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Journal President's Cornerpages

A Culture of Growth*

How do we establish a culture of economic growth in South Africa?
*This article is based on literature only, this is not my own work, but built on the wonderful work already out there in the public domain

Zelma Botha 31102022I received a great amount of feedback on my previous article, ‘The Burning Question’, and it seems like most of my colleagues are concerned about the lack of growth opportunities within South Africa. What stimulates economic growth in any social setting? I enjoyed an article from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, by Dr Tony Ngwenya, where he states that with a population of about 350 000 people, Iceland has one of the lowest Gini coefficient ratios (a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the wealth inequality within a social setting) in the world. South Africa is approximately 160 times larger than Iceland, but it is very apparent that we do not share the same rate of entrepreneurial inclusivity. So naturally this prompts the question: what structural impediments cause South Africa to lag behind a country 160 times smaller than itself?

It’s difficult to answer this question, since I’m not sure what it is that stimulates economic growth and creates economic opportunity. According to the Global Competitiveness Index Report (2018/2019), infrastructure and primary education can be categorized as major contributors in the case of South Africa. In various other articles, mention is also made of access to finance, as well as an entrepreneurial curriculum from an early stage, which confirms the Global Competitiveness Index Report’s mention of primary education.

One point was very clear – there is a great call for entrepreneurship to become the main engine that drives growth in South Africa. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) states that many of the world’s governments, think tanks, and international organizations now look towards entrepreneurship as the solution to ending social inequity, promoting women’s empowerment, and implementing business solutions to the world’s environmental challenges (5 ways we can build South African entrepreneurship in the ‘new economy’, Published August 2020, by Bheki Mfeka).

This seems to be a very tall order indeed!

Entrepreneurship involves an individual identifying an opportunity and then using their ability and motivation to grow their business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the profits. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as a source of new ideas, goods, services, and business. I can only imagine that such an individual will need to be planted in very fertile ground to be able to grow a new business that will empower women and end social inequity. This fertile ground that I’m referring to is called an entrepreneurial culture.

Does South Africa have this? A healthy entrepreneurial culture? Unfortunately, I don’t believe we do.
Entrepreneurial culture can be described as an environment where someone is motivated to innovate and take risks (EFEB Network, Greek Association of Women Entrepreneurs). It is also described as a set of values, skills, and power of a group that is characterized by risk (Qaiser et al., 2019, Factors affecting “entrepreneurial culture”, Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship). Clearly, the definition of this specific culture shows that the environment must support active risk-taking. How is this established? Christo Botes (from Business Partners) says entrepreneurship is moulded by intention, opportunity, skills, and resources (article by Tom Jackson, September 2016). However, although 40.9% of South African adults perceived good entrepreneurial opportunities, and 45.4% perceived they had the capabilities to start a business; only 7% of entrepreneurs were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in 2015. Why is there such an immense disconnect? Furthermore, the 2015-2016 GEM South Africa report shows a very low mean score of 2.8 in terms of encouraging entrepreneurial risk-taking. That is an astronomical gap between perception, execution, and support.

Could it possibly be that we do not accept and buffer failure and that we do not encourage, especially our youth, to learn from failure? It seems that our failure rate in the small, micro, and medium enterprises (SMMEs) sector is fairly high. This sector has been identified as a key vehicle for addressing low levels of unemployment and economic growth, despite the formidable challenges this sector face.

The Business Monitor International (BMI) survey estimated that an average of 80% of the collapsed entities in 2013 were owned by non-matric holders (Amra et al., 2013). The most successful, innovative, and more labour-absorptive small businesses were those that were run by educated and skilled owners and personnel. Despite the well documented significance of training, 90% of a sample of 100 small business entrepreneurs dismissed the need for skills training (Fatoki, 2012). This simply confirms what Christo Botes recommends: more emphasis on business and entrepreneurial-based education in schools via formalized programmes and additions to the national curriculum. I agree with this statement – relying solely on tertiary education to instil enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in graduates is unrealistic.

What if I’m no longer in primary school? What if I’m not even a graduate? I am in fact already an employee. In this case, literature recommends that employees should be given a chance to participate in decision-making that contributes towards company goals. Incorrect decisions should be inspected so that there is an opportunity to learn for them. Again, knowledge (training) of employees should be updated as they must be familiar with new research in their specific area (Qaiser et al., 2019). It might be prudent to ask if your company allows this. Research from the University of Birmingham shows that when employees feel they have control over their work environment, they are also more likely to come up with ideas on how to improve the company. It is definitely clear that the competencies associated with entrepreneurship are shaped and determined by the skills set acquired both formally and informally. Our South African policy-makers need to self-reflect in terms of the training our entrepreneurs have access to and the skills they acquire, so that they can outsmart their global counterparts in the bigger entrepreneurial schemes.

So, where do we want to be? Where should South Africa be going? I want this country to become a net exporter of value-added manufactured goods and shift away from the simple pit-to-port model. This is my wish for our country.

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

The Burning Question: Where is the grass greener?

Zelma Botha 31102022During the festive season of 2022, I came face to face with the question: to stay or not to stay? Given the context of a skilled engineer, working in the South African minerals industry, how does an individual make this decision?

The question around the security of our own infrastructure still hangs in the air. How will this impact our minerals industry’s growth prospects? Reports are conflicting, some saying the minerals industry is in a downward spiral with its ninth consecutive month of decline in October 2022. Three top challenges always mentioned are erratic power supply and Transnet woes, both port and rail.

