Since the dawn of civilisation, the development of the human race has depended on the discovery, processing, development and use of materials. So significant were certain materials that stages in technological progress are marked by the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages.
When gold was first discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886, few people, even in their wildest dreams, believed that reserves could last over a hundred years and become the mainstay of South Africa’s mineral industry. It has been the anchor of these value-adding activities which also produce coal, steel, platinum, chromium, ferrochrome, manganese, vanadium, titanium, diamonds and other minerals. The minerals industry continues to dominate South Africa’s foreign exchange earnings.
The exploitation of minerals sparked off the development of an industrial society unequalled on the African continent and attracted investment capital from abroad, stimulated agriculture, industrial development, and extensive transport and financial infrastructure. In recent years there have been several large ventures based on minerals such as aluminium, stainless steel, titanium projects steel production, besides a huge number of small scale mining operations.
South Africa possesses huge reserves of chromium, iron, uranium, platinum, vanadium, titanium, lead, zinc, manganese and many other metals required by many countries as the basis for the production of goods. Most of these reserves consist of ores that are complex in character and research is necessary before effective processes for their beneficiation can be put into operation.
The minerals and metals industry has created many opportunities for employment and career development – “Build through education”. The University of the Witwatersrand, University of Pretoria, and the University of Johannesburg have their roots in the School of Mines established in 1896 in Kimberley. Strong minerals and metals departments exist at these institutions, and other ‘minerals and metals-related’ courses are now also established at several other institutions of higher learning in South Africa.
The minerals and metals industry directly employs many of the economically active population of South Africa, and is a major contributor to the South African economy. While the number of persons employed in the mining industry has declined over the past decade, the employment in associated materials technology has increased. This follows the trends in the developed countries of the world, all of which continue to rely on the raw products from developing nations like South Africa.
South Africa is a major world producer of platinum, gold, coal, chrome, iron ore, diamonds and many other minerals, and has developed the skills and technology to add value to minerals by producing steel, copper, stainless steel, and more recently, aluminium for the world market.
The success of the South African minerals and metals industry in the past has been due to its people. There is no doubt that the future holds challenges and rewards for new generations choosing one of the many careers that the minerals and metals industries offer.
The major mining companies have become international role players with operations on nearly every continent, providing new opportunities to their employees. The experience gained in South Africa can be applied in the rest of Africa, Australia, or North America making you truly a citizen of the world.