Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’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: Diamond mining in the diamond city of Kimberley has been given a sparkling new lease of life thanks to smart new technology.
Creamer: 2018 looks like being a great year, but for Kimberley that was the year listed that they would end diamond operations. De Beers said that there would be no more diamond operations in Kimberley this year, but a new company has taken on the challenge and introduced good technology. Now, they are looking at a couple of decades ahead.
That company is a mixture of the London and Johannesburg listed Petra and also Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture. They are taking every bit of diamond material you can get in Kimberley, those on the dumps and underground. So, you have got the virgin material underground that they will continue to mine and also on surface you have got a lot of dumps and a lot of those dumps are quite rich, because in the old days the technologies weren’t so good, so they left a lot of value in those dumps.
As it gets more recent you find those dumps are not so valuable. Because of that they have had to set up an addition to a plant that they had there. They had the Combined Tailings Retreatment plant, but they have put on a modern addendum to it, which is actually an automated rotary pan plant. Rotary panning is one of the old ways of doing diamond beneficiation, but with the automation of it, it is modernised and they believe that they can now get the best out of those diamonds.
For the next couple of decades, they are targeting 20 years more of operation which is brilliant at this time of our South African economy. Anyone who can extend the life of a diamond operation, which is so valuable and boost Kimberley, has done a great job. We should take our hats off to what they call themselves the Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture.
They are looking to really extending this and perhaps the technology that they have introduced could also be used down the road at Jagersfontein they are doing a different system of working the diamonds. We know the Jagersfontein dumps are also rich. Perhaps that can also make use of this new technology and elsewhere in the world, but in the meantime we know that there are a lot of new diamond technologies coming in that will even be much better then rotary pan-based technology.
Kamwendo: The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) is calling for smarter mining, smarter agriculture and smarter manufacturing to pull South Africa ahead.
Creamer: We have had a positive entry into 2018. We see that Cyril Ramaphosa came through in the ANC and heading for Davos. We know that he knows what is needed, policy certainty is what we need. But on top of that the IDC is saying we have got to be smarter and there is an ability to be smarter, because there is so much technology, there is also not even using technology, just make sure you feed off one another.
The mining, manufacturing and engineering industry can feed on one another. Mining can generate that, agriculture the same. Manufature and engineering can feed on agriculture. They are saying pull mining, agriculture and manfucture together and make sure you get all the synergies out of that. Be smart and then also use technology, because there is so much available in digitisation and everything that can make sure you are so efficient these days that South Africa has fallen back a bit. We need to say now that we hit the bottom and from here on we go up and we do it in the correct way.
We see that the call was made by the IDC in the company of the United Nations Unctad when they were presenting that commodity countries have got to be smart. You look at them in Africa, we are on this continent but we don’t do much in Africa. You see the Australians in Africa mining all over the place. You see the Canadians mining all over the place. They are saying let’s do more in Africa and what about the agricultural front in South Africa.
It has got these impediments it needs to be broadend. People who don't own land need to own land and get into this agriculture. We need to have smaller dams more irrigation not only these big dams. Get those emerging farmers in and let them turn things to account. At the same time the bigger farmers could do a lot of diversification. We know we saw the last diversification away from things like maize and sugar and we could earn a lot more money for the country.
Kamwendo: The Constitutional Court has been roped in to untangle a mineral rights mess that’s tarnishing South Africa’s name as an investment destination.
Creamer: That is the problem, we have had a blow to our reputation as an investment destination. Just look at the story. Here comes a Chinese owned company, they want to explore, we should roll out the red carpet for them, that is just risk money. They actually get a right and they start exploring, they spend R150-million in the Northern Cape on what looks like a good manganese prospect. Suddenly, there is an overlapping ownership of this. So another company says we have also been awarded this right. So then these guys have to stop and it has been a seven-year fight.
They then go to the High Court and the High Court chastises the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and says you have been neglectful, how can you do this and they say you can have the rights. They start again. The next minute the next court application to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which says no the other company got in first under a different name. This just represents chaos against the DMR. How can they operate in this way? Even if they used a blockchain they could have done something better than to register in duplicate. So hopefully the Constitutional Court will sort this out once and for all.
Kamwendo: Please ask Martin about the gem that was found at Letseng Mine in Lesotho.
Creamer: Just look at that, that is through new technology. Just about every second week now we are finding huge diamonds because of the great technology that they are applying, X-ray technology, which we have never had before.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.