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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

Giving YOU recognition

Zelma Botha 31102022 In my own environment, it’s that time of the year again where we purposefully, and in detail, give recognition to our team members that have gone above and beyond the call of duty. In the SAIMM it’s also that time of year where the current President reflects on the year that has passed and plans a seamless handover to the next President. While I was busy with these reflections, I realized that it is always about the team, about the support the team members give each other and their work to create a safe space for innovation to flourish.

It is therefore no surprise (for me, at least) that I dedicate this article to the people that make it happen. With this article, I want to encourage everyone, no matter where you are, to help build a culture of recognition, to share with everyone why recognition is so extremely important.

Humans have a natural psychological need for respect; to this I want to add validation, extrinsic recognition, and the knowledge that they matter, that they are seen. The acknowledgement of efforts and a job well done creates a sense of fulfilment, achievement, and belonging (The Power of Employee Recognition, Ramin Edmond1). I think extrinsic recognition has the power to dictate our perception of who we are and what our value is.

Why is external recognition so important?
Some of the data I found shows that, for example, among university students 15.6% of excellence award recipients originally wanted to withdraw their enrolment but were motivated to continue after recognition. Also, 92% of workers were inclined to repeat a specific action after receiving recognition for it (Bright Ewuru2). The data shows concepts like more job satisfaction, better performance, higher productivity, more engagement, reduced stress, and less absenteeism. There is also substantial evidence for the correlation between recognition and competition for talent. Close to a quarter of senior leaders say finding talent is one of the biggest challenges they’re faced with as managers (McKinsey and Company). High-recognition companies have ‘31% lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures’ (Deloitte Review, Issue 163).

prescorner1 30062023Figure 1–Taken from Claire Hastwell, co-author of Women in the Workplace, Creating a Culture of Recognition ( resources/blog/creating-a-culture-of-recognition)

Quantifying the benefits
The remarkable power of recognition lies in the plethora of benefits it offers.

  1. Recognition creates greater employee engagement; 53% of employees will stay longer in a company if they feel appreciated, 53% will be more focused on their work, and 59% more engaged in their work.
  2. Morale boost, improved performance and productivity. A genuine ‘thank you’ can ignite a 69% increase in the likelihood of employees bringing extra effort to their work. Compared to those who do not consistently feel recognized at work, people who do feel recognized are twice as likely to say that people [in their organization] are willing to go above and beyond. Companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable because their employees are 17% more productive (Gallup).
  3. Increased employee retention. A lack of employee recognition is the most common reason why people leave their jobs (Gallup). When people feel recognized and valued, they’re more likely to be happy with their jobs and stay with their organization. Just 37% of US workers say they’re happy with how much they get recognized and acknowledged at work, making it one of the most disappointing factors for workers (The Conference Board).
  4. Innovation, innovation, innovation! Recognition spurs innovation. Compared to those who do not consistently feel recognized at work, people who do feel recognized are 2.2 times more likely to drive innovation and bring new ideas forward (Figure 2).
  5. With a healthy recognition culture, team members are 2.6 times more likely to think that promotions are fair (Figure 2). During the Trust Index™ survey, when asked what makes their workplace ‘great’, employees who responded positively to survey questions (measuring recognition) said that they were ‘incredibly lucky’ that the company had ‘excellent integrity’ and an ‘uplifting environment’, and some mentioned their ‘career success’. Conversely, employees who didn’t feel recognized at work responded to the same question with phrases such as ‘plays favouritism’ and ‘popularity contest’.

These benefits are summarized from work done by Bright Ewuru, 12 October 2022; The Power of Employee Recognition, Ramin Edmond, 28 November 2022; Creating a Culture of Recognition, Claire Hastwell, 2 March 2023; 5 ways to harness the power of recognition, by Michele McGovern, 21 April 2023; The Energy Project; and Harvard Business Review. They are also based on the Great Place To Work® Trust Index™ survey, Great Place To Work, which analysed 1.7 million employee survey responses gathered between 2018 and 2020 across small, mid-sized, and large companies.

What should recognition look like?
Here are a few best practices from the literature.