Other reports show that the industry’s financial performance exceeded expectations: distributions to shareholders more than doubled, capital expenditure grew by more than 30%, taxes paid increased by more than 10%, and record commodity prices reached for the platinum group metals basket, iron ore, and coal.

Again, given the conflicting reports and the uncertainty around South African infrastructure, how do highly skilled individuals in the South African minerals industry make the decision: to stay or not to stay?

According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, more than
914 ,000 South African citizens emigrated between 2015 and 2020, which is basically three times as many than in previous years. New World Immigration (Pty) Ltd statistics show that almost three quarters of enquiries come from highly skilled and qualified professionals, while 30% of applicants were tradesmen.

Data from across the globe shows more than 201 000 South Africans living in Australia at the end of 2021 (2 230 more than in 2020); Canada welcomed 25 000 South African citizens between 2015 and 2020; in just the first half of 2022, 11 300 South Africans had their New Zealand residency applications approved; the UK Home Office shows that between Q1 2020 and Q3 2021, more than 5 800 citizenship grants were awarded to South Africans; and in the USA, more than 650 South Africans obtained resident status in 2022 (more than 2 300 passing in 2021). According to a study commissioned by the Inclusive Society Institute during 2021, 11.13% of South Africans with higher education indicated that they were seriously considering emigrating within the next two years.

What is the impact of this ‘brain drain’ on the minerals industry?

During April 2022, the South African government announced plans to change its data collection systems to get a better idea of how many skilled South Africans are leaving the country. The proposal noted that the country has seen an outflow of valuable skills in several sectors. It added that the emigration of skilled South Africans has not been addressed efficiently through any specific policy and constitutes a growing problem in certain sectors. Various society leaders have expressed concern about the fact that those who emigrate make up a large part of South Africa’s skilled labour.

Life-changing decisions are never easy and one might even believe that freedom lies in the absence of choice. Nonetheless, I want to make a plea for South Africa. Acknowledging that all is relative and highly dependent on the comparison made (for example: emerging countries or markets vs mature, established, first-world economies), South Africa is one of the countries with the lowest cost of living, For example: our consumer prices are 40% lower than in London, rent is 60% lower, dining out will cost you 50% less, and groceries prices are 30% lower than in London. Although our stringent labour law policies may challenge South African employers, they do give employees a high level of job security, ensuring fair treatment. South Africa also has lower costs of tertiary ducation and child care. Given the crippling health care challenges Britain faces (due to surging inflation coupled with almost 10 years of stagnant wage growth), I am thankful for our health care system. On the UHC index developed by the World Health Organization, comprising 14 tracer indicators, South Africa’s score has almost doubled in the past 20 years, reaching 67 (on a scale of 0–100) in 2019.

Above and beyond all of this, I am thankful to be part of the SAIMM and for the support we give to our young professionals, entering our minerals industry, through our SAIMM-YPC. We focus on supporting scholars through career guidance, supporting them in mathematics, science, and tutoring in life skills. We also focus on our graduates, supporting them in selection processes and bridging the gap between theory (getting the degree) and practical execution in the industry. We continue our support with conferences on best practices, training, mentoring, and development programmes. The SAIMM is committed to influencing other bodies (for example ECSA) to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our young professionals. Maybe most important of all, we support entrepreneurial activities that will serve the requirements of our young professionals.

Social comparison has its roots in evolution, it is a human condition, and I will continue comparing grass to determine where it is greener; therefore, I will come face to face again with the question: to stay or not to stay? I wish everyone wisdom in answering this question and wherever you might find yourself during 2023, I wish everyone a year of collaboration, growth, and development.

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

The final word with a little help from Whitman

Isabel Gendenhuys 17022022Walt Whitman a renowned American poet, essayist, and journalist, wrote the remarkable poem ‘O Me! O Life!’ in which he talks about the purpose of life. This famous poem was first published in 1867 during a time of quite dramatic technological change in the world. The poem speaks about the struggle of humanity and spotlights our struggle to understand the purpose of life. One could easily feel hopeless if you stop reading after the first verse. Whitman chooses a powerful metaphor in the concluding lines that follow the enigmatic second stanza, that merely reads: ‘Answer.’ Without hesitation Whitman chose not to leave the reader without hope. He chooses to tell us that we all matter. We all matter because we are here.

‘That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’

Whitman equates life and existence to a ‘powerful play,’ and that each person may contribute to this play. The 1989 movie Dead Poets Society features Robin Williams in the role of an enigmatic and passionate teacher. In one of the most memorable scenes, the character played by Williams, delivers the same Whitman poem to his students. And he concludes, in a near whisper: ‘What will your verse be? What will your verse be?’

Powerful stuff! Set against the Whitman poem this scene really impacted me back in 1989 when I saw this movie for the first time. Whitman’s poem and the eloquent presentation thereof stayed with me throughout my life. I’ve always visualized my life as a verse in the ‘powerful play’ as evinced by the Whitman poem. When I researched the scene for this article, I found the movie clip on YouTube, and as I watched the scene start, I experienced a profound and incontrovertible truth - words and ideas still matter. As a young adult/teenager the question posed at the end of the scene, impacted my thinking and life profoundly. Yet, this time around the powerful opening words to the scene made me pause: ‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.’

