Stronger mineral markets underpin a more upbeat mood at the Investing in African Mining Indaba underway in Cape Town, but the really important messages from opinion leaders at the event have the sound of ushering in an age of mining differently.
“Encouraging signs at this year’s Indaba include more junior miners and explorers pitching exciting projects around Africa; these were thin on the ground in recent years,” said Andrew van Zyl, partner and principal consultant at SRK Consulting. “Significantly, however, we are also hearing more assertive calls for more cost-effective application of mining investments – with greater collaboration and shared value among stakeholders.”
Van Zyl highlighted how quickly the conditions for mining can change, for better or for worse, making it difficult to generalise about where the best investment destinations lie. It was increasingly clear, though, that short termism – whether adopted by companies or governments – undermined the sustainability of individual projects and indeed the sector as a whole.
“Closer collaboration between parties can create a more conducive environment for mining in Africa, especially when the commodity is not a precious metal, and requires longer term and more diverse investments in infrastructure and in-country capacity,” he said. “Broader engagement will be essential going forward between governments and mining companies, and this responsibility cuts both ways.”
Development and application of more productive technology was another key focus area at this Indaba, according to SRK partner and principal mining engineer, Marcin Wertz.
“Certainly there is a more positive sentiment among miners, but the approach is necessarily measured as there are a number of mining-related fields in which ‘business as usual’ is no longer sufficient for success,” said Wertz. “Technological innovation is featuring strongly, and there is growing interest in how these advances can make mining safer and more sustainable.”
He said the top mining risks discussed at the Indaba conference were varied – relating to the environment, geology, safety, financial issues and the social licence to mine – but performance in all these elements could be improved with proper alignment of strategy and technology.
Recognising the role that technology can play in this new era for mining, SRK SA chairman, William Joughin, presented to conference a range of technological innovations developed and applied by SRK in its mining project work; Joughin highlighted the need for mines to embrace these advances as active participants in the fourth industrial revolution.
“The digital age is giving us the ability to collect and analyse vast amounts of important data, for instance, which makes for better engineering decisions – whether these relate to rock mechanics, water management or social impact,” said Wertz. “The current optimism about mining’s future prospects need to be based on this more innovative and inclusive approach if it is to provide the longer-term benefits to all stakeholders.”