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Journal President's Cornerpages

Mine of the Future — A mining CEOʼs perspective

The School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand held its 120th anniversary celebration on 23 March 2017. The keynote speaker at this momentous occasion was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gold Fields Limited, Mr Nick Holland. He spoke passionately about his vision on the Mine of the Future and indicated how Gold Fields was positioning itself for the future. The presentation was extremely insightful and well received by the audience, and I thought I should share with you some of the issues that were articulated.

Advancing international collaboration through the Global Mineral Professionals Alliance (GMPA)

When Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was delivering his mid-term budget speech in 2016, he made reference to the following Pedi quote which is relevant to one of SAIMM’s strategic initiatives: ‘Ditau tsahloka seboka di shitwa ke nare e hlotsa’ (translated into English as ‘Lions that fail to work as a team will struggle to bring down even a limping buffalo’). This quote cannot be any truer when one reflects on the need for collaboration for a common purpose. In the October 2015 edition of the SAIMM Journal our Immediate Past President, Rodney Jones, wrote about a 2011 inaugural meeting in London which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Global Mineral Professionals Alliance (GMPA). I am happy to share with you a positive development – in February 2017 the SAIMM hosted the Annual GMPA Meeting in Cape Town, where we formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The NDP Vision 2030 — Does the SAIMM have a role to play?

As you join me for the first cup of coffee in 2017, I would like to welcome you all back from what I trust was a restful and enjoyable festive season. I am optimistic that good times lie ahead of us and that 2017 will be a very productive year.

In previous editions of the Journal I have provided some insights into key functions of the SAIMM and our leadership’s vision on strategically positioning the Institute as we go into the future. In this edition of the Journal I would like to provide a relevant national context and sketch out the role that the SAIMM is playing, and can play, to ensure that it can contribute to securing the country’s future. I will do this by referring to the National Development Plan (NDP): Vision for 2030 which was drafted by the National Planning Commission (NPC) in order to actualize the diverse aspirations of all South Africans, given the country’s political history.

Reflections on 2016 and a look ahead to 2017

As we approach the end of the 2016 calendar year, it is time for us to take stock of the past 12 months and imagine what lies ahead. What does 2017 have in store for the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy? I can only imagine that the wheels will continue to turn positively for the mining industry from where we draw our membership and support, as this has a positive bearing on us as the SAIMM. Yes, 2016 has been a challenging year for our industry, but we all know that the commodities market is cyclical and our world requires us to continue extracting minerals in order to sustain human survival. So, the glimmer of hope cannot fade away, because as the common adage says, ‘if it is not mined it must be grown!’ It would be remiss of me not to share some optimism with you for our mining industry in the medium term. The 2016 calendar year has also been a challenging one for the SAIMM as we could not attract sufficient delegates to some of our conferences, resulting in a depressed financial performance for the Institute. However, as the SAIMM, we still stand firm due to our resilient pedigree. Let me share with you some reflections on 2016 to see why we remain firm.

Wits Mining and the SAIMM — 120 years of parallel histories

This two-volume issue of the Journal celebrates 120 years of existence of the Wits School of Mining Engineering (Wits Mining). Are the two volumes two sides of the same coin? There are a myriad of quotes that refer to two sides of the same coin, albeit in a negative sense. I have previously come across the quote by Ida Pauline Rolf, an American Scientist who lived from 1896-1979, which says ‘form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created’. This quote takes a positive look at two sides of the same coin that are complementary. I can easily relate this concept to the symbiotic relationship between Wits Mining and the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), which can be gleaned from our parallel histories that have fostered inextricably strong links. The ‘coin’ can be seen as the mining industry, which we both serve in our distinct capacities, as an educational institution and a professional body. We both serve the mining industry with a common sense of unity and purpose – to contribute our best efforts to ensure that the industry can grow from strength to strength, because we can survive and thrive only if the mining industry is doing well. I will now turn my attention to the brief histories of Wits Mining and the SAIMM, sketch out some parallels, and indicate why these two institutions are so important for our mining industry, dating back to the 1800s with the advent of commercial mining in South Africa.