It is coming full circle. As the President, I’ve shared many thoughts and ideas over the past year. It has been a privilege to write this article every month, despite the pressures of a monthly deadline amid a hectic schedule. The process was incredibly rewarding, allowing me to share ideas and words with readers. But more importantly, many, many people shared their ideas and words with me. I experienced the power of words and ideas first-hand and was frequently left in awe of the amazing volunteers that creates life within the Institute. The SAIMM has travelled a tough and challenging road over the past two years. But I see the green shoots emanating from the hard work of the SAIMM team, the volunteers, and the committees starting to appear. In-person events are back on the calendar, and it is with excitement that I look forward to going to a conference again. I think we all look forward to appreciating the things we took for granted before the pandemic.

Members continue to support the Institute with their time and talent, their words and ideas, and it is through these efforts that the Institute stands as a beacon of knowledge and professionalism. Through the power of words and ideas we change the world. I conclude this year with a deep appreciation and gratitude to all who contributed and continue to contribute to the SAIMM’s verse. Thank you for the support and feedback from all corners of the world, helping, guiding, and sometimes just supporting. It was an amazing privilege to serve the Membership over the past year and I know I can pass the torch to Zelmia with confidence and excitement as we celebrate the transition.

From me, my final words in this role: Thank you!

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

You cannot step into the same river twice

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man
Heraclitus (Greek philosopher)

Isabel Gendenhuys 17022022No man indeed steps in the same river twice. The waves are different. The sand has shifted. Even if you step in, step out, and step right back in, you will still be entering a different body of water the second time. But there’s another aspect of this that is also true. Before each entry, you’ve also changed. You have new lessons learned, new relationships, and new aspects of your worldview. Not only did the river change. You did too. It means that the same actions that you take may not lead to the same result when repeated.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege to work with many incredibly inspiring individuals who offer their time and energy to the SAIMM through various activities. The volunteers who tirelessly, and often with very little support, manage to arrange technical events that embody the motto of the SAIMM. Leaders in their fields who carve out time to work on committees for the greater good of the mining and metallurgical industries have humbled me on many occasions with their unwavering commitment. I’ve written about volunteerism before. The SAIMM wholly relies on the knowledge, experience, and time of professionals to create this river.

I’ve always loved the Heraclitus quote. It reminds me to be present and attentive, to live in the moment because everything around us is always in a state of flux. And even if we can easily see the ever-changing world around us, we often overlook how we are part of this continuous flux of change. One may of course think of this as an individual, the proverbial ‘no man’, that always undergoes inevitable change just as the river is always changing. It is also true of the SAIMM. As an Institute we also cannot step into the same river twice. I am reminded of this as my year as SAIMM President is rapidly coming to an end with July being the financial year-end and the Annual General Meeting (AGM) due in August when a new President will step into the river.

The SAIMM, through tradition and organization, follows a relatively structured annual programme. So, in apparent contrast to everything always being in a state of flux, there is also a force that unifies everything, a force that cycles through the seasons. We can stand on the banks of the river of life and observe the surface or we can become part of the future by going with and becoming part of the flow of changes. We must accept and embrace change before we can influence it, or more accurately before letting ourselves influence it.

My involvement in the SAIMM can be directly linked to a very specific individual who inspired me to commit time and supported me throughout my journey which culminated this past year in being privileged to lead this wonderful Institute. There have been many others along the way, but I can pinpoint the person who helped me step into the river. I have heard similar stories from others who are active in the SAIMM and who can trace back their involvement to a single mentor or colleague who pushed them, someone who issued a call to arms to them. It is a reminder to us all to be aware of how we came to be a volunteer. What inspired you to be involved? Who helped you along the way to be who you are in the SAIMM?

Sometimes inspiration is passive awareness, but most often it is enlightened awareness which requires activity. Enlightenment is what engages new members and allows them to grow and develop into the next generation of SAIMM leaders. We all need to actively be the message to people. Mentorship in its simplest form is to ensure that there is someone to follow in your path. No matter who you are, or where you volunteer, identify a few people in your sphere of influence and introduce them to the SAIMM, always remembering that it is not just a once-off. Don’t give up. Remember that part of the journey is to step into the river but that the experience is different for everyone.

During the past year I have been inspired by and filled with immense gratitude towards the many, many willing volunteers that organize branches, the (often solo) organizing chairpersons of technical events, and the leadership and active members of interest groups and key committees. And I also want us to take a moment before stepping into the river of the new year to express this gratitude to those who are helping to maintain the flow of the SAIMM river. Thank you!

If you are reading this and think to yourself, I want to get involved, I urge you to step into the river. Rivers flow for thousands of kilometres and nourish the land along the way. The land becomes richer because of the river flowing by it. We can do the same by making a positive impact on the people we come across every day through our actions and contributions. Rivers never flow in a straight line they crisscross the landscape and find the best path to reach their destination. Similarly, as professionals, we also need to be prepared to navigate through life’s challenges and stay the course until we reach our goals. I believe this is where the SAIMM can play a vital role in professional and personal development.
And remember: ‘If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before. ’ (J. Loren Norris – international leadership speaker)

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same thing

The devastation caused by severe flooding in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022 caused untold hardship. More than 450 people lost their lives, thousands were displaced, losing their homes, and their dignity as the flood waters destroyed houses, washed away roads, and triggered mudslides in densely populated areas. The economic impact on the region and the country is yet to be tallied, but the pictures of homes and businesses destroyed or damaged by the raging waters tells the story. In a period of just 24 hours, spanning 11 to 12 April 2022, Virginia Airport (10 km northeast of Durban) recorded 304 mm of precipitation. Along the coast 450 millimetres was recorded over the two days.

