Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: Global pressure is being applied on the government to make South African mining revenues fully transparent.
Creamer: This is all part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and world wide this initiative is trying to force countries that are mineral rich to open their books and be fully transparent.
South Africa was invited to join this in 2002 and decided to spurn the idea, because we felt we are holier than this extractive industries initiative and that our public accounts were open. What is happening now is that countries around the world have joined this.
Paragons a virtue like Norway are actually members of this transparency initiative. Barrack Obama has said that America is also going to sign up to this. Now, South Africa has ended up in the lowest rung of hell along with countries like Angola, which are known to be corrupt.
Zimbabwe where there is suspicion of diamond corruption surfacing regularly. We are digging in and saying that we don’t need to sign this there is no strife here, but it is all about unlocking proper wealth from the world countries that have metals and minerals. There are about 3,5-billion people living in these mineral-rich countries and often they see the minerals as a curse, because they don’t get to filter down.
The purpose of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is to make resources a blessing for particularly people down the line. We see now at the Mandela Institute discussion at Wits this week there were passionate calls particularly by Peter Leon, the leading mining lawyer, for South Africa to recant and to actually join this mining transparency group.
Gwala: A study on the economic viability of exporting manganese through the port of Saldanha Bay has been presented to Transnet.
Creamer: This is now another way of exporting our manganese. We know that Transnet is dead keen on taking the Coega route. They want to go on to the Eastern Cape and they’ve said come hell or high water, they want to take this manganese to the new port of Coega in the Eastern Cape.
Of course, manganese has been going down the general freight line to Port Elizabeth for the past half century. Industry has been doing a study of its own and they found out that the numbers are exceedingly good if you actually use the iron-ore line down to Saldanha and you take manganese down that line as well. So their study has now been presented to Transnet. Now we have got two studies on the way.
We have the industry saying this is the straight line, go Saldanha, numbers look good. You have got Transnet saying we are definitely going to go the Coega route and their report will be out in March or April. People are now talking about the third option: that we will have two routes.
This might be beneficial to South Africa because we know that we sit on 80% of the world’s good quality manganese resources, but we have only got 15% of the market.
So if we start turning that around specially with the high-value of the manganese perhaps having two lines won’t be a bad idea provided it doesn’t cost and excessive amount. We see now that there are three options on the table, there is taking the manganese down the iron-ore route to Saldanha, taking the manganese to the new Coega port or having both.
Gwala: That is the beauty of having a variety of views, you come to those kind of conclusions.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor is adopting strong measures to regain local excellence in science.
Creamer: The Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has appointed 60 new research chairs as part of the South African research chair initiative.
This is aimed at retaining excellence and research and innovation in the South African science system. So we have now got a total of 154 of these research chairs.
This has come not too soon because we are loosing our research edge. What Naledi Pandor has done is also expanded the breath of this, because she has also brought in the Universities of Technology, which tended to be left out in the allocation of these chairs.
So the government in the last seven years has spend about R1,1-billion on setting up this initiative and getting it going. We know that we have fallen back on research. I’m closest to the mining research side and 20 years ago we easily had 600 to 800 mining researchers.
If you could find 40 now you would be lucky. So it has been a very bad collapse and what’s happened is that our researchers have gone out into the rest of the world which has been a great loss to us and there is a great need to replace them. So now there is going to be 21 higher learning hosts that will now deal with 154 research chairs in various areas.
You go from education where there is quite a few chairs, along with health care and the Square Kilometre Array, that great initiative to make sure we beat the Australians to studying the skies with our beautiful North Cape clear skies, that has also got 10 chairs. We are bolstering up our research capability and hopefully we will see the real fruits of that, which are research papers being published that are meaningful and hopefully those will start coming through.
Gwala: I guess if we want to be one of the leaders in this particular market we have got to start researching.
Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.