Engineering & Mining Journal

OCT 2018

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ELECTRA MINING OCTOBER 2018 • E&MJ 71 www.e-mj.com day the country will become a major incu- bator of technology, for local use as well as for export. "True modernization will mean a net job loss, but we could trans- form South Africa into the preferred-sup- plier for engineering and equipment," Jordan said. South Africa's demand for mining related equipment and technology was about double that of Europe, which meant domestic needs could absorb and support an indigenous technology industry. Further afield, Africa was also devel- oping into a "massive" market for mining equipment, Jourdan noted. "The objec- tive will be to grow quality jobs, and de- velop a cadre of competent technicians. This will help absorb the job losses in the conventional mining sector." Some believe the answer to reviving South Africa's gold industry lies beyond technology. An astounding 6,000 aban- doned mines now dot the country, many of which could be opened again, believes professor Steven Rupprecht at the Uni- versity of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johan- nesburg, also speaking at Electra. The trick he said will be to run these as small-scale less capital-intensive oper- ations. A case study presented at Electra looked at a former Anglo American mine that would require around $100 million to run using conventional South African methods. However, running the same mine using a modest budget of under just $4 million could also bring it back into opera- tion. Old mines usually still had technical data that meant much of the geo-mapping had already been done, saving the cost of new exploration. "There's no reason small- scale mines can't make good money, and they'll help make up for larger operations shutting down," said Rupprecht. Challenges to refurbishing old mines were many, however. Flooding is a com- mon problem with abandoned shafts in the Witwatersrand area. Surface equip- ment, too, would need to be replaced as these were often vandalized and stripped for scrap metal. However, small-scale op- erations could be made viable, employing up to 300 people per site, as opposed to the 3,000 they would have previously sent underground per shift. Pirate Mining To some extent, many abandoned mines are already producing gold — just not offi- cially. Illegal diggers have moved in, using basic tools to scrape for gold. Popularly called 'Zama Zamas' (the name means 'we are trying' in a local language) these miners will live for months at a time underground. Unsurprisingly, casualties among Zama Zamas can be high, as they work without any legal protection including the severe safety standards that formal opera- tions must adhere to. They also fall prey to gangs who fight turf wars underground for access to the most lucrative reefs; at least 70 have been killed in the past year in gang slayings, often committed hundreds of meters underground, says Pontsho Led- waba, a lecturer at the school of mining engineering, also from Wits university and addressing a symposium at Electra. Currently, South African law prohibits individuals from owning raw gold, she ex- plained. Only individuals and companies with a license from the Department of Mineral Affairs can extract and process bullion, and securing permits is a long and costly process. This hasn't stopped many ex-mine- workers and other freelancers from going ahead and breaking into abandoned shafts anyway. Ledwaba says it is time the Zama Zamas were brought in from the legal wilderness. "Legalizing informal mining will help eliminate criminal elements that dominate the sector," she said. The Zama Zamas could also help end another endur- ing problem of mining; bringing in more black participation to a sector dominated by mostly white owned corporations. "South Africa has struggled to in- crease black participation in mining," Ledwaba said. "Legalizing small scale prospecting could help distribute the benefits of mining." Hi-tech Options Technology meanwhile, is taking the lead in mining innovation. Among the usual exhibitors at Electra, were some that were introducing new ideas to reduce cost and improve productivity. Rocketmine for instance is a Johan- nesburg based drone services provider, that operates across Africa and as far afield as Mexico. Drones are used for site observation and planning, says Nomthi Mnisi, marketing manager at Rocketmine. "Drones reduce on-site time, and mean less walking but more accuracy for technical staff." Another technology solution was demonstrated by Kal Tire, Canada's larg- est independent tire dealer serving retail, commercial and mining. Kal Tire has greatly expanded its African footprint, and provides a complete ecosystem of tire management. "We've grown quite dramat- Electra Mining hosted 900 exhibitors across five halls at the NASREC Center.

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