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Journal President's Cornerpages

Ideas and Innovations

On 30 January 2015, the Honourable Minister of Mineral Resources, Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, issued a statement announcing the 2014 health and safety statistics for the South African mining industry. To quote, ’There has been a marked improvement in health and safety in the sector over the past twenty years, as result (sic) of renewed focus by the Department as well as collaboration with key stakeholders.’ Results over this period show an 86% reduction for all mine fatalities, thereby achieving the lowest ever number of fatalities in the mining sector in 2014.

Abundance of Health and Safety

Welcome to 2015. On behalf of all at the SAIMM may I wish our members and readers an abundance of health and safety, at work and at home, in the year that lies ahead. With the global events currently unfolding in terms of geopolitics and economic activity, 2015 is likely to be a year that will continue in much the same way as 2014. It implies that we all need to keep abreast of current affairs as what were once remote events (in time, space, and personal impact) are brought to our own doorsteps through the compressive lens of social networking and by the response of the mining industry to this very dynamic environment.

The Young Professionals Conference

In terms of the SAIMM Charter and in order to fulfill its obligations to the various communities making up the broader SAIMM membership, the Institute has established, over a long period of time, a series of portfolios and sub-committees. One of these portfolios is Career Guidance, executed through the very successful Career Guidance and Education Committee. Starting some six years ago, various initiatives were taken to develop this portfolio to focus more closely on how to encourage the younger SAIMM members to become more involved in SAIMM activities.

Family and Friends

For this President’s Corner, the Editor reminded me that this is the December edition of the Journal. For most of our members, December represents the time of year that celebrates the birth of Christ in the Christian calendar. Certainly, for many it is characterized by the opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends in a spirit of comradeship and goodwill. Therefore, I would like to talk about two different things that this has brought to my mind.

Anomaly in our Mining Industry

As I it down to write this piece I happen to be on leave in what we South Africans generically refer to as ‘the UK’; perhaps without pausing to think on what United Kingdom actually means (the 1707 Act of Union forming Great Britain and the 1801 Act joining Great Britain and [Northern] Ireland). In one week’s time from writing there will be a referendum vote in Scotland to determine if Scotland will remain an integrated part of the United Kingdom or be instrumental in starting a process resulting in a ‘dis-United Kingdom’. It is considered certain by social commentators that should Scotland secure independence from Westminster (governance based in London) then Wales will follow shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, in other parts of Europe the Basque separatists, for example, are watching very carefully how the European Union may respond to an independent Scotland.

Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and coaching are two words that come up at many mining industry forums. Many mining companies have mentoring and coaching programmes. The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) encourages candidate engineers to seek out a mentor, and the SAIMM has had mentoring and coaching programmes in the past. What is a mentor? An experienced and trusted advisor is the definition. What is a coach? A private tutor is the definition. While many people will regard the two as being one and the same, they clearly are not and, more importantly, both are vital.


Beneficiation is a term that has many different meanings within the mining industry and beyond. From an economic perspective, beneficiation relates to adding value to a mined raw material, or the transformation of mined ore into a higher value product that can be consumed locally or exported. In the mining industry, beneficiation is mainly used to describe metallurgical processes that are utilized to upgrade the mined raw material or ‘run-of-mine’ (ROM) ore.

The sustainability of the South African mining industr

The sustainability of the South African mining industry – and the global mining industry for that matter – is highly dependent on the pipeline of new mining engineers and metallurgists entering the industry. However, the training and development of mining engineers and metallurgists already in the industry is just as critical. Not too long ago any mining engineer or metallurgist entering the mining industry underwent a graduate training programme.

Base Metal Ores

The South African mining industry has been mainly associated with gold, which is understandable given that it was the gold mines of the late nineteenth century that were really the beginning of the industry as we know it. Currently platinum mining is making headlines regarding long strikes, and coal mining and Eskom are also much in the news. Diamonds have always featured in the media, to an extent that varies with time. However, base metals have never received any prominence, although they have formed part of the industry’s contribution for many decades. Copper, nickel, lead, and zinc are produced in South Africa. Palabora Mining Company produces copper, Nkomati Nickel produces nickel, and Black Mountain produces copper, zinc, and lead. In addition, copper, nickel, and cobalt are by-products from the base metals refineries associated with the four major platinum producers.

Danie Krige and his pioneering work in geostatistics

This issue of the Journal commemorates Danie Krige and his pioneering work in geostatistics, which has set the global standards in this discipline. His work is one example of many innovations emanating from the South African mining industry, which because of its diversity and complexity, requires continual innovation in order to survive and grow.

