Jul 09, 2010
DRC|Engineering|Africa|Copper|Defence|Industrial|Mining|Road|Technology|Africa|Democratic Republic Of Congo|DRC
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Molebatsi: Good morning. Now, this is absolutely mind-boggling: South Africa and Brazil have agreed to build a new air-to-air defence missile together?
Creamer: Yes, we don't only play soccer on the field during the World Cup, but we also do defence activities together. South Africa and Brazil have agreed to build an air-to-air missile, the A-Darter. They're going to put 50/50 funds into it and they're going to produce them in South Africa and also produce them in Brazil on production lines that are interchangeable.
So this is a very interchangeable arrangement and it is all South Africa's technology, really. This is the A-Darter, it's a very advanced, fifth-generation missile. The Brazilians have been very impressed with it and they've asked us to do a deal with them because all the other enquiries they made were so expensive. We are about a third of the price of everyone else, so they decided "Let's come together". There are already 46 Brazilian specialists in Centurion outside Pretoria working on this. Nineteen of them are from the Brazilian Air Force itself and the rest are from private-sector companies and they have now finished the development on this. They are ready to industrialise it and then to produce it. As I say, the production lines will be in Brazil and South Africa.
Molebatsi: There's a question that's begging me to ask, we seem to be, as South Africans quite a significant player internationally in terms of the technology we've produced in this country, if you see what we're doing out of Stellenbosch with the satellites and now this. How much of this are we actually capitalising on to really bolster our own economy as South Africans?
Creamer: Now that we have these exhibitions where we display what we've got, these sort of deals follow, particularly the economics of it. We're quite advanced in aerodynamics and people pick up the advantage of doing business with us.
Molebatsi: Earlier you said that we already have 46 Brazilians in this country?
Creamer: Yes, in Centurion working on this.
Molebatsi: So it's not only soccer that brings people into South Africa then!
Molebatsi: A cloud is hanging over South Africa's obligation to migrate from analogue to digital TV broadcasting?
Creamer: Yes, we had this cast in stone: the migration that we would have to do, we're obliged to do it in terms of the world agreement where we've got to move from analogue to digital broadcasting of television. We agreed to it, the Cabinet approved it, policy implemented it and regulations actually confirmed it. Now, all of a sudden, the Department of Communications says, "Hang on, guys, we want to review what sort of technology we're going to use." Well, South Africa was well down the road on the European technology, that's the DVB-T and all the investment has been around the DVB-T, now they're saying they want to look at the Japanese technology. I must say that the European technology, the DVB-T, which we have espoused here, is used in far more countries, I think about 120 countries, whereas the Japanese technology is only used in three countries that I know of: Japan, Brazil and Peru. Probably South America will go this route, but it's just sent shockwaves through the people who are starting to produce the set-top boxes that will be involved in this migration. They want to roll out many millions of these and all of a sudden they've got this shock: Are we going to use this technology or will we have to change? If we do change, will we meet the 2015 deadline? And it's almost a deadline as firmly cast in stone as the World Cup, so we've got to meet it.
Molebatsi: Is this the realignment of South Africa with other countries or is it just political interference, in your view?
Creamer: The Department of Communications actually won't talk to us about it, so you don't get any response when you enquire, so whether they're still mulling it over, I don't know. But the implications are quite big because of the big investments that have been done already.
Molebatsi: Now, South Africa's State-owned Industrial Development Corporation is embroiled in a mining controversy in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Creamer: The Democratic Republic of Congo is the prettiest girl on the block when it comes to mining, so everybody wants to be in there, but they're also quite independent in the way they deal with the licensing of mining and they had a review recently and one of the companies which had gone in was First Quantum, listed on the TSX, and at Kolwezi, it's a fantastic surface deposit of copper and cobalt and they wanted to mine this and, of course, the South Africans also got interested in this, and our State-owned Development Corporation, the IDC, they took 10% of this, but all of a sudden there's been a review of the mining licences in DRC and First Quantum has been sent packing. This is after they've spent something like $750-million so they are going to fight this in an arbitration in Europe. But in the meantime, the IDC, because of its involvement, has let it be known that they will be approaching the South African government to intervene on their behalf because of the bilateral agreement that we have. In the meantime, there's a lot of publicity going on in Canada, big international uproar over this, also raised at the Group of 8 meeting recently, and the G20, in saying that we must get political certainty there, but there hasn't been much response from the government of the DRC.
Molebatsi: Martin, today you really have some heavy-hitting stuff that you've reported.
Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he'll be back with us at the same time next week.
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