Junior miners across Africa may be the ones to drive innovation and growth in an industry plagued by dwindling commodity prices, lack of transparency and a monopolized legacy.
If radical socio-economic transformation – the term favored by South African politicians these days – had a face, it would probably look like one of the many new mining operations being established by new players in the industry.
A recurring theme over the years at the Mining Indaba has been the uncertainty in the South African mining industry. This is driven by contested regulatory and legislative issues which have looked to aggressively introduce transformative initiatives across the industry.
That narrative has not changed but this year’s gathering in Cape Town had a tinge of optimism, with miners waiting for the contentious legislation to be changed.
In 2017, the then-Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, announced a new Mining Charter that “shifted the requirements for black ownership and employment equity at mining companies, as well as the companies from which they procure any goods and services.”
Following this, industry stakeholders say they have lost confidence in the ministry. According to the Chamber of Mines, the Mining Charter made investors wary of committing any capital to the country. A report by the Chamber of Mines claims that investment into the sector, which contributes 8% to GDP, has been stagnant since 2008.
This year, there were calls for the minister to stay away from the event. The stakeholders wanted Cyril Ramaphosa, who at the time was Deputy President, to deliver the keynote address. Zwane ignored this and defiantly asked, “In terms of the population of South Africa, what percentage of the people do these critics represent?”
“Anyone who thinks they can better the charter, our door is open for discussion,” Zwane told FORBES AFRICA on the sidelines of the event.
But, if you look past the legislative woes and the political rhetoric, you’ll see an encouraging story of a young black man who struggled to break into the sector which has previously been dominated by a privileged few.
A recent report by Statistics South Africa noted that mining production had increased by 6.5% year-on-year, up from the annual growth of 5.2% reported in October 2017. This bodes well for Black Royalty Minerals, a subsidiary of the Makole Group, which launched its first colliery in Bronkhorstspruit, a small town 50kms east of Pretoria, at the end of January.
“For us, mining is a pillar and a cornerstone of the South African economy. It’s a foundation that you cannot ignore when you talk about economic development. So, in 2014, [Bronkhorstspruit] is where Chilwavhusiku started, we did our prospecting and applied for all our authorization and after this was done we realized that we could take this project into the mining phase and that’s exactly what we did. And now, as we stand here, we are very proud of this development,” says Ndavhe Mareda, the Chairman of Black Royalty Minerals, which is 100% black-owned.
“One of our mandates is growth. We are looking at both the domestic market as well as export markets. We are working with a lot of traders in the hopes that we’ll be able to expand our horizon. And, we want to do this the right way, in a way that will not exploit the land or its dwellers and of course that works well with the society.”
Mareda was born in Venda, a former homeland of the apartheid regime in northern South Africa. He obtained his matric and moved to Johannesburg, the City of Gold, to further his studies. He obtained his Bachelor of Commerce at the University of South Africa and practiced as an accountant before venturing into entrepreneurship.
The company, which became operational in 2014, employs 350 people – 90% of whom are Bronkhorstspruit locals. It is hoped the colliery will create opportunities for the some 20,000 people that live around the mine.
“There is a huge level of unemployment in Bronkhorstspruit and our mine eases a lot of the pressure applied by the poverty. We give tender preference to the locals. These tenders may be for transportation or any other services that the mine needs to commission,” says Mareda.
This is what the disputed Mining Charter is looking to foster – assisting black-owned businesses like Black Royalty Minerals.
Disputed government policies are not isolated to South Africa.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is no stranger to legislation battles between government and mining conglomerates. The government recently completed a new draft of what it calls the Mining Code. It awaits the signature of the president. In the meantime, mining companies are anxious about the future of their operations in the region.
Randgold Resources started developing Kibali, in north east DRC, eight years ago. After investing $2.5 billion in the operation, the giant gold mine may have to stop productivity.
Randgold chief executive Mark Bristow says the mine is on track to produce its target of more than 700,000 ounces of gold in 2018, making it one of the largest gold mines in the world. But, with the Mining Code, this prosperity may be short-lived.
“It is our express wish that the government grasps the serious consequences this ill-considered code will have on its ability as a country to attract international investment and re-investment to the DRC, and to refer the code back to the ministry of mines for further consultation with the industry,” says Bristow.
Officials, however, are confident the code will demonopolize the industry and allow the country to enjoy a percentage of the profits made from the exploration of its resources. Albert Yuma Mulimbi, Chairman of the state-owned mining company Gecamines, says it will be renegotiating its contracts with international mining partners operating in the DRC.
Regulation is not the only issue facing mining in Africa. The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, in his official address, highlighted that creating a sustainable environment for emerging miners is no simple task. He said the industry is marred by a lack of transparency as well as a legacy of mistrust of major miners. The mining industry has been accused of pursuing profits at the expense of its workforce.
Solutions to these issues need to be found.
Apart from the emergence of junior miners, the mining industry in South Africa is looking at technological advancement to resuscitate the sector.
“Technologies like robotic process automation and artificial intelligence will enable core mining activities to be performed from locations that can support a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” reads Deloitte’s Tracking The Trends report. “These new technologies will turn the mining value chain upside down, disrupting both existing business models and the traditional roles and relationships among mining companies and their customers, suppliers, and even competitors.”
This is the kind of disruption that excites another junior miner, Olebogeng Sentsho, who’s a disruptor herself as a young woman emerging in the mining industry. She is the founder of Yeabo Mining, a company that specializes in erecting and operating waste management plants at mines.
“In order to make headway in this industry we need greater support and space from various stakeholders. The increasing cost of mining, especially when discovering alternative minerals in decommissioned mines, is immense,” she says.
Sentsho says Yeabo Mining will need R50 million ($4.1 million) for infrastructure needed to mine in the current climate.
“It’s not an easy ride but it’s one worth hanging onto and I am confident about the future and the markets we’ll be serving as Africans,” says Mareda with a smile and genuine hope.