Mining and Metallurgy graduates

One of the key drivers for a successful South African mining industry is a pipeline of mining and metallurgy graduates. Without these individuals the sustainability of the industry will be in jeopardy. Therefore, a key aspect of SAIMM activities is the support of mining and metallurgy students and the tertiary institutions that provide their education. While there is some financial support available via the SAIMM scholarship trust fund, the type of support that the SAIMM provides is to motivate students with their studies and improve the probability of them being employed within the industry.

Physical Metallurgy

Within the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, metallurgy is generally taken to refer to extractive metallurgy as this sphere of metallurgy represents those processes used for the beneficiation of run-of-mine ore. However, I believe that many SAIMM members do not realize that the metallurgy part also represents physical metallurgy. Physical metallurgy is the transformation of metal products into alloys and/or semi-fabricated products.

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.


I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Mining Indaba in Cape Town in January. I say privilege because, as the event has grown in stature over the years so has the cost of being there. Despite the cost, attendance was excellent with a range of local and global industry participants. However, I felt an uncomfortable sense of disconnect between the fundamental shift in operating context that the South African industry is undergoing and the sense of ‘business as usual’ in the exhibitors’ hall.

A Terrible Year

2012 was, at the risk of understatement, a terrible year for the industry. The global economy was distressed with the European economic crisis; politics, both American and South African, had its impact; metal prices drifted aimlessly sideways or downwards on the back of uncertain demand; input costs, both capital and cash, increased; there was a wave of industry leadership change (at my last count at least ten CEOs changed in 2012); and to close out the year there was the horrific loss of life associated with labour unrest.

A message around learning and change

In the November corner I advised newly graduating engineers to celebrate their achievement, finish their graduate training programmes and achieve professional registration; to find a substantive job as soon as possible, take accountability, be responsible, and learn to be part of a team. I advised them to welcome those difficult jobs in awkward places as adversity builds character, improves creativity, and enhances self-reliance, all of which are critical attributes in the minerals industry.

Depth of our Upcoming Talent

Ihad the honour of opening the 2012 student colloquium last month. What an absolute pleasure to be able to meet and spend time with so many excited, bright, and motivated young people. The presentations were of a high standard technically and generally well presented. This annual engagement reaffirms my belief in the future of our industry – it certainly will be in the hands of fine miners and metallurgists.

After Marikana - The challenge and opportunity

The fundamental tenet of being a registered professional is not to undertake work for which you are not qualified. I am neither a politician, nor a social scientist so have absolutely no qualification to comment on the current labour unrest in the industry and country but, as one who is part of the minerals industry, I feel that comment is necessary. Consequently the comment and views that I express here are my own and do not represent the opinion or position of the SAIMM or my employer in any way.

Capaci Occasio!

I have to confess that over the past year, it has on occasion been challenging to write this column in time, although it has probably been more difficult for Dave, Edith, and now Kelly to maintain their patience and composure while waiting for it!

Mining will take off again

The last month or so has not been a particularly bright period for the mining industry. The platinum industry in particular has had to contract by temporarily closing sections and even mines, while others have had to delay expansion plans. We all know that this is a short-term contraction and that once the world economy recovers, mining will take off again.

Constitution and Bylaws

From time to time, it is necessary for all organizations to take a look at themselves from an organizational perspective to determine whether they are still able to do what they promise to do in the most effective manner. In the case of the SAIMM, this meant looking at our Constitution very carefully, as that is the set of rules according to which we operate. The last important review was in 2006, when it was changed to allow the incorporation of branches in other countries in southern Africa on an equal footing. We became the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The outcome of the latest review was mostly encouraging. For 108 years (and counting) we are still on the track we promised to be on, essentially providing a platform for communication. However, there were also a few items that are now either impossible or impractical to do according to the Constitution.

Danie Krige

It is unusual for this column to be devoted to a particular person. Then again, life is full of exceptions, and the person this column pays tribute to is an exceptional person, a miner who was recently awarded the highest honour a South African miner has ever received.

He was born in 1919 in Bothaville in the Free State and matriculated at the age of 15 from Monument High School in Krugersdorp. When he reached 19, the age when many people finish high school, he already had a Wits bachelor’s degree in mining engineering under his belt. Unlike what one would expect from a particularly bright young person, he did not join academia but instead turned to industry, Anglo Transvaal, to do the hard yards.