The Mandela Mining Precinct, an outcome of the Mining Phakisa, was launched on Friday, 14 September 2018 by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe and the former Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. The Mandela Mining Precinct is a dedicated R&D hub located in Melville, Johannesburg. It has been set up to find solutions to the problems facing the mining sector, and to address the need for a vigorous, vibrant and adequately resourced local mining research, development and innovation community. It will address not only the technical challenges but also the socio-economic imbalances in mining.
The Precinct was established as a partnership between government and the Minerals Council of South Africa, formerly the Chamber of Mines, and the launch was attended by captains of the mining industry, including Roger Baxter and Neal Froneman.
Also based at the Mandela Mining Precinct is the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA), which was launched simultaneously by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). MEMSA aims to grow the local supply chain of capital equipment for the mining industry, and will receive an R8 million sponsorship from the DTI’s Cluster Development Programme.
The Minerals Council of South Africa has pledged R33 million for the 2018 calendar year, and will honour a funding commitment ratio of 1:2 against funding from government on an annual basis.
Minister Mantashe told the more than 200 guests at the launch that partnerships were vital for growth in the sector. Partnership, he stressed, required mutual respect “and an appreciation that we need each other and are better together. Partnership is a conscious exercise; if you don’t do it consciously, it doesn’t work.”
The Minister said that over the past few decades the mining sector had experienced huge challenges, with its contribution to the country’s GDP declining dramatically, from 21% in 1970 to 7,4% in 2017. “We are in discussions with industry with the aim of improving our contribution to the GDP. We must strengthen it, modernise and grow the industry.”
The Minister added that mining had to be treated with respect. He said the common expression in the sector was, “if it is not grown, it is mined”. He said current and future technology would depend on what it mined.
Referring to the MEMSA exhibition that accompanied the launch, the Minister urged mining companies to source their equipment from the local companies that were exhibiting, as they were producing better equipment than their global counterparts. While jobs were being shed in mining, the Minister added, more jobs could be created in associated sectors, such as the mining equipment manufacturing sector.
About US$2 billion worth of mining capital equipment is imported into South Africa annually, with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) representing another $2 billion annual market, translating into a niche market larger than that of the European Union. This represents an enormous opportunity for MEMSA to leverage in terms of import displacement.
The Mandela Mining Precinct is in line with South Africa’s commitment to increasing its investment in research and development. This currently stands at 0,77% of GDP, and the aim is to increase it to 1,5%. This can only happen if the country has practical programmes in place, and the Precinct is one of these.
Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said the Mandela Mining Precinct was a good illustration of public-private partnerships in action. “We are setting an example, showing that, working together, we can place our country and our people on a higher developmental trajectory.”
The Mandela Mining Precinct and the activities associated with it represent a new dawn for collaboration in mining research, development and innovation. All stakeholders – including government, mining companies, local mining equipment manufacturers and the research community – acknowledge the need for a coherent, collaborative approach to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector. It is hoped that this partnership will stimulate the transformation of South Africa's comparative advantage in the minerals sector into a competitive one.
“The modernisation of mining, which includes mechanisation and automation, is said to bring opportunities that outweigh the projected challenges, and is therefore deemed necessary,” Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said.
“This conversion will broadly contribute towards the survival of the South African mining industry through the mining of lower-grade ores, as well as deeper resources, thereby extending the lives of mines. In addition, the adoption of technological developments and advancements will contribute towards improved health and safety, and facilitate the sector’s migration from dangerous, labour-intensive platforms to the government’s goal of zero harm,” the Minister said.
Also speaking at the launch, MEMSA CEO Dr Paul Jourdan said that MEMSA was focusing on rolling out programmes to support its members’ growth, technology development and competitiveness.
“Our short-term goal is to increase local content, which will ultimately require a dedicated incentive, especially with regard to capex. This means we also have to increase factory-floor and manufacturing competitiveness, and look at innovation, technology, quality and pricing,” Dr Jourdan said.
He added that the focus on capital equipment was essential to usher in a new age of mechanisation in South Africa’s mining industry, as the old model of using cheap migrant labour was no longer sustainable.
Contrary to the popular view that mechanisation will result in significant job losses in the mining industry, research indicates that it will generate additional employment opportunities.
“Mechanisation based on locally manufactured equipment has the potential to maintain employment levels,” Dr Jourdan said. “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.”
MEMSA Chairperson Freddy Mugeri echoed this view. “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,” he said.