital markets, this positive sentiment should filter to the ‘real’ mining activities of investment in exploration and mine development, which is something for members to look forward to.

So then, until 2020, let take this opportunity to wish you rest and restoration and safe journeys where ever you may be travelling with your families during this festive season. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2020, and hope that you will return rejuvenated to help make the SAIMM and South Africa great again.

Merry Christmas.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

Leadership: Vision, then courage to act

In this second instalment of the leadership series that I initiated in my previous article, I’m discussing the leadership trait of courage/boldness (for the purpose of this letter, I’ll stick with the word courage). In the first article, I used the March 2019 Presidential SONA as a base to discuss the importance of visionary leadership for the social and economic development of South Africa. However, vision alone is insufficient. A vision or ‘a dream (goal) without a plan is just a wish’, said Antoine de Saint Exupery. I ended the previous article with the next big question – ‘Do we have the leaders with the courage to take on the required bold actions to make this dream a plan and reality for South Africans? Yes, we do!’

It was a bold assertion on my part to conclude that we do have such leaders. I followed up by posing the question by way of what I’ll confess was a limited survey amongst some of my WhatsApp groups. The emergent reality is rather disappointing. Three key observations struck me from the feedback that I received: -

Firstly, the names that were proposed reflected recent actions in the public and political arena. The political environment of the past ten years has had a great influence on the perception of who is a courageous leader. This should not be surprising because it is real and current in terms of the most concerning issues that need to be addressed in the country. You would have guessed by now that Ms Thuli Madonsela and our Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng appeared frequently in my respondents’ replies to the question at hand. No surprises there, given the unfolding corruption scandals and party political battles; on enquiry whether any political leaders in South Africa display courage, there was an almost unanimous NO! Just one lonely respondent bravely suggested Julius Malema as a courageous leader.

Secondly, there were no business leaders put forward. One respondent expressed a very disappointing perspective towards business in terms of lack of voice, proactive action, and response to challenges facing the country. This has been a long-held view about business in South Africa and was aptly captured by the Centre for Enterprise and Development, who stated that business has established a cosy relationship with government in terms of engagement which has not put the interest of the country first (The Growth Agenda. Priorities for mass employment and inclusion: business and government ‘Going along to get along’, page 2).

Despite the above views on business, I’ll throw into this discussion a list of names that were put forward at the Joburg Indaba recently, through the SA Mining Hall of Fame. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honour individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in the South African mining industry since democracy. The list includes the following – Mark Bristow, Ian Cockerill, Barry Davison, Con Fauconnier, Brian Gilbertson, Bobby Godsell, May Hermanus, Marius J. Kloppers, Gwede Mantashe, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, James Motlatsi, Patrice Motsepe, and Sipho Nkosi. These are well-known men and women who have built great companies and shaped the South African mining industry; I’ll let you, the reader, be the judge of their courage.

Thirdly, there was no mention of youth leaders who could play a part in the socio-economic transformation of South Africa. It is unfortunate that there are no youth leaders who immediately come to mind; however, I do not believe that it is a reflection of our reality. For example, during the ‘fees must fall’ campaigns several student leaders emerged who displayed boldness about an issue that is of national concern. A quick Google search revealed, among others, Sithembiso Ndlovu (Tshwane University), Alex Hots (Rhodes University), Shaeera Kalla (Wits University), Naledi Chirwa (Pretoria University), and Nompendulo Mkatshwa (Wits University).

Tjoe! The above observations are concerning in my view, although based on a limited survey – a few questions were raised in my mind as I was contemplating this article.

  • While there are many who can be regarded as leaders, not only from a position perspective, few are the kind of leaders who have a propensity for action, willingness to follow the courage of their convictions, and boldness in translating vision to tangibles. South Africa needs action-orientated leaders to drive the transformation, in all its dimensions, that the country needs. Is the persistent underperformance of the nation a function of this lack of ‘leadership for action’?
  • It’s difficult to understand where the difficulty lies in translating leadership vision into action – is it fear or incompetence? Both require courage to overcome, including ‘knowing what you don’t know’ and seeking assistance and collaboration. Are the visions, dreams, and aspirations that we hear from our leaders really a concern for the nation or rather a camouflage for the concern for self and how one will benefit?
  • Will the country’s leaders only emerge from our youth? The breadth and depth of issues require all demographies to play a role in learning, teaching, perspective, experience and the ‘energy to do’ that you find in diversity. What kinds of action would show a concern for the nation, rather than the self, from our leaders? President’s Corner That will be the subject of my next article, selflessness as a leadership trait

Selflessness in Leadership

This is my third installment on the topic of leadership and specifically the leadership characteristics necessary to achieve sector and national objectives. In the first two articles, I discussed vision and courage, respectively. South Africa has visionary leaders, in both public and private sectors, who have acted with courage during the toughest times in the sector and development of the country. However, the country remains in that descriptor of “having so much potential” for the past 10-15 years, why is this if we have such great & courageous leaders?