The deluge followed days of high rainfall, leading to a disaster that not only devastated the communities in the province but also impacted the national grid’s capacity. Eskom’s already fragile generation capacity was directly and indirectly affected. A hydroelectric dam operated by Eskom was overwhelmed by rising waters, rendering it inoperable. Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter announced on 12 April that rolling blackouts would occur due to issues in the network caused by the excessive rains. At the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme, debris on grids protecting the turbines needed clearing and on the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme, both the upper and lower dam were at full capacity, and emptying the upper dam could have resulted in more flooding.

The impact of the storm caused many more ripple effects. Transnet, for example, was forced to suspend port operations in Durban. The heavy rains damaged roads leading into the port and the city. Shipping into the port was suspended and freight transport companies were told not to send cargo to Durban.

The floods in KwaZulu-Natal show clearly how an extreme weather event can have an impact through ripple effects on a much broader scale. Perhaps extreme weather events will not happen where you live, but the indirect impact will be felt by all. Thus, while the severe rainfall recorded in KwaZulu-Natal is in line with the levels of precipitation expected during a tropical cyclone, the frequency of such events will increase as climate change shifts weather patterns. The storm may not be directly attributed to climate change, but one can only imagine the impact if these types of storms occur more often.

With so many pressing issues, locally and globally, a mission-oriented approach is required. We must be mission-driven to tackle grand challenges The most recent UN climate change report laid out in devastating detail the past, present, and future impacts of climate change on people and the planet they depend on. In April 2022, the people of KwaZulu-Natal experienced the impact of extreme weather in a devastating tragedy. Scientists now consider it unequivocal that humans are responsible for this accelerating climatic upheaval. One hardly hears climate-sceptic commentary any more, but there is still a significant ‘delay discourse’ advocated by many. We recognize that climate change is a reality and that it is of human origin, but everyone seeks to justify minimal action or no action in the interest of a ‘just transition’. Our focus should be on tackling these challenges through a grand scheme of change – a mission – because just as we have come to accept global warming on the scientific evidence, there is no doubt that a well-managed transformation is needed to ensure socio-economic stability. If we all do not have food, water, and housing security, the economy cannot thrive – we cannot thrive. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report focuses on how we might get ourselves out of the mess we have created, and the message is clear – we need transformation at a large scale in all major systems: energy, transport, infrastructure, buildings, agriculture, and food. How we build our cities, how we provide energy, how we travel – all these things require grand missions to address.

The floods in KwaZulu-Natal also highlighted the weaknesses in local stormwater infrastructure and urban development, and even the impact of plastic pollution on stormwater systems as plastic waste blocked drains and waterways. This tragic event should be seen as an opportunity to make the right choices going forward. We are at a crossroads and, depending on the decisions taken, we can contribute to making the impact of climate change worse or we can contribute towards the mission of addressing the grand challenge.

We can only hope that the tragedy triggers an important conversation about how we are preparing for the impact of climate change in general. The damage in KwaZulu-Natal was exacerbated due to the lack of proper infrastructure development and maintenance and haphazard and desperate urbanization through informal and semi-informal housing built on flood-prone land. As pointed out by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the disaster has national implications and other parts of the country are just as vulnerable to severe weather. The President established the Presidential Climate Commission in December 2020, made up of all stakeholders, including businesses. The Commission was tasked with ensuring that the so-called ‘just transition’ from our fossil-fuel-based economy to a greener future is managed effectively.

However, the flood disaster highlights the fact that we need to also apply ourselves urgently to the challenges that climate change presents to the economy – from agriculture to manufacturing – and that we need to accelerate and implement real change now. We all should support the fossil fuel transition to ensure we mitigate global climate change, but we also must be realistic about the fact that climate change is already materially threatening our lives and livelihoods. The message from the UN is that it is never too late to start the transition to a green economy, but we cannot expect a free ride, especially if we continue to delay for another 10, 20, or 30 years.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ - George Eliot.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

Reflections on the ‘impossible’ and the ‘unthinkable’

‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today, I am wise so I am changing myself.’
- Rumi

During the early weeks of March 2022, the coldest location on the planet experienced an episode of exceptionally warm weather. Temperatures over the eastern Antarctic ice sheet soared by 10 to 32°C above normal. The warm spell smashed records and confounded scientists and observers. This unprecedented event upended expectations about the Antarctic climate system with climatologists using words like ‘impossible’ and ‘unthinkable’ to describe the temperatures in tweets and interviews. While the heatwave temperatures are still well below zero, at –10°C, it is a massive temperature spike by Antarctic standards. Normally temperatures are expected to be about –50°C this time of year. The heatwave is also noteworthy for occurring in March, which marks the beginning of autumn in Antarctica. At this time of year, Antarctica is rapidly losing sunlight each day as it moves into winter. The unusually warm conditions were caused by an extreme atmospheric river (described as a narrow corridor of water vapour in the sky). The moisture diffused and spread over the continent, but it was trapped by a strong high-pressure system, described as ‘exceptionally intense’ (five standard deviations above normal). While these types of phenomena are not unusual, the extent and intensity of this specific event have not been observed before.

antarctica tempersature 15052022It is difficult to attribute a single event to climate change, but unusual meteorological conditions certainly raise concerns as we increasingly see changing patterns and extreme events. On the opposite side of the planet, temperatures near the North Pole also peaked above normal, with temperatures close to the melting point of ice recorded during the same week as the heatwave in the Antarctic. And in Australia, unusually warm waters are stressing sensitive corals in the Great Barrier Reef leading to the fourth major bleaching event in the last seven years.

