Northam Booysendal
Northam Booysendal

Laura-cornishBy Laura Cornish, editor of Mining Review Africa.

My recent visit to Northam Platinum’s Booysendal (UG2 North) mine reminded me why I haven’t grow bored of the industry I write about – day after day – for more than a decade now.

It’s because no two mines are exactly the same and every site visit I’ve made leaves its own unique impression. I truly believe this having visited many mines across different continents over many years. Honestly, if I think back to some of the mines I have had the pleasure of seeing for myself, they each offered an experience unlike any other, allowing me to remember each one for its own special reason.

In many ways, a mine is like a person – it has unique characteristics, appearance and style (even when owned by the same group). The people on the ground contribute significantly to this, and meeting them and sharing in their passion for the way they run and ‘care’ for their mine again leaves a lasting impression.

There are other elements coupled with this that makes ‘the job’ so worthwhile from a journalist’s perspective – learning and experiencing new things.

One can never really stop learning in the mining sector. If each mine has something different to offer, then each mine offers the opportunity to learn something new – and I have, and will continue to do so as I expand my site visit portfolio.

Take Booysendal for example. Ten years into my career and it was my first time using a chairlift to travel down the decline. Amazing it seems, even to me, but it’s true. And the experience has left a permanent mark in my memory – an effective, simple method of moving mineworkers to their points of destination – quickly and safely. I know this transportation technique is not new, but I for the first time got to see why mining companies spend the cash to incorporate it into their underground infrastructure.

When one must travel (in some cases) considerably more than 1 km just to reach the end of the decline before making their way to their machine of operation or the face, it makes perfect sense. Productivity, that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. And because the chairlift is constantly moving, there are no constraints to moving large volumes of people underground quickly.

Imagine the advantages this would provide to our deep level gold mines if such a technique could be deployed there. Moving vertically as opposed to horizontally however poses a challenge which would need to be overcome.

I will also never forget meeting Queenie, a shift supervisor at Booysendal. She left me inspired – young, strong and passionate about her work. Kitted in her mining gear and ensuring her teams, of men, produce the required development/mining results daily is not to be sniffed at. Her fearless nature could not be denied and she is living proof that mining doesn’t have to be a man’s world.

Queenie is leading the way forward for women mineworkers and mine leaders everywhere and showing that despite the challenges associated with the softer sex in the mining world, they can be overcome. She in fact left me so enthused that I bravely gave the task of mining a go – loading and hauling, steering my LHD truck between underground passageways. If Queenie can do it, so could I – in one of Booysendal’s modern and very realistic simulators of course.

Again, another unforgettable experience. With an audience behind me watching my every move, I carefully steered my truck into position, loaded my bucket of material, drove it to its next point of destination and tipped – all without stalling or ramming into any walls. And I repeated the steps many times. Apparently, I did quite well for my first time. Yes, I was a little slow, but I was impressed that I could do it, and so was my audience. It isn’t as easy as it looks!

I am left with the utmost respect for the men, and women, who operate these highly valuable machines. They require skill, concentration and a sound knowledge of many controls that do many different things. If my career in mining journalism doesn’t last, at least I have a Plan B to fall on now.

With my trip to Booysendal concluded, I recommend you to turn page 16 in the May 2015 edition of Mining Review Africa to read about this fascinating operation – yes, because I had such a great time on site, but also because it is without question a mine of the future with unlimited potential for expansion and growth. Steered by a general manager who thinks outside the box and is ready to break through traditional mining boundaries, it has made my Top 10 best mining visits and projects to date! Read it for yourself, I know you will agree.