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Farmer’s footsteps

By Andrew Lanham, Editor, Mining Review Africa

Being in my mid 60s, I am old enough to remember the days of magazines before computers, e-mail and the Internet. How we managed I do not know. I recall sending my typewritten pages off to a company who specialized in setting type. A couple of days later, you would get ‘galleys’ back from the typesetter. These galleys were long strips of paper with the text set in justified format, which one then cut up and stuck down to other sheets of paper. As I sit at my magic Mac, the word primitive does come to mind. Who remembers a product called Letraset, which was used for making up headlines?

The business of producing magazines has become much simpler with the advent of modern electronic technology and communications. It is possible to prepare a magazine without ever leaving one’s office. However, articles that are cooked up off the Internet are a bit like yesterday’s leftovers. They carry adequate information, but lack the zest that personal contact and a site visit brings.

To illustrate, not so long ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing a typical South African farmer, and was asking him about the success of his business. He was from Upington, and his humour was about as dry as the climate in that sun-baked region. He said, in measured tones: “It is a saying here that the best fertilizer is a farmer’s footprints in the fields.”

One cannot visit every mine that one carries articles on in a particular edition. However, good mining writers need to get the dust of mines on their shoes every now and again.

So I am pleased, as the recently appointed editor of this magazine, that my publishers, Spintelligent, share this view. “Go and see and bring back firsthand reports,” they said. So I am looking forward to bringing you more eyewitness reports in the magazines to come.

In this edition, I have written a long article about the new coal mines of Mozambique. As South Africa’s Home Affairs Department had lost my application for a renewed passport, I was not able to travel to Moatize to see these mines for myself. However, it was the response from the mines that I found interesting. I phoned their head offices situated around the world first of all to find out who I should be talking to. Once I had done that, I then tried to contact the various mines’ media liaison people.

The response was non-existent. Breaking my own rule, I had trawled the internet for information on these new coal mines, which is much more time consuming that being able to carry out an interview with someone who is an authority. Internet information can be inaccurate, so to counter this, I sent the relevant text to the five coal mines I had written about.

Once again there was no reply. I was surprised as listed companies are usually very concerned about what is being written about them. In preparing the Mozambique article, I have been careful and tried to cross check my facts wherever possible. But I would have been much more comfortable, had someone qualified from the mining companies concerned reviewed my text. The one exception was Rio Tinto who at least had the grace to reply, even though it was to say that, as the mine was under construction, they would not be able to let me visit the operation.

With the other companies that I approached repeatedly, I have to wonder if they extend the same level of courtesy to their shareholders?

Fortunately, my colleague Lionel Williams has had better luck in face-to-face (face-to-telephone) interviews. Read his articles about Resolute in Tanzania, Petra’s Williamson mine and Beacon Hill in Mozambique.

The bright spot in this edition was my interview with Don Duncan, the CEO of Savannah diamonds who has a new theory about where diamonds are located in Tanzania. Even though he is a man of considerable sagacity, he took time to explain in some detail, about why there has been little success in the finding of significant new diamond mines in Tanzania.

Mining Review Africa wishes Don all success in finding new carats and we look forward to bringing you the breaking news when that happens.

To view articles from Mining Review Africa magazine, edition 4
click here.

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