The SAIMM is a professional institute with local and international links aimed at assisting members source information about technological developments in the mining, metallurgical and related sectors.
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Journal President's Cornerpages

Change

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.

Relationships

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.