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Journal President's Cornerpages

A Christmas gift for the Institute

Selo Ndlovu 2017It is the end of the year and Christmas is in sight. We have all had a busy year and thus look forward to a restful break, which we will fill with new memories with our families and friends. Above all, we all look forward to receiving that well-chosen wonderful gift from loved ones. A gift is always treasured. It might be something that we did not ask for but somehow our loved ones always manage to surprise us by recognizing our need or yearning for that particular item. The fact that they understand us, love and care enough to go out of their way to give us that special something is a gift in itself. They make a sacrifice for a greater return; our happiness. A gift does not have to be expensive, it does not have to be wrapped up in an expensive wrapping paper and tied with a costly ribbon. For most of us there is one gift that is more valuable than anything bought in a shop; more appreciated by its recipient than anything wrapped in pretty colourful paper; and sure to be remembered for years to come. This is the gift of time. Time is the most valuable gift because it is a portion of your life that you can never get back. Time freely given is truly priceless to those who receive it.

Singing the praises of our SAIMM members

Selo Ndlovu 2017I would like to welcome you all to the new 2017/2018 term of the SAIMM. I hope you are all as excited as I am about what lies ahead. I am greatly looking forward to spending the next twelve months with you as we discuss and delve into different topics that interest us as members of this marvellous Institute.

As you are all aware, the SAIMM was established in 1894 and will be turning 125 years of age in 2019. The Institute has been built on a strong foundation of selfless commitment and diligence from its members; mostly on the basis of volunteerism. I would therefore, like to start off the year by acknowledging and thanking all the members of the SAIMM who have selflessly given of themselves and their time in the past, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future to keep the mission and goals of the Institute alive and active. It is indeed not easy, especially as we try to balance our demanding careers and personal lives. However, it does add value to our worth as we contribute to a bigger goal than our individual selves.

Women in the mining and minerals industry

Selo Ndlovu 2017Summer is finally here and Christmas is around the corner. I do hope that you are all enjoying the warm weather that is prevalent in Southern Africa at this time of the year and, at the same time, have started shopping for those elusive but perfect Christmas gifts for friends and families. Since taking over the reins as the President of the SAIMM, I have been invited to a number of events and meetings in the past few months. I have interacted with a lot of professionals and held discussions on a number of diverse and relevant (and even sometimes irrelevant) topics pertinent to the mining and minerals industry. The controversial new Mining Charter, low metal prices, ECSA, state capture, the ANC leadership race, water restrictions in the Western Cape, and of course the weather, have all been fodder for conversations at various events. However, one topic that never fails to come up, and for obvious reasons, is women in the mining and minerals industry. As such, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to celebrate the valuable contribution that women make in the mining and minerals sector. Similarly, it would be imprudent to overlook the challenges that women continuously face as they contribute to the country’s economy. For the above reasons, I would like to focus on this relevant and important subject this month.

The last 100 days in the office of the SAIMM Presidency

C. MusingwiniWhen presidents or leaders are elected, it is often customary to expect them to deliver a speech when they attain their first 100 days in office. Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated on 20 January 2009 as the 44th President of the United States, and gave a speech on his first 100 days in office on 29 April 2009. As is normal, his speech met with mixed reactions. Critics felt it was as vague as his campaign message, while supporters believed he was delivering on his campaign promises. It is during their first 100 days in office that presidents are scrutinized and watched particularly closely. Fortunately, in the SAIMM we have a rich tradition of leadership succession. Before one becomes President, one must have served at least two years on the SAIMM Council, followed by a year of co-option as an Office Bearer before successively becoming Junior Vice-President, Senior Vice-President, President-Elect, and President; After the term as President, one becomes Immediate Past- President and finally retires back onto Council as a Past President. There are therefore no campaign promises you need to make, as you become accustomed early on to the SAIMM’s strategic direction, which you then continue to drive during your one-year Presidential term. I therefore found it prudent to write on my last 100 days in office.

The modern mining professional – a mining CEOʼs perspective

I had the opportunity of attending the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA) on 31 March 2017. Mr Steve Phiri, the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) delivered the keynote address, which he titled ‘Towards a lasting legacy: the modern mine manager’. This insightful address resonated with my President’s Corner in the May edition of the Journal, in which I wrote about ‘the Mine of the Future’. Although his address spoke directly to mine managers, I sensed that it was also aimed at mining professionals within the ranks of the SAIMM. I will now draw some parallels between his message to modern mine managers and its implications for modern professionals in the SAIMM.

Mine of the Future — A mining CEOʼs perspective

The School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand held its 120th anniversary celebration on 23 March 2017. The keynote speaker at this momentous occasion was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gold Fields Limited, Mr Nick Holland. He spoke passionately about his vision on the Mine of the Future and indicated how Gold Fields was positioning itself for the future. The presentation was extremely insightful and well received by the audience, and I thought I should share with you some of the issues that were articulated.

