Sector can flourish – association

27th October 2023 By: Halima Frost - Senior Writer

Sector can flourish – association

LOOK TO THE HORIZON Surface mining nonprofit organisation Aspasa says that the future of the sector looks promising

Despite small-scale surface miners being negatively affected by the prevailing subdued economic climate in South Africa, surface mining nonprofit organisation Aspasa director Letisha van den Berg says the sector is agile and resilient and will continue to go from strength to strength.

Loadshedding, fuel price increases and illegal sand mining are the top three challenges faced by the surface-mining sector, followed by stringent legal requirements for a startup mine.

“Owing to the heavy legislative burden to start a mine, there has definitely been a decline in investments and prospecting and, sadly, illegal mines pop up across South Africa, negatively impacting [on] the sector,” she adds.

Van den Berg highlights that the small surface-mining sector contributes, on average, R22-billion to the total gross domestic product, excluding the sector’s contribution towards skills upliftment, and social and labour plan projects.

To assist the sector’s perpetual growth, Aspasa continuously engages with its members and management committee to discuss challenges and successes in the sector.

“Collaboration with various stakeholders is almost a daily activity, which aims to find solutions and broader viewpoints,” she says.

This includes engagement with State-led entities, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), and mining employers’ organisation Minerals Council South Africa.

However, Van den Berg insists that challenging times are not always a negative situation, owing to Aspasa’s long-term goal of always looking for ways of promoting a healthy and sustainable small surface-mining industry, which will positively and sustainably affect the economy and those in the immediate mining context.

Aspasa aligns its long-term plans with the MHSC, the DMRE and Minerals Council South Africa to ensure zero harm stays at the forefront of what the association and its members do.

Importantly, the association’s short-term goals include increasing the value addition it offers through membership, with improved committee structures and the frequency of communicating with experts.

“An example of such activities includes our involvement in the Agbiz Symposium on insurability, our participation on trackless mining machinery (TMM) supplier GMG’s panel discussion on collision avoidance systems, and various Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) engagements,” says Van den Berg.

Woman at the Helm

Van den Berg is honoured to be one of the first women to lead a mining association in South Africa, and she hopes that women realise their potential in the sector.

“Targeting women miners and positively influencing the cultures in mining to get to zero harm are top of my to-do list.”

However, she adds that the importance of efficiency aspects when operating a mine sustainably must not be ignored.

“Mining must be an environment of inclusivity and skills transfer to all,” says Van den Berg, adding that South Africa has commendable mining and mine supply chain expertise.

As such, Aspasa will support development and upskilling of the sector to ensure a sustainable economy.

Meanwhile, there are multiple new technologies in the mining sector being developed and promoted by the CSIR, the Mandela Mining Precinct, Minerals Council South Africa and MHSC, including those of mining supplier GMG and robotics manufacturer OffWorld.

However, Van den Berg stresses that new regulations regarding TMM safety do not fully include all mine operators and the standards are more difficult to attain in the case of small-scale surface miners.

“The technologies required to achieve these TMM safety standards are often not within the budget of smaller mines, bearing in mind they mine a commodity that is not high in value such as aggregates, lime, granite, clay and sand.”

She concludes that, despite these challenges, Aspasa will continue to support the drive to zero harm in the mining sector in ways more suitable to small-scale surface miners.