Programme Director; Professor Yumus Ballim
Vice Chancellor; Professor Loyiso Nongxa
WMRI Director; Professor Nielen van der Merwe
Ladies and gentlemen
I am honoured to address the launch of the Wits Mining Research Institute (WMRI) today. It is indeed another historic day for skills development in the mining sector, and for this institution which has over the past century distinguished itself as a center of academic excellence, research and thought leadership in mining and beyond.
It is abundantly clear that this University has played a critical role in not only providing the necessary knowledge, but also requisite skills and research capacity that has underpinned modern mining and economic development and sociopolitical knowledge in South Africa. Part of this legacy is evident in their distinguished alumni including our former President, Nelson Mandela; Bishop Thabo Makgoba; Professor Ngoepe, an eminent physicist and Dr Motlana an activist and academic.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At some point, not too long ago, some cast doubts upon the future of this industry, yet today here we stand looking forward to second century of modern mining in South Africa. In this new century of mining we will need to do things differently from the one preceding, this initiative by Wits and others like it will be the difference between lip service and meaningful transformation and sustainable development in our industry.
Central to achieving that vision of transformation and sustainable development, is a vibrant and dynamic research and development sector, and a culture of innovation and skills development. We need, not only higher levels R&D and skills development initiatives, but greater integration, coordination and strategic direction of these efforts so as to support the nation’s mineral development aims.
I emphasize again, that while we are working to reverse a backlog in R&D and skills investment, it is not enough to increase the quantum without linking it back to pillars of the vision for the future of mining in South Africa as captured in our Mining Growth and Transformation Strategy which include;
1. Ensuring meaningful transformation of the mining industry,
2. A safe and healthy mining work environment,
3. An industry that is environmentally sustainable,
4. An industry that contributes to the beneficiation of our minerals and the broader industrial and economic development strategy;
Ensuring meaningful transformation of the mining industry,
On ensuring meaningful transformation, we have set out a regulatory framework including key indicators and targets for transformation in the sector. Monitoring of compliance and implementation has revealed that performance is skewed towards ownership transactions at the expense of other commitments including employment equity where we find that there is considerable space to improve performance and strengthen the linkages between the employment of historically disadvantaged South Africans, their training and further career progression in the industry.
Part of the work of this new institution must be to ensure that HDSAs are affirmed in this industry and empowered to play a meaningful role in its development.
A safe and healthy mining industry
With the introduction of comprehensive mine health and safety legislation in 1996, South Africa has witnessed a steady decline in the incidence of accidents, fatalities and long term illness as underpinned by improvements in engineering or design controls. Going forward government will continue to drive the agenda of Zero Tolerance to Harm, presenting another opportunity for cooperation with this new Institute. It is my sincere hope that this Institute will engage with the DMR and stakeholders including the Mine Health and Safety Council on the R&D and innovation agenda in health and safety. Examples of programmes that would be bolstered by collaboration are the campaigns for development of personal protective equipment suitable for women in mining and the agreed establishment of a Centre of Excellence for mine health and safety.
An industry that is environmentally aware and sustainable
Central to sustainable development of the mining sector is the issue of environmental impact management and rehabilitation. As a mature mining jurisdiction, South Africa is faced with the legacy of irresponsible, unsustainable mining practices of the past. We look forward to a Mining Research Institute that will be seized with research and innovation in this area.
At the same time, we must remain conscious of the need for innovation that will support the environmental sustainability of mining in the future. For instance, as a water scarce mining jurisdiction we are conspicuous in our limited efforts as regards water efficiency and recycling.
An industry that has a skilled and dynamic workforce and contributes to the overall national skills base,
Over the past century of modern mining, the industry has undergone great change as driven by global economics and the rapid pace of technological development. This has inexorably affected the industry, impacting every aspect of the mining process and its resource needs.
While South Africa is still a labour intensive mining jurisdiction, technological advancements have brought about changes in the skills required of people in the industry and will continue to drive skills needs into the medium- to longer-term future. To address these shifts we need to ensure that incumbent workers are supported in acquiring the skills requisite in this dynamic industry.
As the sector grows in this context, we expect the demand for skills to rise commensurately. We will need more artisans, mining engineers, metallurgists, chemical engineers, geologists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, mine surveyors, and so on. This institution should play a major role in driving skills development in this regard. This will best be accomplished through the development of partnerships with institutions at the forefront of these efforts such as the MQA and relevant science councils.
This new institute should create a platform to support the DMR as the industry regulator in a wide variety of skills and research needs, such as the training of mining inspectors, and environmental officers etc.
We also need to be cognizant of the need to drive the innovation agenda in such a way as to complement rather than contradict South Africa’s comparative advantage in a large, young labour pool and economic goal of a labour absorbing growth path.
An industry that contributes to the beneficiation, value addition and the broader industrial and economic development vision of the country;
We look forward to progressive engagement with this institution on the role of transforming South Africa’s other great comparative advantage, that of mineral resource endowment into a competitive advantage. Beneficiation of South Africa’s minerals is a critical component of the nation’s industrial and economic development framework. To this end, a beneficiation strategy has been developed, to maximize the returns from the exploitation of our mineral resources as linked to our broader economic goals of infrastructure development and industrialization. Work is underway on the development of an implementation plan. The success of the beneficiation implementation plan will rely greatly on partnership with this nascent research institution. We will be engaging you as to how this partnership can be realized for the advancement of minerals beneficiation and value addition in the five pilot value chains of energy, steel, jewellery, titanium, PGMs and autocatalytic converters.
R&D and innovation
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I have previously stated, R&D and innovation cut across our entire mineral development agenda, and will make or break our progress towards sustainable growth and meaningful transformation for the industry.
We need to instill a culture of innovation and investment in research and development in the mining sector. This is important for the continuous development of productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of the industry. To this extent, government has already started to invest in increased R&D through DST and our research institutions to ensure we move above the current low levels of R&D expenditure in the mining industry and beyond.
The extent to which this institution collaborates with other relevant research and academic institutions, government departments and industry to drive innovation and research in exploration, mining and beneficiation will be a key determinant of its long term success.
Let me say in closing, once again, Programme Director, how delighted I am at the opportunities and possibilities presented by the establishment of the Mining Research Institute here at Wits.
I thank you.