The heatwave in Antarctica, the unusually hot weather in the Arctic, and the bleaching event in Australia were all reported on within two weeks in March, but they barely made the proverbial front pages. The world arena is currently complex and fraught with increasing possibilities for long-term conflict over national rivalries, economic competition, the impact of unmitigated climate change, and cultural and ideological differences. There is no doubt that the possible futures before us are increasingly unpredictable. Unconventional solutions will be required to address global challenges as what we once believed to be a relatively predictable road ahead, now forks in new and uncertain directions. Economic, social, ecological, and political challenges have been shaking up international systems recently and our confidence in interpreting and understanding these complexities is understandably challenged. An outlier such as the spike in temperature in the Antarctic just adds to this sense of uncertainty.

The Paris Agreement is an addition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), initially agreed to by all 195 countries present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which included the United States, then under the presidency of Barack Obama. The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, predominantly by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement differs from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in that no annexes are established to lessen the responsibility of developing nations. Rather, emissions targets for each nation were separately negotiated and are to be voluntarily adopted. In a dramatic statement on 1 June 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the country formally exited the Agreement on 4 November 2020, the day after the presidential elections. Following his election, President-elect Joe Biden promised to re-join the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, and the United States formally re-joined the Agreement on 19 February 2021. For 107 days, during a time that one might say there has been an unprecedented global agreement that climate change requires action, the United States had not been a signatory of the Paris Agreement. The country likely would have remained outside of the Paris Agreement if President Biden had not taken office.

The brief exit of the United States from the Paris Agreement illustrates the fragility of international systems and agreements. It also illustrates that these types of international rules or treaties are not directly enforceable. Nation-states participate voluntarily and their participation is premised on their paradigms for economics, culture, or ideology. Increasingly, conventional approaches do not address the tasks at hand. Different paradigms are prioritized by different participants, which leads to wide divergence when it comes to the implementation of climate goals. We all view the world through the lenses that seem most accurate to us; we all also draw upon multiple lenses, arranging the elements to suit our view of the world depending on our priorities and personal circumstances.

The United Nations released the new flagship climate change report this month (4 April 2022) which presents the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). The organization’s chief, Mr António Guterres, said at the launch: ‘This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5°C limits’ which were was agreed in Paris in 2015. Mr Guterres added in a video message that unless action is taken soon, some major cities will be under water and the message forecast ’unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals’. The newest IPCC report insists that to limit global warming to around 2°C, global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak before 2025 and be reduced by at least 25% by 2030. While it is valuable to have these insights published and discussed, there are important limitations to the data we use to assess the future. The scenarios assessed by the IPCC report can be thought of as visions of what could happen in the future. These models are not forecasts or predictions as it is impossible for the IPCC scenario database to perfectly assess all potential futures. One comment is that the database should be considered an ’ensemble of opportunity’ as it was not designed to be a single coherent collection of research. The database consists of a number of pathways that researchers from around the world were able to model to answer questions they considered relevant to their research focus. While this is valuable, it is easy to see that there may be multiple scenarios not yet assessed, that still make it possible to limit warming to 1.5°C. There is not a fundamental flaw in the scientific results per se, but we should also understand that the database is not complete. As a global community, we have not yet exhausted all the potential scenarios to avoid missing the target.

Equally, scenarios created with these extremely complex and comprehensive models can only capture part of the realities. For example, local challenges, barriers, opportunities, food security, and social inequalities are not included in the global scenarios. Through science, we attempt to define models and scenarios we can use to evaluate and measure existing paradigms. There was a time when the scientific paradigm stated that Earth is the centre of the solar system or that all things were made up of a combination of earth, fire, air, and water. These paradigms failed eventually in the face of increasingly sophisticated knowledge and something new replaced them. Where paradigms are less precisely defined and the criteria for confirmation or rejection are less clear, the process of change is understandably similarly less well defined and easily confounding. Because of the complexities involved, and therefore the less precise nature of the IPCC database, many people doubt that we are at risk. Others will ignore the complexities and take a more alarmist view of the available data. There is no clear pathway or prediction, but we have enough data indicating that unless we change our ways, something will happen. We are still questioning the complexities of predicting the impact of human behaviour on the planet, and the inequalities amongst nations still define how countries behave or develop. The IPCC report also reflects on the major gap between climate pledges and reality. Nobody should be surprised by the lack of progress. Scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate effects. The socio-economic and geopolitical landscape is also close to tipping points at various hotspots around the world. While we are not sure which of the many futures will realize, we cannot ignore the negative impacts of human activities, whether on a global scale or just in our backyard.

The future is coming, one way or another, and our ways of thinking, our philosophy, will need to be unconventionally wise to navigate the future paradigm. The word ‘philosophy’ literally translates as ‘love of wisdom’, from the Greek ‘philo’ and ‘sophia’ respectively. If we change, we can change the future, despite what feels like overwhelming problems and challenges. With caring and wisdom comes change.