Advancing international collaboration through the Global Mineral Professionals Alliance (GMPA)

When Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was delivering his mid-term budget speech in 2016, he made reference to the following Pedi quote which is relevant to one of SAIMM’s strategic initiatives: ‘Ditau tsahloka seboka di shitwa ke nare e hlotsa’ (translated into English as ‘Lions that fail to work as a team will struggle to bring down even a limping buffalo’). This quote cannot be any truer when one reflects on the need for collaboration for a common purpose. In the October 2015 edition of the SAIMM Journal our Immediate Past President, Rodney Jones, wrote about a 2011 inaugural meeting in London which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Global Mineral Professionals Alliance (GMPA). I am happy to share with you a positive development – in February 2017 the SAIMM hosted the Annual GMPA Meeting in Cape Town, where we formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The NDP Vision 2030 — Does the SAIMM have a role to play?

As you join me for the first cup of coffee in 2017, I would like to welcome you all back from what I trust was a restful and enjoyable festive season. I am optimistic that good times lie ahead of us and that 2017 will be a very productive year.

In previous editions of the Journal I have provided some insights into key functions of the SAIMM and our leadership’s vision on strategically positioning the Institute as we go into the future. In this edition of the Journal I would like to provide a relevant national context and sketch out the role that the SAIMM is playing, and can play, to ensure that it can contribute to securing the country’s future. I will do this by referring to the National Development Plan (NDP): Vision for 2030 which was drafted by the National Planning Commission (NPC) in order to actualize the diverse aspirations of all South Africans, given the country’s political history.

Reflections on 2016 and a look ahead to 2017

As we approach the end of the 2016 calendar year, it is time for us to take stock of the past 12 months and imagine what lies ahead. What does 2017 have in store for the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy? I can only imagine that the wheels will continue to turn positively for the mining industry from where we draw our membership and support, as this has a positive bearing on us as the SAIMM. Yes, 2016 has been a challenging year for our industry, but we all know that the commodities market is cyclical and our world requires us to continue extracting minerals in order to sustain human survival. So, the glimmer of hope cannot fade away, because as the common adage says, ‘if it is not mined it must be grown!’ It would be remiss of me not to share some optimism with you for our mining industry in the medium term. The 2016 calendar year has also been a challenging one for the SAIMM as we could not attract sufficient delegates to some of our conferences, resulting in a depressed financial performance for the Institute. However, as the SAIMM, we still stand firm due to our resilient pedigree. Let me share with you some reflections on 2016 to see why we remain firm.

Wits Mining and the SAIMM — 120 years of parallel histories

This two-volume issue of the Journal celebrates 120 years of existence of the Wits School of Mining Engineering (Wits Mining). Are the two volumes two sides of the same coin? There are a myriad of quotes that refer to two sides of the same coin, albeit in a negative sense. I have previously come across the quote by Ida Pauline Rolf, an American Scientist who lived from 1896-1979, which says ‘form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created’. This quote takes a positive look at two sides of the same coin that are complementary. I can easily relate this concept to the symbiotic relationship between Wits Mining and the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), which can be gleaned from our parallel histories that have fostered inextricably strong links. The ‘coin’ can be seen as the mining industry, which we both serve in our distinct capacities, as an educational institution and a professional body. We both serve the mining industry with a common sense of unity and purpose – to contribute our best efforts to ensure that the industry can grow from strength to strength, because we can survive and thrive only if the mining industry is doing well. I will now turn my attention to the brief histories of Wits Mining and the SAIMM, sketch out some parallels, and indicate why these two institutions are so important for our mining industry, dating back to the 1800s with the advent of commercial mining in South Africa.

Goals, Systems, and Plans

On 12 May 1964 Don Shepherd, a 48-year-old gold miner (actually an underground locomotive driver) from Crown Mines in Johannesburg, set out from the Los Angeles City Hall to begin a solo coast-to-coast run across America. At the time, this was the longest run in the world by an amateur runner. Part of his preparation involved running from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He ran alone, completely unaided, with no backup vehicle, and only a small transistor radio for company. He had no financial sponsorship, and did the trip on a shoestring budget, allowing himself $10 daily to pay for his food and accommodation. He had spent much time saving for and planning the trip. He carried a small backpack containing a spare shirt, socks, plastic raincoat, shoe patching equipment and scissors, petroleum jelly, toothbrush and toiletries, a small water bottle, and a map. Because he didn't trust the American style of running shoes, he posted a parcel containing a spare pair of canvas takkies to the postmaster in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be collected halfway through his journey. Don completed his 3200 mile (5100 km) journey to New York City in 73 days, 8 hours, and 20 minutes, averaging 70 km per day, typically running for nine to fourteen hours a day. His amazing story is told in his book «My Run Across the United States’, published in 1970.

