Mining Indaba: Mining at the crossroads of the fourth industrial revolution

By Elisee Isheloke, writer, MiningIR

Panellists at the Indaba conference are adamant that mining still has a bright future despite some of the challenges that must be addressed. This view is shared by the South African government and the industry according to different panellists. Experts and industrials from abroad also echoed the view.

During. Number of sessions across the first day of the conference, some of the concepts that repeatedly emerged included the relevance of technology and the importance of diversifying the economy of a country. It was revealed that more gold deposits have been discovered recently in South Africa. There is no doubt that there is a room for some mechanisation of mineral processing going forward owing to the fact that it is difficult to reach those new discoveries otherwise.

In a keynote interview with three panellists before lunch it was said that it is only when we work together in partnership as the government, the society and the industry that we can move forward economic development. The media which was blamed to be sometimes bias by the minister, was said however to have the potential to play a critical role going forward.

In view of the above, Cheryl Carlolus, Chair of Gold Fields, said “Mining must be more constructive, more inclusive and more beneficial for the stakeholders”. The mining charter discussions, although a good thing, did not impress certain investors who want to see more done. A panellist showed that South Africa’s desire is to create new jobs inline with the fourth industrial revolution.

The issue of women being given responsibilities was discussed during the interview. The audience had laughed when Cheryl said “When women drive cars they don’t burn clutches”. Delegates were told by the Minister of Minerals Resources, Gwede Mantashe, that 14% of workers in the mining sector in South Africa (SA) are women, and SA is willing to do even more to emancipate women. All cheered when Minister Mantashe declared that “women’s work is soft but hard”. He said that women are very effective and solution oriented, which is why SA wants more of them in a position of leadership.

The Anglo American CEO, Mark Cuttifani, made the point that “The biggest problem is the sovereign relations with the mining sector and the government”. He felt that the current mining charter was not impressive. Anglo American strategy is focusing on reimagining mining to improve people’s lives. A panellist, who with the CEO represented Anglo American, summarised their strategy as follows:
“Step change innovation in technology and sustainability + working hand-in-hand towards sustainable mining equals purposeful innovation”.

There were many more sessions happening during what was a beautiful sunny day in Cape Town at the 25th Mining Indaba today, including an investor network gathering which looked at the issue of investment from a different angle. In another session the relevance of marijuana as an alternative investment opportunity to gold or battery metals was debated, with one attendee claiming “It is becoming difficult to find future capital in mining nowadays”. Whilst some investors call for more investment in marijuana, the majority declared they would rather seem out further opportunities in gold exploration. Marijuana was viewed by many as purely an agricultural activity, never to replace or complement mining.

At a further session the volatility of the Democratic Republic of Congo was discussed from the viewpoint of mining investment. Whilst investors like Ford are said to take advantage of technology the complexity of supply chain was said to remain a major stumbling block.

Dr Elisee Isheloke, PhD, is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on the Minerals to Metals Initiative in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is writing for MiningIR in a personal capacity.

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