Engineering & Mining Journal

OCT 2018

Engineering and Mining Journal - Whether the market is copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, lead/zinc, PGM, diamonds or other commodities, E&MJ takes the lead in projecting trends, following development and reporting on the most efficient operating pr

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ELECTRA MINING 70 E&MJ • OCTOBER 2018 www.e-mj.com Thousands Gather at Electra Trade shows can measure the business pulse of a country, and Electra Mining Africa held every two years in Johannesburg is no different By Gavin du Venage, South African Editor Held in the sprawling Nasrec complex just south of the city, Electra Mining 2018 hosted 900 exhibitors across five halls. In between the stands with eager sales people, the undercurrent could be felt. Can the beleaguered South African mining industry dig itself out of the hole in which it finds itself? At the height of production in the 1970s, South African mines were refining more than 1,000 tons of gold per year, more than two thirds of global produc- tion at the time. One mine alone, Durban Deep founded in 1896, produced more than US$20 billion worth of gold over its lifetime before it closed in 2001. Today, the country mines less than 140 tons a year, and has plunged from the No. 1 producer to a distant eighth in world rankings, according to the GFMS Gold Survey 2018. Slowing the decline, if not reversing it, has become an urgent priority for the gold miners themselves as well as the government. There's no clear answer as to what it will take to turn gold's production de- cline around, but at least the industry is making its first real efforts to right itself. Electra coincided with the launch of the Mandela Mining Precinct, an initiative to combine state and private sector money into research and development. Unlike its international counterparts in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, South African mining firms spent almost noth- ing on R&D, said Alistair Macfarlane, president of the South African Institute of Mining and Metalurgy. Research and Development Speaking at a symposium held as part of the Electra exhibition, Macfarlane said South African companies were at last rec- ognizing the need for research. "We need to intensify R&D, because if we keep go- ing the way we are, we'll keep losing jobs and shutting mines, especially in the gold and platinum sectors." It's a goal worth pursuing. Macfar- lane noted that South Africa still has around 60,000 tons of gold in the ground — about half of what has already been mined in the past 140 years. "The problem is, the gold that's left is too deep underground, and too low a grade," Macfarlane said. Depths of below 4 km underground are now common. At the same time, the trace amounts of gold per ton of rock is also lower than in the past. Deeper mines come at a cost of lives. Sibanye Stillwater, a gold producer that operates some of South Africa's oldest and deepest mines has already lost 20 men this year, half the 45 fatalities the industry has suffered so far in 2018. The answer is probably going to be new technology such as robotics for deep- er ores. "Technology is needed to devel- op those resources below 4 km," Mac- farlane added. Robotics could help with the deeper level ore bodies, blast-less extraction in the higher levels. The launch of the Mandela Mining Pre- cinct is intended to bring research and de- velopment under one roof and speed up the adoption of new technology. The precinct will combine the efforts of the state-funded Council for Scientific and Industrial Re- search and the Universities of Johannes- burg, Pretoria and the Witwatersrand. Meanwhile, the local industry will also have to confront the reality that jobs will be lost as it adopts new technology. A recent study by the Minerals Council of South Africa showed employment had al- ready decreased from 166,000 in 2007 to 112,000 in 2017, a fall of 32%. By next year, jobs could fall below 100,000, a figure last seen in 1910. Paul Jourdan, project manager at the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa, told a gathering of mining executives at Electra that he hopes some- The latest in mining equipment and technology was on display at Electra Mining in Johannesburg during September.

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