It is possible to extend the lives of existing mines, was one of the messages conveyed by Neal Froneman, vice president, Chamber of Mines, while giving a glimpse of the future of mining to the media at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town.
He said it is possible by using new technology and by mining the ore in existing pillars. There are a few challenges accompanying the possibilities. Beside the natural resistance to change, is the scare of possible job losses brought about by new technology. “On the contrary, new technology will not lead to job losses, if done properly,” said Froneman. “We will see accelerated mine closure in the near future, due to depleted mines, though.”
“Without a shift in mining methodology, the industry will fail to mine South Africa’s deep-level complex orebodies profitably, resulting in the sterilisation of resources, accelerated and premature mine closures, and of course, accelerated job losses. Research suggests 200 000 job losses by 2025 could affect 2 000 000 people indirectly if we continue on the current trajectory.
“Contrary to popular perceptions that are sometimes expressed, I have no doubt that technology will create a substantial number of sustainable jobs and more than offset the inevitable continuing decline if we continue to rely only on conventional production methods – not to mention the jobs that will also be created in the manufacturing supply industries,” said Froneman.
Another issue in the industry, according to Froneman, is low production figures. “This is not a result of people being lazy, but due to travel time. In mines where the workforce need to travel four hours to get to the rock face, it means that 50% of production time has been lost,” said Froneman.
He added that the application of mining technology in South African deep level gold and platinum mining has three main aims: firstly, to assist the industry and its employees to work safely; secondly, to ensure that mines work more efficiently and productively; and thirdly to mine resources that would not be safe or technically feasible to mine with conventional methods.
“In brief, a modern mining industry will optimally extract and beneficiate the country’s natural resources, causing no harm to people or planet. It benefits both the local community as well as the national economy. It procures locally, is a preferred employer of well-skilled people and creates appropriate risk adjusted returns for investors. Regulations, taxation and incentives are consistent, transparent and recognise mining as a long term driver of economic growth,” concluded Froneman.