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Journal President's Cornerpages

Sampling and metal / metallurgical accounting is alive

Compliments of the season to all SAIMM members, and may 2014 be a safe, prosperous, and productive year. I trust that you and your families had a well-deserved and enjoyable break.

Sampling and metal/metallurgical accounting is something I have been involved with ever since I started my career in the mining industry. Initially, in the production environment, it was about where do we need to sample, can we sample there, will the sample be manual or automatic, how often do we sample, and what should the sample size be.

Taking Stock of 2013

We have come to the end of another year, and it is the time to slow down and take stock of the 12 months that have passed and to look forward to the year ahead. In the South African mining industry a very traumatic 2012 has been followed by an uncertain 2013.

I would like to think that 2014 will be more positive. There are many positive indications, and we should dwell on these since the negatives have a tendency to obscure the positives.

Coal - balance between supplies to Eskom and exports

The South African coal mining industry is very often portrayed as a poor cousin to the gold and platinum sectors. And more often than not, when coal is under the spotlight, the emphasis is on supplies to Eskom. The true contribution of coal to the South African economy and the significant size of the industry are rarely appreciated.

Serious Dialogue

I would like to start by saying how honoured I am to be your President for the next 12 months. I have every confidence that our Institute will continue to grow in terms of membership and in terms of southern African branches. Although the South African mining industry is going through traumatic times I do see plenty of light at the end of the tunnel. The South African mining industry still has huge potential. Unlocking this potential will require more extensive and serious dialogue between all the mining industry stakeholders. There are already many forums where this is taking place and we need to build on this momentum.

The link between success and skills development

I concluded last month’s Corner, which was on the topic of effective technology transfer in the underground narrow tabular mining industry, with a question: ‘do we fully understand the problem and do we have the right approach and skills to achieve a solution?’ I would like to explore the link between minerals industry success and appropriate skills development a bit further this month.

Effective Technology Transfer

I recently opened two SAIMM events, the ’Optimization of the Mine Value Chain’ conference and an ’Underground Load and Haul’ school; events targeted at different audiences but dealing with, among other things, a common challenge – that of effective technology transfer in the minerals industry.

Central to this challenge is the understanding and acceptance that our businesses are complex systems and operate as integral, interdependent parts of larger systems. In a simple model that I often use to map and understand system interdependencies and to which I referred last month, activities are considered in terms of people, processes, and technology, operating in a social and business context.

Diversity, Ambiguity, Change, and Interdependence

Southern Africa is a complex place; the many cultures and languages, the breadth of landscape, biodiversity and weather, the amazing mineral endowment, let alone history and politics, make it so. Therefore ’we do complexity’, it is in the fabric of our lives and nurtures our ability to succeed in difficult times.

Inherent to complexity are four broad interactive dimensions: diversity, ambiguity, change, and interdependence. I have previously commented on diversity, ambiguity, and change, so this month my perspective is on interdependence; where there is mutual dependence between the components that comprise a system. Interdependence exists in a myriad of contexts, but what I will comment on now is interdependency in the mining value chain.

Fly Fishing and Evolution

This month I am going to detour briefly into one of my other passions, fly fishing, while exploring the continuing theme of change and evolution in our minerals industry.

My introduction to fly fishing came from a dour Englishman who moved to Africa after the Second World War. My recollections are of his beautifully crafted cane rod, a masterfully woven silk line, a gut leader which had to be pre-moistened and kept between two damp chamois leather pads, and a tippet which I think was horse hair. His self-tied flies were works of art. Decades later, under the tutelage of a good friend, I too learned fly fishing and fly tying.

Labour Unrest

The labour unrest that has plagued the South African mining industry since 2012 is still ongoing, with the majority of the conflict being centred on the platinum sector. So we as an industry and a nation are still on a slow walk to defining a new set of ‘rules of the game’ that I have described in previous commentaries.

However, the most recent development, the establishment of a Platinum Sector Peace and Stability Accord, is a significant step forward.


This month, continuing with the theme of change, I would like to talk about change, generally, and then specifically in the context of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The fourteen chemists and metallurgists who gathered on 24 March 1894 at the North-Western Hotel in Pritchard Street, Johannesburg to form the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa – forerunner of the SAIMM – met because they had a need, a need to share knowledge and understanding. Why was this need so pressing? In 1888, the MacArthur/Forrest patent for ’Improvements in obtaining gold and silver from ores and compounds’ was registered. This patent essentially covered the application of dilute sodium cyanide solution to recover gold, and as you well know this was the technology that would unlock the real potential of the Witwatersrand gold deposits, discovered only two years previously. This technology was fundamentally changing the nature of the gold industry, and of the chemical and metallurgical professions.