Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: The global investment community will be descending on Cape Town next week for Africa’s biggest meeting on mining’s investment calendar.
Creamer: It is amazing how the Indaba has grown. It is 25 years old this year and it started with 400 people and now it is up to 7 000 in the actual precinct, but around Cape Town there is a lot of ambush marketing. People bring and attract other investors around there. The taxi drivers are delighted, hotel owners are delighted as this wonderful Investing in African Mining Indaba takes place.
We see that there are Presidents coming from all over Africa. Our own President Cyril Ramaphosa will be addressing us. Our own mines Ministers Gwede Mantashe will be doing the same. Then buzzing around will be investors from all over the world. Now, in the past they used to look out of Cape Town and out of South Africa into Africa, but eyes are turning back to South Africa now as the investment climate begins to improve here.
Kamwendo: South Africa’s platinum mining industry needs to find new markets to fill the gap left by changes in the automotive industry.
Creamer: We have been too dependent from a platinum point of view on the automotive industry. This goes back to 1970 when the US set up new laws to clean the air and make sure that cars didn’t pollute the atmosphere. Because of that we have been so tied to the automotive industry that we have neglected other industries. Now, the automotive industry has been disrupted.
Instead of actually guaranteeing the use of catalytic converters which have platinum-group metals (PGMs) in them, they are looking to electric vehicles and other ways of doing things and that is presenting a challenge to us. We have got a window of about 30 years to convert, but there are so many patents pending using PGMs that the advice coming through now, is make sure you commercialise those, because as you lose your automotive side of the business you can then swing into these new patents which cross the wide spectrum of water purification, medical activities and all sorts of health activities that PGMs could be involved in to save our mines.
Kamwendo: The tragic mining disaster in Brazil has again highlighted the potential dangers of mine dumps.
Creamer: These tailings dumps have to be managed. They are engineered, but often neglected. They have to have special buttresses at 45 degree angles for the strength. You see now, two terrible disasters in Brazil. Four years ago in 2015, we had 19 people killed as the dam burst and this mud comes down and drowns people in mud. This time it is so much worse.
This disaster has already killed 110 people and there are 238 people missing and presumed dead. This brings us back to our own problems that we had in the Free State at Merriespruit in the nineties where we killed 17 people after our dams burst. We are hoping that these tailings dams will now not become such reputational damage for the mining industry by killing so many people.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.