By Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp

Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp is an independent consultant with over two decades of industry experience and global exposure, specialising in geological, geotechnical and geometallurgical projects and mining project management. Supplied by Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp

Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp is an independent consultant with over two decades of industry experience and global exposure, specialising in geological, geotechnical and geometallurgical projects and mining project management. Supplied by Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp

Day one – 5 February 2024

The 30th Mining Indaba was held in Cape Town 5–8 February 2024. Three key stand-out African mining sector challenges were highlighted in the keynote speeches and media briefings on the opening day: energy, logistics and crime, amongst others.

In his opening address, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), Gwede Mantashe focused on several pressing issues. He reiterated that a preferred bidder had been selected to develop the mining South African cadastre system over the coming year. He also announced the launch of the Minerals Exploration Fund, worth R500-million to go hand-in-hand with the new South African Critical Minerals Strategy. He noted that the ongoing energy crisis is hoped to be addressed by the Integrated Resource Plan, where the submission of public comments has been extended with one month. The Just Energy Transition is to be implemented at a pace guided by South Africa’s ability to implement it.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that 39% of South African mining was now held by black ownership. He pointed out that the South African mining industry’s significance to the country is indicated by the fact that it accounts for 60% of the country’s exports. However, contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) had dropped by 1% between 2022 and 2023, now set at around 7.5%. Ramaphosa acknowledged the challenges that the industry is facing, both due to global issues (volatile commodity prices and high energy prices, geopolitical tensions) and due to worsening domestic infrastructure problems and the energy crisis. Last year the government set out four objectives to develop the mining sector to improve its global competitiveness: one, to achieve a secure supply of electricity; two, to accelerate economic reforms to improve the operating environment which included the removal of the licencing threshold; three, to identify and tackle illegal mining and damage to the infrastructure – although a special police force supported by the military was deployed to some sites, the problem of illegal mining still remains rampant and the process to seal abandoned mine shafts is on-going; four, ambitions to support the ailing transport infrastructure has, which have fallen short of the mark. Although Ramaphosa pointed out there has been some progress in all of these areas, unfortunately the fact remains that the mining GDP contribution has still dropped and despite government’s positive portrayal, the feeling at the Mining Indaba was that government has still not met sector expectations.

The involvement of the private sector to upgrade and increase the rail and port capacity will be key in securing the continued operation of export functions. The Minerals Council South Africa suggested that although the energy sector appeared to be stabilising, it was not growing sufficiently and at the pace required. The logistics sector, despite minimal progress, is still suffering, and it is anticipated it will take considerably longer to recover.

Although, a preferred bidder as a service provider has now finally been selected to implement the much overdue South African mining online cadastre system, it was indicated by Minister Mantashe before the start of the Indaba that there is no rush to implement the new cadastre. Considering no prospecting or mining rights were issued by the DMRE in 2023 and the massive backlog of over 2 500 applications, the goal of one year to start implementing it, seems too ambitious.

The on-going Just Energy Transition (JET) programme is said to be set to be paced to meet the ability of the country to implement it and develop a green economy justly. Details however, after several years of discussion on the topic, remain vague.

A press briefing highlighted the need to curb the increase of activities of “building mafias” and their impact on the industry. The detrimental effect of widespread copper cable theft affecting mining operations and the urgent need to curtail it was also stressed during the briefing.

Anglo American CEO Duncan Wanblad in his speech focused on the challenges faced in the current mining market and how increased co-operation is needed to remain resilient in the face of rapid changes.

Day two – 6 February 2024

A Minerals Council South Africa media briefing on safety and health in mines in the country included the very sad reality that despite industry efforts and due to a major incident towards the end of 2023, there has been yet another regression in the safety on mines. An interesting insight from Dr Thuthula Balfour, Health Department head, showed a shift of the most common health risk from tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis to hearing loss. Although there is still significant exposure to dust in the mining sector, dust suppression and more advanced mining methods together with effective PPE are reducing the impact.

Hearing loss is still mainly due to prolonged exposure to mechanical and percussion equipment. Developments in for example handheld rockdrills – now lighter and less noisy –are some of the tech advances in recent years, which will help to improve health and safety. There is still a laxness among mine workers regarding the correct use and wearing hearing protection.

The exhibition hall at the Mining Indaba was also a-buzz with discussion focused on their supplier contributions to supporting and advancing positive disruption in the mining sector this year. Stakeholder exhibitors covering all sectors of the mining industry – from manufacturers through to consultants and major mining companies keen to discuss their developments as well as African Governments driving investments in their respective countries – were all eager to network.

Day three – 8 February 2024

The mining industry is one of the most regulated sectors globally, expected to adhere to standards, regulations and various pieces of legislation, depending on their operational location. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) unveiled plans to consolidate responsible mining standards into a single, globally recognised framework. This aims to streamline and simplify the standards their members and other operations that are guided by these standards have to report.

In his milestone 30th address at the Mining Indaba, Ivanhoe Mines executive chairperson Robert Friedland expressed the impact of climate change once again. He noted that the most important future commodity is potable water and that there is a need to balance the water requirements in water-stressed areas and support agricultural development around mining operations. Friedland also pointed out the environmental impact of the mining of raw minerals needed for the energy transition, noting the fact that an EV required six times more minerals and metals than a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle. He also cited the volumes and the massive investment required to install, expand and maintain electrical grids, where copper content makes a staggering contribution.

A panel discussion on the outcomes of COP28, referred to the Loss and Damage Fund that is in the process of being established. This seeks to address the impact on developing countries due to climate change.

These are but a few of the many highlights and insights gleaned at Mining Indaba 2024, where positive disruptive dialogue was had on so many levels within the mining value chain.

For much more on the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2024, go to our events page: https://www.africanmining.co.za/african-mining-events/mining-indaba-2024/