1. Define the goals of the employee recognition programme. Why do you want to implement a culture of recognition? Think about standards in your organization, promoting a culture of appreciation and respect, boosting employee retention or enhancing your brand. 

prescorner2 30062023Figure 2–Taken from Claire Hastwell, co-author of Women in the Workplace, Creating a Culture of Recognition ( resources/blog/creating-a-culture-of-recognition)

2. Share the criteria. It’s essential to bring every team member on board. If the company leaders demonstrate enthusiasm for the programme and exhibit commendable behaviours, team members will follow.

3. Be very clear and specific about the criteria; be transparent about what you want to reward and how employees can achieve it. Clarifying the rules maintains the integrity of the employee reward programme and gives your team members a good idea of where they need to focus their efforts. Also, recognition is more meaningful when tied to a specific accomplishment or business objective. Refer to an exact action, behaviour, or idea and how it positively affected colleagues, a project, the company, etc. Try to cite the exact time and place it happened. Then focus heavily on the positive impact it will continue to have on the external factors. When being specific, attempt to connect to the bigger picture.

4. Determine frequency. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, 85% of professionals want to hear ‘thank you’ in daily interactions. The regular provision of rewards and praise fosters a culture of appreciation while increasing employees’ zeal and motivation. The key to having a positive impact is consistency and honesty. It’s critical for any manager to schedule time and resources to honour a culture of recognition. Also consider being timeous – recognition that arrives months after the fact isn’t nearly as meaningful as recognition received promptly. The longer it takes for managers to recognize employees, the less likely employees will see the affirmations as authentic.

5. If you’re running a multi-faceted programme or simply want to manage your recognition programme more effectively, consider employee recognition software. This can help you organize your programme, easily accept and judge nominations in one easy hub, and streamline your entire management process. AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics give us greater insight than we’ve ever had into employees’ diverse needs, interests, and behaviours. There are AI tools that can analyse keywords and emojis sent via office instant messaging platforms to get a feel for the team’s overall morale. Other tools can track a combination of real-time job performance, feedback from employees, and surveys to pinpoint which employees are deserving of recognition. The global hotel chain Hilton provides managers with an annual Recognition Calendar that features 365 no-cost and low-cost, easy-to-implement ideas for thanking employees. The calendar includes reminders and tips for enterprise-wide brand, and department recognition programsmes, appreciation best practices, important dates like International Housekeeping Week, and recognition quotes to share with employees. It also allows users to add employee service anniversaries and local events. Users can download a print-friendly PDF or import an Outlook-friendly file into their personal calendars.

6. Recognition goes up, down, and sideways. By encouraging rewards and recognition throughout the organization you create and reinforce a culture of appreciation. It also increases the number of opportunities for employees to receive recognition by widening the pool of potential recognizers. Examples from the literature are the software company Atlassian with their Kudos programme, the law firm Alston & Bird LLP, which uses its quarterly newsletter to share the ways that team members are engaging with the surrounding community, and Ally Financial’s ‘I am an Ally’ award programme, which invites team members to nominate colleagues for their contributions and impact.

7. Operationalize and socialize recognition. Schedule a point on regular meeting agendas for employees to thank their colleagues. Or perhaps install a virtual bulletin board where employees can celebrate their co-workers’ successes. This also encourages internal communication. Let them know you want them to speak up and share ideas, then give them credit for when their ideas make an impact. Employees who feel their voices are heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered and perform their best work (Salesforce).

8. Assess the programme’s effectiveness. After all is said and done, you should gauge the outcome of your employee recognition programme. The assessment process can measure such areas as employee retention, morale, engagement, and productivity. If there is a lack in any area, it will be revealed and necessary adjustments can then be made.

There is considerable information on the power of recognition out there; therefore, my question is: what resources are your organization utilizing to encourage a culture of recognition?

And then, something I am looking forward to immensely is our own two sessions where we would like to give recognition to everyone that makes the SAIMM great. Please join us for our TP Cocktail Evening and our SAIMM AGM. I look forward to recognizing everyone that makes the SAIMM a family!

