Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane: Investing in African Mining Indaba

5 Feb 2019

Remarks by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, MP, at the Mining Indaba, 5 February 2019

Programme Director
Mr Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources
Mr Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry
Mr Mxolisi Mgojo, President of the Minerals Council South Africa
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a pleasure for me to join you here today for this critical engagement about a very important sector of the South African economy and the economy of the continent.

It is believed that under current price and cost forecasts, conventional mining (particularly in the gold and platinum sectors) will cease to be economically viable by 2024. In order to remain globally competitive and relevant, South Africa needs to change the way in which it operates.  The modernisation of mining, including mechanisation and automation, where the opportunities are said to outweigh the projected challenges, is therefore deemed necessary.  This conversion will broadly contribute to the survival of the South African mining industry through the mining of lower grades, as well as deeper resources, thereby extending the life of mines.  In addition, the adoption of technological developments and advancements will contribute towards improved health and safety, and facilitate the sector's migration from dangerous, labour-intensive platforms towards the government's goal of zero-harm.

Research has shown that the conversion of gold and platinum mines prolongs their decline. For example, the modernisation of platinum mines could extend the life of mines to 2035, which could be further extended to 2045 with 24/7 mechanisation. Beyond that, deeper resources and greenfields exploration could be accessed using new mining techniques.

Our mining environment is characterised by deep, hard-rock, narrow reefs, which means that we may have to find South African solutions to South African problems, but could also potentially position us to lead technological developments in this regard.

The South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) Strategy provides a roadmap on how to work together to develop technological solutions that will contribute towards the survival of the South African mining industry, by focusing on the following research themes:

  • The longevity of current mines.
  • Mechanised drilling and blasting.
  • 24/7 non-explosive rock-breaking.
  • Advanced orebody knowledge.
  • Real-time information management systems.
  • Successful applications of technology centred around people.While pockets of modernisation occur at various mine levels, a coherent approach is needed to bring together the technical know-how for solution-based research, development and innovation, to position the country to seize the opportunities and breakthroughs presented by the drive for modernisation.

Finding solutions to problems affecting our country and continent requires collaborative research on a national and regional scale.  Collaboration between government and industry represent key opportunities for partnering for development, aligned to national goals and strategies.  Moreover, it is vital to ensure that research is relevant and aligned to user requirements, as well as sustainable human development.

In September last year, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Trade and Industry, together with the mining sector, launched the Mandela Mining Precinct.  The precinct and the activities associated with it represent a pioneer collaboration in mining RDI, as all stakeholders, including government, mining companies and local mining equipment manufacturers, as well as the research community, acknowledge the need for a coherent, collective approach to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.  It is hoped that this partnership will be the stimulus that drives the transformation of South Africa's comparative advantage in the minerals sector into a competitive one.

The South African government, in partnership with the Minerals Council South Africa and the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA), is implementing the SAMERDI Strategy, the activities of which are linked to growing the local supply chain of mining capital equipment, and which are coordinated from the Mandela Mining Precinct.

Apart from pursuing a research agenda defined by the mining industry, this partnership will also help to increase gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) towards attaining our target of 1,5%.  The SAMERDI Strategy is funded by the DST with in excess of R210 million for the 2017/18 to 2020/21 financial years.  The Minerals Council South Africa has contributed more than R33 million for 2018, with an undertaking to determine their financial allocation annually.

While the Mandela Mining Precinct and its associated activities were successfully launched by the Ministers of Science and Technology and Mineral Resources on 14 September 2018, there are still opportunities for strengthening and expanding this partnership.  This will involve greater collaboration with and between universities, as well as the inclusion of more universities, particularly historically disadvantaged ones, in the research programme.  Similarly, the inclusion of newer, smaller mining companies also needs to be explored.

The DST is committed to this partnership, and is open to more partnerships, provided that the transformation agenda of government is addressed and a rational ratio of funding between partners is maintained, so as to leverage the maximum economic benefit from joint RDI investments for all South Africans.

The modernisation of mining in South Africa will result in a substantial change in the skills profile required by the mines.

While we are cognisant of the change in the kind and level of skills that will be required, we need to define a vision for South Africa's skills development needs, particularly as they relate to high-level skills.  Apart from the changes in skills sets and levels that will be required for the mines of the future, the sector needs to be transformed in terms of gender and race.  It is anticipated that the SAMERDI Strategy will be used to address this, by increasing the number of women and black researchers and engineers.  In addition, it is hoped that the RDI networks with universities will expand to include historically disadvantaged universities, thereby leveraging mining RDI investments to build their capability and capacity.

The DST is committed to developing the mining component of the national system of innovation, and will continue to cultivate an enabling environment and provide resources for science, technology and innovation in support of the development of South Africa, and is open to collaboration and partnerships in order to achieve this.

By working together as government and the private sector, we will ensure that we not only grow the sector, but also continue to deal with the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Following the President's investment summit, government is committed to providing the necessary support to the private sector through policies and other means so that we can all grow our economy.

I thank you.