Where has the past month gone? Have you ever felt so busy that time was flying right past you? It is sheer madness but in my case has been sheer excitement as well.
I spent the first week of September in Perth, Australia for the annual Africa Down Under conference and loved every minute of it. Beautiful city, amazing infrastructure, fantastic food – all topped by a well organised and run conference overloaded with the best content an African-focused mining journalist could dream of.
In the space of three days delegates were presented with a vast array of speakers from numerous companies operating, developing and exploring mining projects in Africa – right across the continent. This was accompanied by high level expert discussions on the challenges of working in Africa, the current status of the mining economy in general and what to expect from the future. I left Australia with such a huge quantity of great information to share with you I’m not quite sure where to start.
There were a number of standouts for me, I must add, which included a fascinating talk by Professor David Heymann, head and senior fellow for the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House in the UK. He took his audience, and certainly me, through a journey back to the 1970s when the first Ebola outbreak was ‘discovered’ and how the disease has progressed since then. In a nutshell, he believes the hospitals are largely to blame for the current epidemic. Unsanitary conditions and the use of unsterilised equipment by untrained or poorly trained nurses and doctors has been and remains the primary cause of its spread, Heymann states.
I know this is not ground-breaking information but nonetheless it’s hard to believe that the solution to the disease is also the cause for its uncontrollable spread. The first Ebola epidemic outbreak ended when the hospital in the DRC (or Zaire at the time) was closed because all the staff had died and the infection lost its ‘spreading’ node. Why was nothing concrete realised or established as a result of this outcome? Sadly, the Ebola numbers are still escalating as I write this but hopefully global commitments to stop it will stop it. Learning from past mistakes shouldn’t still be on the ‘list of things to do’ in Africa – it is a pity to learn such a simple lesson the hard way.
Of equal significance to the project talks were the presentations by a fairly substantial number of African mining ministers or ministerial committee members (from Namibia and South Africa through to Mali, Guinea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and even Niger and Sudan, to name a few) – all taking their 15 minute time slots to highlight the benefits of investing in their countries. Although they did not all speak English very well, they all delivered their presentations in English, on their own with no interpreters, and that alone left me impressed. In fact, they all made good cases for their respective countries and I appreciated how they conveyed their intense desire to build their economies and their belief that the private sector and mining in particular has a role to play in achieving growth. Naturally, they all have a long way to go still, but no one can deny that they have already come a long way towards building their economies and working to deliver better lives for their people.
The middle of September took me away from my desk again – a little closer to home this time. The biennial Electra Trade Show was as always huge and brimming with suppliers and service providers ready to engage with attendees and discuss their latest product innovations and technologies. And there were plenty to choose from. I’m not sure as I write this if the show achieved its visitor target – 38 000 people – but I would certainly believe they did, judging by the number of exhibitors. I only wish I had had more time to engage with each and every company there but I know everyone agrees it just isn’t physically possible. I hope it was a successful show for you, as much as it was for me.
And in between all the wonderful talks, shows and events I made the time to put together what is one of my favourite issues of the year so far – a comprehensive update on the rare earths market in particular. Where are our African projects? What are they up to and where are they going? It is a fascinating industry and therefore an even more fascinating read.
So let me take a breath, refocus after an incredible month and step forward into the next issue which I promise will be full of great stories and insights from some of the best presentations from Africa Down Under. And I guarantee exclusivity as one of only two (I believe) South African journalists in attendance.