Celebrating the ordinary

Exceptionalism comes easily to South Africans. We are used to living in a country with wonderful weather, spectacular scenery, and the richest collection of mineral wealth in our ground. There is no other country in the world where you have two Nobel Peace Prize winners who lived in the same street. We are the Rainbow Nation of Desmond Tutu; the country where Gandhi formulated his ideas of passive resistance; and the people led by Nelson Mandela that practised reconciliation instead of a civil war. Johannesburg is the city where all of these great leaders lived and worked; it is also the location of the world’s greatest deposit of gold; and is even claimed to be the world’s largest manmade urban forest. I was born in Germiston (now regarded as part of greater Johannesburg; both cities were founded in 1886), and I grew up feeling proud of the accomplishments of the industrialists of my father’s generation. The city was home to the Rand Refinery (the world’s largest refinery of gold, which has refined 30% of all the gold mined in the world since antiquity), and the largest railway junction in the Southern Hemisphere.

Perils of Conferencing

Many people who haven't travelled on business have the impression that it is a rather glamorous and pleasant task to attend a conference. And, of course, it can be wonderful to visit an interesting place for a few days, and come back refreshed with new ideas and perspectives, but this isn't the whole story. There is also the downside of cramped long-distance flights, disturbed sleeping patterns occasioned by differences in time zones, unfamiliar food, and lack of exercise. The American comedian Fred Allen (who incidentally was born in 1894, the same year that SAIMM was founded) said, rather cynically that ‘A conference is a gathering of people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.’ He also said ‘I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.’ However, all things considered, conferences still provide a great opportunity to exchange technical information, and to network with one’s peers.

Electronic Communication

During September 2009, a delightful experiment was conducted to demonstrate how slow South Africa’s data transfer services were. A carrier pigeon called Winston was able to transfer 4 GB of data across the 80 km between Howick and Hillcrest, Durban in just over two hours, whereas Telkom’s ADSL service was able to complete only 4% of the transfer in that time. Since then, fibre-optic connections to the internet have improved the situation considerably, at least in some wealthier areas of the country. The bigger limitation is now on the human end, not just the technical capacity.


‘Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right’ – Isaac Asimov

One of the characteristic features of a professional society is that its members are governed by a code of professional ethics. The term ‘ethics’ is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning ‘character’. Ethics and morals both relate to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conduct. ‘Morals’ often refers to an individual’s own principles or habits that provide a personal compass regarding right and wrong conduct. ‘Ethics’ refers to the rules of conduct that are provided by an external source within a particular context, and can be considered a social system or a framework for acceptable behaviour.


When I travel on aeroplanes, I love to look out of the window, either at the popcorn-shaped cumulus clouds or the striated repeating ripple-patterned undulatus clouds, or the wispy feathery cirrus clouds. While enjoying this ephemeral beauty, I marvel at the atmospheric phenomena (and their governing mathematical equations) that are behind these structures. From the vantage point of 10 km up in the sky, the miniature-looking features on the ground can also be enjoyed. There are hills and valleys, snow-topped peaks, wide open deserts, forests and fields, rivers and lakes. I find that I can easily flip between seeing the world as fragile or as resilient, for both are true. Apart from continents drifting slowly apart, and the occasional impact of an asteroid, or volcanic explosion, the earth has been relatively stable for a very long time, perhaps as long as 4.5 billion years, and scientific estimates say that we have another 6 billion years to go until the expanding sun eventually burns out our planet.

Mining Heritage

Visitors to the SAIMM offices in the Chamber of Mines Building in downtown Johannesburg cannot fail to notice the rather imposing stamp mill in the adjacent pedestrian walkway that was once Hollard Street. This 10-stamp mill went into operation at the Robinson Mine in Langlaagte in September 1886, making it one of the earliest stamp mills on the Witwatersrand. On the nearby noticeboard the fascinating story is told of how the mill was buried in a deep slimes dump and later recovered, exhibited at the Empire Exhibition in 1936, and then erected at George Harrison Park, before being relocated to the Main Street Mining Mall in 2004.

A right to knowledge

Nelson Mandela said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. Southern Africa suffers greatly from a shortage of well-educated people. However, it is a massive challenge to increase literacy, let alone to provide education for all people in the region, starting with early childhood education, through primary and secondary schooling, and culminating with university studies. But this is a challenge to which we must rise, as educated people are employable and have the capacity to build a better society, to create employment, and to reduce poverty.