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

The Carbon Tax Conundrum

Zelma Botha 31102022In a moment of complete honesty, I want to admit that I am writing about something that I know absolutely nothing about, and I want to invite you to join this conversation with me.

One of the challenges that I recently became aware of is the policy, which was introduced by the government in June 2019, aimed at reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change. I am of course talking about the South African Carbon Tax. This is a price set on carbon dioxide emissions that companies and industries generate during their operations. The tax is levied on the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions that are released into the atmosphere. The aim of the tax is to encourage companies to reduce their emissions by switching to cleaner technologies and adopting sustainable practices.

The tax is aimed at creating a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions, and the revenue generated from the tax should be used to fund initiatives that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. In short, it should be a policy instrument in line with international commitments, a source of revenue that can be used to support initiatives that promote renewable energy, which will in turn create new opportunities for businesses and boost job creation.

However, the implementation of the tax has faced criticism from some quarters. Since January 2022, the carbon tax rate has been around US$8.3 per ton of CO2e. In line with South Africa’s commitments at COP26, the carbon tax rate is set to progressively increase every year to reach US$20 per ton by 2025. In the second phase from 2026 onwards, the carbon tax rate will have larger annual increases to reach at least US$30 per ton by 2030.

In a study published in the Mail & Guardian during 2022, Bohlmann et al. show that the possible negative impact of the carbon tax on economic growth is minimized when the revenue is recycled back into the economy. Another study by Bohlmann, published in the South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences in 2016, shows that recycling of carbon tax revenue will only reduce the extent of emissions if tax revenue recycling supports economic growth. According to their model, the manner in which carbon tax revenue is recycled back into the economy is therefore important in terms of the extent of emissions reductions achieved. Is the South African carbon tax revenue being recycled efficiently? Or even correctly?

This provoked quite a few other questions in my mind. Are we, in the minerals and metals industry, adequately informed to answer questions about any carbon tax policy, national or global? Or are we projecting negativity due to the general discontent with the current state of affairs – economic, social, and political?
What is our definition of recycling tax revenue ‘efficiently’? Does this depend on perspective? If carbon tax revenue is recycled into the general fiscus to support the Basic Income Grant in a country with an unemployment rate of 35% to 50%, does this make sense to us?
Is the minerals and metals industry clear on their expectations of and from the South African Carbon Tax policy? What exactly do we want as professionals and as an Industry?

I believe the SAIMM should be creating a platform to open discussions around this. We should be assisting our industry through educating, informing, and providing thought leadership on topics crucial to the success of sustainable transition.

I want to call on our members and stakeholders who clearly understand the national carbon taxation strategy to become involved in the conversation. I want to understand what the options are that we as an Industry have. Do we have an option to influence the policy and the tax revenue recycling at all? Can we ask for assistance to analyse the positive and negative aspects of our current strategy and its execution?

I believe that the carbon tax is necessary to change user behaviour and to reduce climate impact. However, we can still develop ways to ensure business viability while doing so. The SAIMM will be hosting a Carbon Tax Colloquium where we will be asking these questions, and we invite everyone to become a part of the conversation.

Z. Botha President,

To empower or not to empower – That is the Question

Zelma Botha 31102022I want to take a moment and talk about the concepts of empowerment, growth, agency, and actualization. I strongly believe that anyone can be a leader, anywhere, at any given time. Martin Luther King Jr said: ‘a leader is an individual who has the ability to influence a group of individuals in achieving a common goal.’ I also believe that if any member of a team wants to achieve a common goal, they want to do value-adding work, they want to see how they effect change and how their ideas bear fruit.

My question is, how do you, as a leader, step back and allow your team members to not only identify the problem on their own, but also solve that specific problem? How do you, as a leader, work with failure and rising strong?

Leadership and how we work with power go hand in hand. The absolute worst experiences in my life and my career were when I felt powerless. When I believed I had absolutely no resources and no tools to overcome hardship or address challenges. Again, looking towards Martin Luther King Jr, he defined power as the ability to achieve purpose and effect change.

