What are your top 10 priorities for building a new mine in Africa? A few years ago the answers were likely to include the words ‘profitable’, ‘efficient’ and ‘logistical challenges must be easily overcome’. Today however, the answer is far more complex and the list substantially longer.
The reality is this – the requirements to develop new mining projects in Africa are evolving rapidly and the criteria to secure success becoming increasingly challenging – if you don’t know what you are doing, that is.
If you want to build a mine, you need to consider first and foremost the people/communities that live on, around and near your potential mining site of choice. Gone are the days where you identified your sweet spot and simply moved in, regardless of who lived there and their level of dependence on the land to provide. Mines must learn to live in harmony, with their environment yes (that is a given), but also the people who share the same land.
In a word, I’m talking about sustainability. Sustainable mines are happy mines and happy mines pay respect to the environment in which they operate. This issue of Mining Review Africa discusses this topic in depth. And let me be the first to say my eyes have been opened to some of the realities associated with this topic. A community holds the power to stop mining in its tracks or even prevent a mine from moving off the starting blocks.
But what do communities who live ‘in the middle of nowhere’ know? It appears to be quite a lot, actually. Thanks to mobile devices (cell phones, smart phones and web connectivity), which in many instances are valued more highly than other basic amenities, people are tuning into the world and are becoming more informed about their human rights and knowledgeable about global trends such as climate change. That said, they want answers from their potential mining partners and expect nothing less than a givegive relationship, as opposed to a give-take relationship. They want upliftment, skills transfer, job creation, infrastructure development, etc. and their government wants it too. If you take this into consideration, you are more likely to attain your environmental and social licence and if you keep your community promises, can mine ‘happily ever after’.
This seems fair to me but only when the benefits gained for both parties are equal. Mines are NOT surrogate governments and in many instances governments are abusing the mines, expecting them to deliver on their behalf in exchange for granting mining rights and environmental permits. It is the way of Africa in many instances and mines must do their best to deliver in the face of such difficulties.
It isn’t all bad news though. A happy community stands you in good stead with the government. This means information exchange is an easy process and decisions passed down from the top positive. So get your hands dirty and work with the people I say – but find balance and a happy medium, and ensure that all the other priorities required to be successful don’t get pushed off the list entirely.
In case you are wondering, I haven’t forgotten about our environment. The sustainability supplement feature deals with some of the biggest challenges South Africa is facing as a result of mining. Water being one of them, and more specifically, acid mine drainage. Want to know the latest status on South Africa’s great acid mine drainage crisis? Turn to page 60. Fortunately, it seems the crisis is not a crisis anymore.
Government has stepped up to the plate and is sorting this historical catastrophe out. Hallelujah! The Central Basin’s shiny new acid mine drainage treatment plant, on the brink of start-up, is a massive achievement for the country and represents a solution to a major problem – well done to the Department of Water Affairs and TCTA!
In huge anticipation of this great feature, don’t skip over the issue’s diamonds and Southern Africa projects. It is an exciting time to be in diamonds as demand creeps towards overtaking supply. This is driving massive momentum in the sector and the new projects emerging as a result are something to keep a lookout for. Equally exciting are the projects I present within Southern Africa – which I classify as rare and unusual – so see for yourself and let me know what you think.