‘I wanted to change the world, but I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.’
- Author Aldous Huxley.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

“Making the invisible visible”

The United Nations World Water Development Report is a flagship report on water and sanitation issues, focusing on a different theme in each issue. The report provides insight on main trends concerning the state, use and management of freshwater and sanitation, and is launched in conjunction with World Water Day. The intent of this report is to provide decision-makers with knowledge and tools to formulate and implement sustainable water policies. Groundwater has always been critically important to human society and ecosystems, but it has not always been fully recognized as part of water security. The most recent UN World Water Development Report, launched on 21 March 2022, highlighted how countries with high water security risks should make groundwater the heart of sustainable development policymaking. Making the invisible visible was the key message as the UN and many other organizations globally marked World Water Day on 22 March 2022. The UNESCO report is available online (

groundwater 01042022According to the UN water report, groundwater accounts for 99% of all liquid freshwater on Earth, and has the potential to provide societies with social, economic, and environmental benefits and opportunities. Groundwater already provides half the volume of water withdrawn for domestic use by the global population, including drinking water for most of the rural population, who do not get their water delivered to them via supply systems. Furthermore, around 25% of all water withdrawn for irrigation is extracted from groundwater sources. It is noteworthy however that this natural resource is often poorly understood, and consequently undervalued, mismanaged and even abused.

While South Africa is not listed as one of the 30 driest countries in the world, there are significant water challenges in the country. Rankings aside, there are regions where there is water stress due to regional climate and climate variances. This vulnerability to water distress was particularly in the spotlight during the drought that caused Cape Town’s water crisis in 2017, with many residents of Cape Town lining up day and night to fill containers with water from the city’s few natural springs. After months of warnings through an anomalously long drought, Cape Town was on the verge of becoming the world’s first major city to run out of water. Freshwater dams had dipped below 25% of capacity, and levels continued to fall. If the dams fell to 13.5% of capacity, the municipal water network would shut down, and millions of residents would face severe water restrictions. The dams fortunately never reached that critical 13.5% level, dubbed Day Zero. Four months later, the rains returned, and dam levels rose. The shadow of Day Zero however still lingers over Cape Town, and the memory of this continues to impact the city, with the average daily water use in the city still between 700 and 800 million litres, about half what it was in 2014 (, 23 December 2021). But even if consumption remains low, the next drought could yet again challenge the city’s continued efforts. Scientists believe that Cape Town will face more sustained droughts over the next 100 years because of climate change. The drought of 2017 serves as a great example of the impact climate change can have on society and how crucial it is to plan for these impacts. Cape Town’s planned mitigations include diversifying water sources to include groundwater from wells and boreholes, but also includes recycled stormwater, treated wastewater, and household grey water, which could be reused for gardening and other applications. There are also plans for more desalination, controls on water use, leak reduction, and infrastructure investment. All of these coming at a significant infrastructure investment cost.

In the driest, and more remote parts of South Africa, groundwater may be the only water people have access to, and it is crucial to integrate groundwater management into our water plans, both as policymakers and as an industry. Despite being invisible, the impact of groundwater on our daily lives is visible all around us. Our drinking water and sanitation, our food supply and natural environment all rely on groundwater stability and quality. A healthy and stable groundwater system is also critical in the balance of ecosystems, such as wetlands. In deltas and coastal areas, groundwater ensures the stability of the ground and prevents seawater intrusion underground.

The new UN report highlights that groundwater is therefore seen as central to the fight against poverty, and key to food and water security on a global scale. Reliance on groundwater will only increase in the future, mainly due to growing water demand by all sectors, combined with an increasing variation in rainfall patterns. The report describes the challenges and opportunities associated with the development, management, and governance of groundwater across the world, and is worth reviewing as we remind ourselves of the importance of water.

Understanding the role that groundwater plays in our daily lives and how we can use this largely available, yet fragile resource sustainably is critical. Unfortunately, human activities frequently overuse and pollute groundwater, and, in many instances, we do not even know how much water is down there.
Groundwater is out of sight, but it should not be out of mind. What we do on the surface matters underground and will matter tomorrow.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

Dare to dream big

After two years of uncertainty, 2022 seems to be developing into something that feels more normal. Perhaps some of this normality is just us adapting to the unpredictability and the curveballs we’ve been given, but either way, we are daring to dream big this year. For the SAIMM, the past two years meant many changes to the status quo. With the year now in full swing, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on the changes and the challenges the Institute faced, and overcame, as well as the plans and projects that emanated from the hard work done by the SAIMM collective.

One of the major changes relates to the SAIMM premises in Marshalltown. For many years, we’ve associated the SAIMM with the offices located in the Minerals Council building, which not only hosted the staff, but also the SAIMM’s rare books library, IT infrastructure, and meeting rooms. The remote working environment forced upon us by the pandemic accelerated the Minerals Council’s decision to downscale their office and the SAIMM was informed that the building will be sold soon. Over the past few months, Sam Moolla and her team worked tirelessly to clear out the Marshalltown offices, downsize office furniture, and fully shift the SAIMM infrastructure to the ‘cloud’. All staff members, including the Journal team, are now able to work remotely. The Institute is currently operating fully as a virtual office. The team is now meeting face-to-face on a rotational basis, with several company members graciously opening their meeting rooms to allow the team to meet and collaborate.