This question leads me to my discussion on the third trait of leadership, selflessness. What do I mean with this expression – simply put, it is the act/action of a person without regard for self-gain, but rather to benefit others. It could be a distant reference to the servant-leader. It is not my aim to cast judgement on selflessness, to its presence or lack thereof, especially on the individuals listed in my previous article. I’ll let you, the reader be the judge for yourself.

Leadership, Vision, and Dreams

In this first article, I pick up on the topic of leadership that I initiated in my Presidential Address, in which I listed three key leadership traits that I believe are required at this time in our society and our industry. I firmly believe that the continuing (and increasing) inequality and poor social cohesion in South Africa is attributable to the ‘poverty’ of leadership and lack of or ‘unemployment’ of imagination to lead this country to fulfil its potential as a leading player in the socio-political and economic spheres, both regionally and globally.

What are those traits, then, that we as leaders need to begin South Africa’s journey of development? Firstly, vision, a rather obvious characteristic which has always been associated with the role of leadership. However, it requires specific mention in our national context – what is our national and common vision for the future? There is no right or wrong vision, but rather the desire and ambition for progress and better life for many South Africans than what we are experiencing today. Then I put forward courage or boldness – this is essential in order to, firstly, avoid conforming to populist rhetoric and rather to take action that breaks out of the norm and is transformational in many respects, and secondly, to take people along on this journey and translate that vision into experience. Not everyone will be convinced of the common good and the responses will be both amazingly negative and positive, despite the benefits that could be obtained. Lastly, the character of self-leadership, and specifically selflessness. I describe this trait as the ability to act on behalf of others rather for one’s own benefit. As leaders we are exposed to many resources that we must apply for the creation of value for employees and community at large. However, we have witnessed how these resources have been abused for personal benefit, resulting in permanent destruction of value and disruption of the lives of many people.

The uprising of the Youth

Although this edition is for the month of July, at the time of writing we are approaching the public holiday of Youth Day.

As we should all know, Youth Day in South Africa, celebrated on 16 June, is a public holiday that commemorates an event which resulted in a wave of protests across the country, known as the Soweto uprising of 1976. On this day, between 3000 and 10 000 protestors mobilized by the South African Students

Movements Action Committee, and supported by the Black Consciousness Movement’ marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government-of-the-day’s directive to make the Afrikaans language alongside English the compulsory medium of instruction in schools in 1974.

25 years on, and it’s election time

Recently, I have written several articles around the 25 years of democracy that we have experienced, and the 125 years of the SAIMM’s history. These articles acknowledged the challenges we have experienced as an industry, but focused on the feeling of a ‘new dawn’ for a ‘sunrise industry’. As I write this, we are into election week, and so our minds are focused on the promises and criticisms of politicians jostling for our votes.

This makes me think of where we are after 25 years of democracy from a more circumspect standpoint, in order to really unpack what we need to do individually, as an industry, and as an Institute to realize a better future.

Raising the geometallurgical flag

The papers in this edition of the Journal have been written on excellent research work carried out in the field of geometallurgy, presented at the SAIMM’s Geometallurgy Conference, held in Cape Town in August 2018.

This conference followed a similar conference held some years earlier, in Johannesburg, and the difference in the quality and content of the papers clearly illustrates how this relatively new discipline has progressed over the last decade.

Treating the mineral asset like an asset

The papers in this edition are all related to Mineral Resource Management, the field in which Professor Richard Minnitt practised for many years in the Chair in Mineral Resources at the University of the Witwatersrand. Professor Minnitt has followed the great luminary, the late Danie Krige, in pioneering many aspects of this field, especially in the areas of geostatistics and mineral evaluation. It is most fitting that this special edition be dedicated to this area, and to Professor Minnitt.

Diamonds are forever

This edition of the Journal is dedicated to papers covering many aspects of the exploration, mining, processing, and beneficiation of diamonds: a commodity of great significance to the economy of South Africa for more than a hundred years. 

Diamonds provide a unique source of interesting history in South Africa, and learnings from the early days of diamond mining are still relevant to the formulation of policy issues today, especially amongst artisanal, emerging, and junior miners.

Of sun, shells, sand, and sea …

I recently visited the Eastern Cape for the occasion of my eldest son’s wedding. It is the first time I had visited beautiful Morgan Bay, and we ventured up the coast into the former Transkei for some sightseeing. At one point we deviated onto a very small dirt track (fortunately we had a 4x4 vehicle) and arrived at a small cove amongst the dunes. I noticed large areas of the beach were covered in a crust of shiny black sand which, when I picked it up, felt quite heavy.

The penny dropped: this was the heavy, titaniferous metal sand that is the subject of the recent judgement in the Xolobeni mining case, whereby the High Court ruled in favour of the customary Umgungundlovo community, who opposed the mining of the dunes to recover the heavy minerals.