In a bid to revive South Africa’s mining sector several private and public sector stakeholders hope to drive innovation and modernisation through the establishment of a hub to promote mining research and development.
This will empower mines and prepare them for the next generation of modern mining.
This has culminated in the formation of the recently launched Mandela Mining Precinct.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 10 2018
Located in Melville, Johannesburg at the old Chamber of Mines Research Organisation (COMRO) facility at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) site in Carlow road, the Mandela Mining Precinct was officially opened on 14 September 2018 by Science and Technology minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and Mineral Resources minister, Gwede Mantashe.
The launch is one of the outcomes of the Mining Phakisa – a government-led initiative to bring together all stakeholders to tackle impediments to mining and exploration investment and develop a shared vision for long-term competitiveness and transformation of the industry.
Reinvigorating research and development
Founded within a mining sector with a heavily fragmented approach to mining research and development due to the perceived gaps and niche markets identified by individual organisations, the function of the Mandela Mining Precinct is to co-ordinate research activities towards the modernisation of South Africa’s mining operations.
It will do this through the development of next-generation mechanised mining systems, says Mandela Mining Precinct co-director, Alastair Macfarlane.
In response to the need for a systems approach that will consolidate and co-ordinate research activities, the precinct aims to create a single, central entity to guide, co-ordinate and deliver technological innovations and solutions for the mining industry.
This moves away from decentralised organisational initiatives which take place in a discrete fashion where inherent in this situation is the unwarranted duplication of efforts and lack of critical mass essential to research and development.
Speaking at the launch, Macfarlane noted that much scope still exists for the precinct, owing to the fact that South Africa still contains considerable amounts of untapped mineral resources.
With funding in the order of R100 million per annum for the next three years, the Mandela Mining Precinct will primarily be investigating ways to make mining safer, improve productivity, and overcome the challenge of deep and uneconomical mines.
The Mandela Mining Precinct has developed six research programmes which it has been working on for well over a year, with good outcomes from all of them to date.
“Within these research programmes we look at different levels of modernisation and the area of people and how we can make people more effective,” saidcMacfarlane,
He adds that the precinct is not just about developing new equipment to overcome challenges in mining, but rather the development of people, processes and technology – and the integration of all of these together towards the creation of a more modern mining industry.
Also speaking at the launch, Minister Mantashe, who was excited about the establishment of the precinct and its benefit for the industry, noted that mining is an important economic sector that the country needs to strengthen and modernise, as well as grow.
“From contributing 21% towards the country’s GDP in 1970, to only contributing 7.4% in 2017 – the mining sector’s contribution has dramatically declined,” said Mantashe.
Despite this, he noted that the mining sector remained a strong earner of foreign-direct investment (FDI) in the country – netting about 60% of total FDI.
“I believe the precinct is going to allow for the necessary research and development needed to take us further,” he said, calling for the aggressive commercialisation of the products that were under development at the precinct as a means to benefit the economy.
Iterating this, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane believes that the operative nature of the precinct is a good example that she believes can be rolled out sector by sector as a means to boost the country’s economic situation.
Supporting local manufacture and export
The precinct also aims to support and enhance the local manufacture of mining capital equipment and components, to increase local supply and remedy current currency issues through increased exports.
Therefore, an important part of the newly-launched Mandela Mining Precinct is the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA) cluster, which aims to grow the local supply chain of capital equipment for the mining industry by empowering the mining cluster to save and create jobs in mining and the mining industries’ supplier industries.
MEMSA CEO, Dr Paul Jourdan, believes that improved competitiveness and market access will accelerate job creation and industrialisation of the South African economy.
As a result, MEMSA is focusing on rolling out programmes for its members to support their growth, technology development, and competitiveness as a means to increase local content.
The focus on promoting the local manufacture of goods based on local and global IP and innovation, and the export of these goods is essential to usher in a new age of mechanisation in the South African mining industry, as the old model of using cheap migrant labour is no longer sustainable.
Contrary to the popular view that mechanisation will result in significant job losses in the mining industry, research shows it will instead generate additional employment opportunities.
“On the other hand, mechanisation based on locally manufactured equipment has the potential to maintain employment levels.
"For example, if you install a completely mechanised equipment set, from drifter drills to roof bolters and load-haul dumpers, which can all even be controlled remotely, you will employ nearly the same number of people,” Jourdan stresses.
Iterating this, MEMSA chairperson Freddy Mugeri believes that a focused, comprehensive, and progressive localisation strategy will go a long way to mitigate the technical and socio-economic challenges faced by the South African mining industry at present.
Located within the Mandela Mining Precinct, MEMSA’s membership has grown from an initial 13 in 2016 to 22 member companies ranging from emerging to large enterprises; more than a third of which are majority black-owned.