When you’re a leader you have a responsibility to bring out the best in your employees, not to control their outputs. Controlling your team members will only encourage the fear of missing targets or losing that bonus, or worst of all, the fear of failure. I believe the key to successful leadership, as Peter Drucker so elegantly put it, is for leaders to sometimes get out of the way. ‘90% of what we call management,‘ Drucker said, ‘consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.’ This prompts the question, what do leaders need to do? Paint a picture of a better future; help determine the path to achieving that future and then create a safe space and an open environment that will empower your team members to grow, innovate, and win.

I believe this will require you to give your power away.

Power itself is neither good nor bad. It’s all about how you, as a leader, work with power. In the words of Brene Brown: ‘Power over is driven by fear. Daring and transformative leaders share power with, empower people to, and inspire people to develop power within.’

Brown explains it in this way. When you want power over, when you want to control, you will believe that power is finite and use fear to protect your own power. You will leverage fear to divide and devalue basic decency. You will give people experiencing fear and uncertainty a false sense of conviction of your control over them. Being right will be more important to you than getting it right. You will encourage a blame culture.

When you want to give power to and instill power within, you will believe that the team becomes more powerful when power is shared. You will leverage the power of relationships and connection. You will create a culture of learning. You will move away from blame to a culture of ownership. You will think of leadership as serving others.

In the book Alive at Work D.M.Cable1 explains that one of the ways to achieve empowerment is to adopt the humble mindset of a servant-leader. Servant-leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so. I think the most important definition, in this book, of a servant-leader was that this type of leader has the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. It was encouraging to read the theory that servant-leadership acknowledges the responsibility of a leader to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of all team members.
In an article about the book, Alive at Work, the author refers to two case studies.

Case study 1
A study of a UK food delivery service found that the engagement of its drivers was dipping while management was becoming increasingly metric-driven in an effort to reduce costs and improve delivery times. Managers held weekly performance debriefs with drivers and went through a list of problems, complaints, and errors with a clipboard and pen. Eventually, the drivers, many of whom had worked for the company for decades, became resentful. However, this traditional model was disrupted by newer delivery companies and the management team of the case study company decided that things needed to change. The company needed to compete on great customer service, but needed the support of its employees who provided the service. And management needed ideas that could make the company more competitive. The new approach? Instead of nit-picking problems, each manager was trained to simply ask their drivers, ‘How can I help you deliver excellent service?’ Some drivers started to offer suggestions. For example, one driver suggested new products like yogurt and fun string cheese that parents could get delivered early and pop into their kids’ lunches before school. Another driver thought of a way to report stock shortages more quickly so that customers were not left without the groceries they ordered. Small changes created a virtuous cycle. As the drivers got credit for their ideas and saw them put into place, they grew more willing to offer more ideas, which made the depot managers more impressed and more respectful, which increased the delivery people’s willingness to give ideas, and so on. These innovations helped the company deliver better customer service.

Case study 2
When Jungkiu Choi moved from Singapore to China to start as head of Consumer Banking at Standard Chartered, he learned that one of the cultural expectations that his new job entailed was to visit the branches and put pressure on branch managers to cut costs. Jungkiu changed the nature of these visits. Instead of emphasizing his formal power, he started showing up at branches unannounced, and starting his visit by serving breakfast to the branch employees. Then, Jungkiu would hold ‘huddles’ and ask how he could help employees improve their branches. Jungkiu’s approach reduced employees’ anxiety and encouraged ideation and innovative ideas. Over the course of one year, Jungkiu visited over eighty branches in twenty-five cities. The huddles exposed many simple ‘pain points’ that he could easily help remediate. These experiments paid off in terms of company performance. Customer satisfaction increased by 54% during the two-year period of Jungkiu’s humble leadership. Complaints from customers were reduced by 29% during the same period. The employee attrition ratio, which had been the highest among all of the foreign banks in China, was reduced to the lowest.

My question to you is; do you empower your team members? Are you creating a culture of learning and growth? Do your team members have agency and actualization? As our own leader, Nelson Mandela, explained: ‘A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.’

Z. Botha
President, SAIMM

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