Even before the pandemic, the SAIMM identified the need to be able to meet virtually and opted to implement the use of Zoom to supplement committee and Council meetings. During the lockdown, this decision allowed us to rapidly deliver virtual content, primarily as webinars, and later online conferences, workshops, training courses, and schools. We’ve also in recent years upgraded the membership management system and all membership is now managed via the MYMEMBERSHIP platform. Members can now update their information, preferences, and pay their fees via the membership portal, eliminating the need for manually managed databases. In addition, a member-only content library is available to all members. The library is continuously growing, allowing members to view valuable content online at their leisure. These are just some of the highlights related to the positioning of the Institute to continue to be member-centric and ensuring our systems are optimized.

The flagship plans for 2022 build on the sturdy foundations laid over the past two years. In 2022, we are rebuilding, but also starting new projects and initiatives that will strengthen the Institute and thus the value to members. One of my biggest dreams is to bring back in-person events. Therefore, a key activity is to rebuild the technical events programme towards this end. A flagship event this year will be the PGM Conference. The Platinum Conference has been a feature of our technical programme since 2004, and the 8th instalment was originally planned for 2020. Without belabouring the point, we all know what happened.

I had the privilege to be involved in several of the first seven events, either as a participant, presenter, peer reviewer, or part of the organizing committee. The Platinum Conference organizing committee always tried hard to identify a topical theme for each conference in the series. The list of themes, by year, therefore, is a wonderful overview of the best of times and the worst of times for the PGM industry.

  • 2004 – Platinum, Adding Value
  • 2006 – Platinum Surges Ahead
  • 2008 – Platinum in Transformation
  • 2010 – Platinum in Transition: Boom or Bust
  • 2012 – Platinum, a Catalyst for Change
  • 2014 – Platinum, a Metal for the Future
  • 2017 – Platinum, a Changing Industry
  • 2022 – Enabling a Cleaner World

With the long gap since 2017, the 2022 event will be of great interest to all, with many changes to reflect upon, and as PGMs again surged ahead in 2021 the 8th event is sure to deliver a full programme. The Conference will be held at Sun City from 2-3 November 2022.

Another flagship project for 2022 is the launch of a dedicated ESG-focused committee. The committee was formally constituted in January 2022 and aim to actively seek opportunities for the SAIMM to develop and implement ESG capacity for our membership. The newly formed ESG-S Committee (Environment, Social, Governance and Sustainability) is daring to dream big and will be sharing their plans and projects over the next few months with membership under the leadership of Professor Mike Solomon as the first appointed Chair, ably assisted by Professor Gordon Smith who played an integral role in defining the frame of reference for this initiative.

The Young Professionals Council (YPC) continues to inspire in 2022. On 25 February they will be launching a YPC Northwest Branch. The YPC and the various branches are synergistically working together to revitalize the activities of the SAIMM in more remote areas to maximize the value for our members, especially to support young professionals in the early part of their careers. As we integrate the YPC and Branch activities, more members can participate and network across Southern Africa.

Other plans for 2022 include optimizing our marketing campaigns and streamlining our mailers to members. Our virtual content will be streamlined as well, with webinars to be hosted on Wednesdays aiming to create an established format and build a brand for SAIMM webinars (#webinarwednesday).

There are many more activities and initiatives, some new, some renewed, and the few highlights I’ve touched on aim only to showcase some of the plans for 2022. If you are keen to get involved in any of the committees or projects mentioned herein or are interested in organizing a technical event of your own, please contact Sam Moolla the SAIMM Manager (

Let’s dare to dream big in 2022.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

Capaci occasio

I.J. Geldenhuys 11112021Nurturing the future leaders of Southern Africa’s mineral’s industry is one of the key pillars of the Institute’s value proposition and it is understandably highlighted in the opening statements of the new SAIMM brochure. The sentiments and the purpose statements encapsulated in the brochure are the outcome of an intense period of introspection. This self-analysis was sparked by financial sustainability concerns, dwindling volunteerism and participation by members in committees and on organizing committees for technical events, and while there has not been a mass exodus, membership numbers have stagnated, with fewer employers sponsoring individual professionals to join the Institute.

The SAIMM’s office team has adapted methods, implementing numerous changes to the internal structure and workings of the Institute, and in response to the impact of the pandemic, shifted completely to a remote working model. But a change in tactics requires more than just polishing the silver, and in this context, the Institute is refocusing on maximizing the value to our membership. And, of course, being financially sustainable, and relevant in fast-changing times.

Although many things have changed over the past few decades, and most particularly the past two years, the need for professional development remains a constant. Throughout this period of reflection, the Institute’s purpose has withstood, and is withstanding, the test of time. A glance at the SAIMM’s coat-of-arms reminds us of the SAIMM motto, Capaci occasio which means ‘To the capable the opportunity’. Therefore, developing and nurturing capable leaders for the minerals industry, because the capable create opportunities, is still one of the key pillars of the SAIMM’s purpose. The coat-of-arms, which was adopted in 1965, has become closely associated with the SAIMM brand of professionalism and quality technical events, and the motto is probably more relevant today than ever and is entrenched in what the Institute delivers.

As an Institute, we have emerged with a renewed focus on the core of our existence, strongly underpinned by our history, and the capabilities to deliver on this core purpose. The rapid increase and availability of digital content has created a smorgasbord of options for all. We are flooded with digital content, a trend that accelerated throughout the pandemic. It is also common knowledge that the global mining and minerals community is facing a retirement tsunami, as people with decades worth of expertise wind down their professional activities.

