Another Mining Indaba has come and gone. With every notch I add to my Indaba belt, (I now have eight), I become increasingly aware of the extent to which this industry has changed since I first became a part of it.

While the mining industry may have the longest project development timeframes, more than 10 years in most cases from conceptualisation to first production, the same cannot be said for many of the external factors influencing the true nature of that very project’s evolution.

Our 2014 Indaba reminded me of this very fact. It has changed considerably over the years I have been attending, in terms of numbers, content, networking, atmosphere, sentiment, etc. Hard to believe considering the conference just passed its 20 year anniversary. It has lost its shine and along with it the thrill I normally feel checking in, running around and frantically meeting with everyone I’ve come to know over the years.

Traversing exhibition stands required no pre-planned route this year; there weren’t enough people for that. It’s hard to believe considering I remember wading through seas of people from stand to stand and everywhere in between – just a few years ago. Finding a parking space, regardless of time of day, was possible. Last year, if you weren’t in and parked by 8am, walking from your hotel was the preferred method of transportation.

The convention centre’s surrounding hotels and venues were more populated with ‘Indaba delegates’ than Indaba itself and to be honest, if I didn’t know any better, I was walking around under the illusion that I was attending an Electra-equivalent with more suppliers displaying their goods than ever before. What happened to our oncethriving junior sector, proudly displaying their great project prospects – they were missing – from ‘the world’s greatest and most well attended investing in African mining Indaba’. With tight finance budgets, is it really fair to have to pay in dollars to attend an African conference? Is this the reason it is becoming increasingly smaller and less well attended? You know the answer.

Our minister bought no vote of investor confidence with her I’m afraid, but this was really no surprise. Labour strikes, a crippling exchange rate, regulatory uncertainty – Shabangu skirted the issues as if they didn’t exist assuring her audience that South Africa is the ‘mining investor destination of choice’. I thought this year would be different, I thought honesty would prevail and confidence regained as a result, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I heard her mining tenure is up however, could this be true?

With no exciting buzz in the air to lift my mining spirits I’m not quite sure what to make of Indaba week and neither do any of the people who I chatted to while there. But for those of you who know me, I pride myself in finding that silver lining, and I did! I have come away with a selection of great stories to write and share, probably better than ever before. This is probably because those who did attend Indaba, or at least came to Cape Town, truly had something exciting to share. Networking was more personal and time spent with familiar faces more than a ‘fly-by’. The result? Top-notch quality content, which can be rare to find in a somewhat repressed market. I’m so excited about our March issue – it will be a great read!

Indaba aside
Putting the February issue together has been a great and ‘remember-able’ issue for me. It took me to Tete, Mozambique for the first time where it took only hours to become acquainted with the country’s ‘famous’ coking coal territory. Thank you Beacon Hill Resources for hosting me and sharing your visionary pathway to ‘steel greatness’. I look forward to returning towards the end of the year when your new plant is ready to roll.

This issue also looks at the future of South Africa’s deep level gold mining sector and for this I present you with a crystal ball since I don’t think there is a more concrete way of predicting this sector’s future. I have chatted to a variety of experts on the subject and one thing is clear – we all have a common goal, which is ensuring our mines keep mining. They are after all still a significant economic contributor and a massive employer – 500 000 people – directly. A lot of technological work has to be done though and government intervention and industry collaboration is urgently required. But I know everyone invited will come to the gold party and find a solution to operating profitably, safely and comfortably at depths which as yet remain unheard of.

One thing is for sure, if the world is making plans to mine platinum on asteroids, mining on earth at great depth is surely just as possible.

By Laura Cornish, Editor, Mining Review Africa

Click here to read articles from Mining Review Africa magazine, edition 2 2014.