The mining industry accounts for about 20% of all investment in South Africa and generates R 441 billion in expenditure annually, of which R 407 billion is spent locally.
Despite its importance, the mining industry is facing severe pressure on various fronts, including costs, environmental liability, and the lack of a cohesive strategy in terms of minerals demanded by the future green economy.
“On a global front, mining operations face severe economic and financial challenges, including escalating costs, reduction in resources, labour availability, and effective labour utilisation.
“The gold mining industry, particularly in South Africa, is facing gold price volatility, where rising costs, decreasing commodity prices, lower ore grades and labour issues are squeezing profit margins and ultimately affecting competitiveness in the industry,” said Tshego Motsoenyane, Chief Operating Officer at Ncamiso Mining.
“This is a catch-22 in terms of the growth of the South African industry, as it makes strategic planning very difficult.”
Motsoenyane, who is a speaker at the Sustainability in Mining Seminar, which will be held at the CSIR International Convention Centre adds that the sustainability of mining in South Africa is heavily affected by the social implications of widespread labour unrest.
She said in a statement, “The company and employee goal alignment issues affect productivity and profit yield resulting in further wage issues. Labour unrest implies a lack of trust and transparency between the mining companies and their employees.
“If these issues are not addressed, the sustainability of the industry is seriously compromised.”
Mosa Mabuza, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Geoscience, agreed with Motsoenyane, adding that as the world is making the transition to a low-carbon society, mining companies and stakeholders have to realise that great quantities of metals and minerals are going to be required in order to manufacture the clean technologies that the green economy needs.
“We have to ask ourselves, where should exploration efforts be focused? What kind of minerals are we likely to find in different locations? When we know this, we can decide what kind of agreements countries – especially in Africa, need to make in order to make the most of the minerals.”
Sourcing sustainable mineral supplies
Data and demand forecasts on the sustainability of global mineral supplies in coming decades show that not enough mining exploration is taking place to keep up with the future demand for minerals and that mineral recycling alone won’t fill the gap.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) play a key role in this regard. “With GIS,” says Mabuza, “we can overlay and analyse interdisciplinary data, such as geological maps, geochemical surveys, geophysical images, drillhole data and mineral resource studies. When supplied to mining companies, this information helps them to better understand the geographic or spatial relationships that impact mining and exploration concerns around sustainability, profitability, and environmental issues.”
Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, assures the industry that there is a silver lining. “By thoroughly integrating sustainability principles in mining planning and operations, mining companies can reduce the sector’s current social and environmental deficit while growing the economy and creating jobs.”