When we think about professional development and growth, it is often in terms of continuing education, job-related skills, or job responsibilities, but we don’t necessarily associate professional development with volunteerism. You may think of volunteerism as one more thing you need to juggle in a busy schedule. But volunteerism can provide personal growth, satisfaction, learning opportunities, development of new skill sets, professional and ethical development, and through volunteer activities one can build a new group of friends or colleagues. The SAIMM is at its core a voluntary association of professionals, that exists for our members, through our members, and acts as a vehicle through which members can share knowledge and enable professional development. The SAIMM only exists because of our membership.

As we near the end of another tumultuous year, it is a good time to reflect on the year ahead and how we plan to spend our valuable time. With these thoughts in mind, the definition of volunteerism is quite powerful, and inspiring.

Volunteering is a form of helping in which people actively seek out opportunities, and involves making considerable ongoing commitments to sustain these involvements over extended periods, often at a considerable personal cost, usually time. Volunteering is not the same as helping though. Helping occurs spontaneously in response to an emergency or unwelcome situation, while volunteering requires seeking out opportunities to help. Finally, and this is the aspect that perhaps makes volunteerism particularly powerful at the personal growth level, volunteers typically do not know those they help in advance and have no prior bonds of obligation to help them.

Volunteerism is an act of giving towards a greater cause.

Volunteering is not a one-way street. Through active involvement in voluntary associations, the volunteer also gains from this process. In the SAIMM, volunteering enhances the value of your membership while your time and efforts help others. The feedback loop is positive and personal and professional growth follows. Young or established professionals find that they stay up to date with developments in their industry by being involved in technical events or reviewing papers. As we engage in these types of activities we constantly add to our continued professional development. For some, their involvement with Institute matters leads to new opportunities, and even new career paths; but, most importantly, professionals, through volunteering, build their formal and informal networks, which in turn strengthen their professional capacity.

The formal and informal relationships built through active involvement in a voluntary activity contribute to a healthy society and healthy individuals living in such a society do better in moving forward to meet common aspirations. Many volunteers do it to give something back (‘paying it forward’) to their profession, especially since someone did it for them earlier in their careers. Volunteer activities can range from serving as a moderator on a webinar session to being an officer of the Institute through Council and Office Bearers. Volunteers could be involved as committee members, serving as committee chair, acting as a liaison with another professional organization, reviewing papers for the Journal, judging student presentations, facilitating panels at technical events, or presenting a webinar or technical talk at a branch meeting. The volunteering opportunities are numerous, and each small act contributes towards the development of capable professionals and a sustainable Institute. The SAIMM is a living institute, and member involvement is the fertile ground in which the Institute and the members flourish.

In conclusion, while any organization ought to be introspective and sharpen its tools, an entity such as the SAIMM relies on membership for content and direction, and growth. It is easily overlooked that the SAIMM can exist only if members are willing to volunteer their precious skills and time in an act of giving towards the greater good of the mining and metallurgy industry.

In the coming year, may the SAIMM and our members find a new and stable footing in a world, where predicting the next wave has nothing to do with surfing. May all our members have a safe and restorative holiday season this summer.
May the road of opportunity rise to meet you in 2022.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM

When one tugs on a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world

I.J. Geldenhuys 11112021Change resistance is the tendency for something to resist change, even when a surprisingly large amount of force is applied. Systemic change resistance is the tendency for a system to reject an attempted change, even though the change is supported over a long period by a substantial fraction of the population. Systems ecologists have increasingly concluded that the conservation of species in isolation from human beings does not address the real systemic issues we are facing. For over 40 years, conservationists have been promoting the need for humans to heed the impact of our activities on the sustainability of natural ecosystem. Despite dire messages from scientists, the system has resisted substantive change.

The theory of change resistance reminds us that, frequently, a culture shift or systemic change process failed because the root cause was not being addressed. The concept of sustainable processing and social responsibility is one such systemic change that is required. Systems ecologists have increasingly warned that the Earth’s ability to sustain the natural ecosystem is at a tipping point, with about 15% of all land globally degraded or severely damaged through human impact. About three out of five people in the world are impacted by damage to the ecosystem. The cost is largely hidden as it is not directly measured or counted, but it is estimated to be equivalent to about 10% of all global wealth.

ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) is a top priority for shareholders and investors in mining and metal extraction. Conservation and sustainability messages are not new, however, but it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot protect an elephant without protecting the grass it walks on – both are key components of the ecosystem and cannot be protected in isolation. Conservationists have tried, and dismally failed. If we attempt to conserve the ecosystem without considering and incorporating human activities into the sustainability plan, the efforts to protect individual species will continue to fall short of the desired goals. Herein lie valuable insights for sustainable and responsible mining and processing. Consider the words of American naturalist John Muir: ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe’.

Individual professionals will require new skills and perspectives to support corporate ESG targets, and most importantly to truly deliver the systemic changes required to ensure ESG is not just another checkbox exercise in an annual report, so that the principles of sustainability and social responsibility become embedded in how we work. Mining and metallurgical industries can remain viable and deliver sustainable growth only through responsible, ethical, and sustainable mining and processing activities. The SAIMM can play a key role here by creating platforms to advance this crucial agenda beyond the buzzword level. Ultimately, responsible and sustainable processing will be brought about through the professionally influenced behaviour of professionals, such as the members of the SAIMM.

I.J. Geldenhuys
President, SAIMM