Goals, Systems, and Plans

On 12 May 1964 Don Shepherd, a 48-year-old gold miner (actually an underground locomotive driver) from Crown Mines in Johannesburg, set out from the Los Angeles City Hall to begin a solo coast-to-coast run across America. At the time, this was the longest run in the world by an amateur runner. Part of his preparation involved running from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He ran alone, completely unaided, with no backup vehicle, and only a small transistor radio for company. He had no financial sponsorship, and did the trip on a shoestring budget, allowing himself $10 daily to pay for his food and accommodation. He had spent much time saving for and planning the trip. He carried a small backpack containing a spare shirt, socks, plastic raincoat, shoe patching equipment and scissors, petroleum jelly, toothbrush and toiletries, a small water bottle, and a map. Because he didn't trust the American style of running shoes, he posted a parcel containing a spare pair of canvas takkies to the postmaster in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be collected halfway through his journey. Don completed his 3200 mile (5100 km) journey to New York City in 73 days, 8 hours, and 20 minutes, averaging 70 km per day, typically running for nine to fourteen hours a day. His amazing story is told in his book «My Run Across the United States’, published in 1970.

Celebrating the ordinary

Exceptionalism comes easily to South Africans. We are used to living in a country with wonderful weather, spectacular scenery, and the richest collection of mineral wealth in our ground. There is no other country in the world where you have two Nobel Peace Prize winners who lived in the same street. We are the Rainbow Nation of Desmond Tutu; the country where Gandhi formulated his ideas of passive resistance; and the people led by Nelson Mandela that practised reconciliation instead of a civil war. Johannesburg is the city where all of these great leaders lived and worked; it is also the location of the world’s greatest deposit of gold; and is even claimed to be the world’s largest manmade urban forest. I was born in Germiston (now regarded as part of greater Johannesburg; both cities were founded in 1886), and I grew up feeling proud of the accomplishments of the industrialists of my father’s generation. The city was home to the Rand Refinery (the world’s largest refinery of gold, which has refined 30% of all the gold mined in the world since antiquity), and the largest railway junction in the Southern Hemisphere.

Perils of Conferencing

Many people who haven't travelled on business have the impression that it is a rather glamorous and pleasant task to attend a conference. And, of course, it can be wonderful to visit an interesting place for a few days, and come back refreshed with new ideas and perspectives, but this isn't the whole story. There is also the downside of cramped long-distance flights, disturbed sleeping patterns occasioned by differences in time zones, unfamiliar food, and lack of exercise. The American comedian Fred Allen (who incidentally was born in 1894, the same year that SAIMM was founded) said, rather cynically that ‘A conference is a gathering of people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.’ He also said ‘I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.’ However, all things considered, conferences still provide a great opportunity to exchange technical information, and to network with one’s peers.

Electronic Communication

During September 2009, a delightful experiment was conducted to demonstrate how slow South Africa’s data transfer services were. A carrier pigeon called Winston was able to transfer 4 GB of data across the 80 km between Howick and Hillcrest, Durban in just over two hours, whereas Telkom’s ADSL service was able to complete only 4% of the transfer in that time. Since then, fibre-optic connections to the internet have improved the situation considerably, at least in some wealthier areas of the country. The bigger limitation is now on the human end, not just the technical capacity.

Ethics

‘Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right’ – Isaac Asimov

One of the characteristic features of a professional society is that its members are governed by a code of professional ethics. The term ‘ethics’ is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning ‘character’. Ethics and morals both relate to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conduct. ‘Morals’ often refers to an individual’s own principles or habits that provide a personal compass regarding right and wrong conduct. ‘Ethics’ refers to the rules of conduct that are provided by an external source within a particular context, and can be considered a social system or a framework for acceptable behaviour.