A sense of belonging

Over the past few months, I have traveled to a number of faraway countries where the culture and customs are very different, and where a South African might be expected to feel alien and alone. However, in all of those places, I have encountered people with whom I have shared values or have found interests in common, and, as a result, there has been a sense of belonging and connection. This need to belong is a basic aspect of being human. Is this, perhaps, one of the things we look for when joining a society such as the SAIMM?

Mining in the Global Village

It has been just over fifty years since the concept of the 'global village' was introduced by Marshall McLuhan in 1964, yet it remains relevant to our everyday experiences. Modern communication technologies have seemingly shrunk the world even further since then.

Highs & Lows

Well here it is!

This is the last of my ’President’s Corner’ contributions for my 2014/2015 term of office and, as I commented earlier this year, time moves at an accelerated rate when you are busy. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past year. It has been characterized by the usual highs and lows in terms of our efforts to grow the reach of the Institute geographically as well as building greater relevance to industry and offering value to our members. The latter is critical. After 121 years of successful existence, our Institutional environment is changing faster than ever before. My message here is that we have to be proactive. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

Botswana Branch and Mineral Economics Division

In this month’s article I want to update readers about two important aspects of the Institute – firstly, the launch of the new Botswana Branch, and secondly the Mineral Economics Division of the SAIMM.

Hiring smart people

A number of papers in this month’s Journal deal with matters relating to longer term planning considerations in our hard-rock, deep-level mines (for example, ’Strategic and tactical requirements of a mining long-term plan’ by B.J. Kloppers, C.J. Horn, and J.V.Z. Visser). It is also really good to see some mining engineering-related topics in this issue, as they have been in short supply for some time now.

Where Has the Time Gone?

Can you believe that it is May 2015 already?

Nine times out of ten, when people of an older generation are asked this question it results in an impromptu discussion including remarks such as ’where has the time gone?’ or ’time seems to go by faster as you get older’. All of which is nonsense from Einstein’s perspective.

Occupations In High Demand In South Africa

I closed off my March President’s Corner by making the point that we are in the ’Age of Unicorns’ and that without strong math and science skills our future engineers and managers will not be adequately equipped to meet the needs and expectations of the national economy or for managing business complexity in the future.

Maturing Years

It may be a function of my ’maturing’ years but I am finding that the first two months of the calendar year are becoming much more of a challenge. One gets lulled in to a complete false sense that business and life are well under control, brought about by the shutdown of many companies over the holiday period.

Ideas and Innovations

On 30 January 2015, the Honourable Minister of Mineral Resources, Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, issued a statement announcing the 2014 health and safety statistics for the South African mining industry. To quote, ’There has been a marked improvement in health and safety in the sector over the past twenty years, as result (sic) of renewed focus by the Department as well as collaboration with key stakeholders.’ Results over this period show an 86% reduction for all mine fatalities, thereby achieving the lowest ever number of fatalities in the mining sector in 2014.

Abundance of Health and Safety

Welcome to 2015. On behalf of all at the SAIMM may I wish our members and readers an abundance of health and safety, at work and at home, in the year that lies ahead. With the global events currently unfolding in terms of geopolitics and economic activity, 2015 is likely to be a year that will continue in much the same way as 2014. It implies that we all need to keep abreast of current affairs as what were once remote events (in time, space, and personal impact) are brought to our own doorsteps through the compressive lens of social networking and by the response of the mining industry to this very dynamic environment.

The Young Professionals Conference

In terms of the SAIMM Charter and in order to fulfill its obligations to the various communities making up the broader SAIMM membership, the Institute has established, over a long period of time, a series of portfolios and sub-committees. One of these portfolios is Career Guidance, executed through the very successful Career Guidance and Education Committee. Starting some six years ago, various initiatives were taken to develop this portfolio to focus more closely on how to encourage the younger SAIMM members to become more involved in SAIMM activities.

Family and Friends

For this President’s Corner, the Editor reminded me that this is the December edition of the Journal. For most of our members, December represents the time of year that celebrates the birth of Christ in the Christian calendar. Certainly, for many it is characterized by the opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends in a spirit of comradeship and goodwill. Therefore, I would like to talk about two different things that this has brought to my mind.

Anomaly in our Mining Industry

As I it down to write this piece I happen to be on leave in what we South Africans generically refer to as ‘the UK’; perhaps without pausing to think on what United Kingdom actually means (the 1707 Act of Union forming Great Britain and the 1801 Act joining Great Britain and [Northern] Ireland). In one week’s time from writing there will be a referendum vote in Scotland to determine if Scotland will remain an integrated part of the United Kingdom or be instrumental in starting a process resulting in a ‘dis-United Kingdom’. It is considered certain by social commentators that should Scotland secure independence from Westminster (governance based in London) then Wales will follow shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, in other parts of Europe the Basque separatists, for example, are watching very carefully how the European Union may respond to an independent Scotland.