The critical role technology is playing in mining’s transformation, and the importance of the sector’s contribution towards rebuilding South Africa’s post-Covid economy, were central themes at hybrid IT systems integrator and managed services provider Datacentrix’ recent third annual Mining Indaba event.
This year’s Indaba took place at Zebula Golf Estate and Spa in Limpopo with the support of platinum sponsor, Huawei, and gold sponsors, OpenText and Tenable.
Kenny Nkosi, divisional MD: public sector and commercial sales at Datacentrix, and Hannah Hanxu, divisional director: commercial sector at Huawei Enterprise Business Group, welcomed delegates by praising the mining industry for its resilience over the past 18 months.
Said Hanxu: “This shows how important the sector is to the country’s economic recovery. According to the latest PWC South Africa Mining report, there is great opportunity ahead for mines to transition into the new economy and contribute to South Africa’s economic rebuilding. And as you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest agent of change for all aspects of our lives: it has pushed us into the digital era.”
The first keynote speaker at the Mining Indaba 2021, Tafadzwa Chibanguza, economist at Minerals Council South Africa, spoke on several very current challenges facing the South African mining sector, as well as giving an outlook on the industry moving forward.
He noted that the value mining has contributed to the economy has contracted over time, despite this being an industry of tremendous potential, stating that “mining has become a sunset industry, with its contribution to the South African economy decreasing to around only eight percent as of 2020.”
Chibanguza also mentioned the drop off of employment within the sector, from 700 000 in 2012 to less than 460 000 in the first quarter of 2021, and concerns around a decline in exploration spend, the very start of the mining value chain, which could pose a serious risk to local mining.
Another South African challenge, according to Chibanguza, is the fact that mining is both directly and indirectly dependent on all government-supplied infrastructure, from water provision to the use of harbour, rail and road infrastructure. Mines purchase around 30 percent of Eskom’s power, with the availability of electricity and rising tariffs remaining serious constraints to the industry.
More encouraging news, however, was that, while the Covid-19 pandemic caused economies to lock down – with a short, sharp, immediate impact – there was a much faster recovery in production by the industry when compared to the negative influence of the global financial crisis, which saw 18 months needed for a recovery in metal demand, as opposed to around six months due to the pandemic.
He added that, while mine closures are inevitable, technology will allow us to extend the life of mines significantly, with twenty-four-hour mechanisation being particularly effective, extending a mine’s life beyond an estimated closure in 2033, in a ‘do nothing’ scenario, to beyond 2046.
The Mining Indaba’s second keynote speaker, economist Dr Roelof Botha, concurred that while there are many tests and trials facing South Africa’s economic growth, from Eskom’s infrastructure concerns and the trillions of Rand lost in the state capture, there are a number of positives on which to focus.
“Renewables are becoming cheaper, and we have incredible capacity here from both a solar and wind perspective. Confidence in local agriculture is at an all-time high, and the price of property is set to increase, as we’re in the initial stages of a property boom. Our GDP has also made a full recovery from Covid.
“Don’t get stuck in the recent past, there is fantastic news all around in South Africa, and we’re seeing 22 significant growth drivers, up from 11 last year, such as the lowest lending rate in 50 years.
“The mining industry has helped to save South Africa. We have the resources, the skills and people with the right attitude, so it’s time to calm down and grow the economy.”
The Mining Indaba 2021 included a panel discussion between Datacentrix, Huawei and Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat), a mid-tier Platinum Group Metals (PGM) producer, which originated from a joint venture between Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Royal Bafokeng Holdings, which looked at unleashing the real power and value of data for mining.
RBPlat’s Karina Geyser, manager information management, also provided attendees with a real-life view of a connected mine, providing a view of modernisation in mining and exploring how RBPlat is creating value from data through its roadmap towards a digital ecosystem.
Speakers on the event’s agenda included Huawei solutions manager, Gys Malan; Datacentrix head of security, Rudie Raath; regional director at Veritas Technologies, Neil Thorns; Stiaan De Waal, business development manager: Africa region at ManageEngine; and Luis Gomes de Jesus, sales engineer at Tenable South Africa, amongst others.
In his presentation, entitled ‘Empowering local mines through partnership’, Raath made specific reference to the important role partnerships play in resolving today’s mining challenges of connected workloads and apps, converged network risk, the empowerment of a productive hybrid workforce, and data optimisation and automation, amongst others.
“Through Datacentrix’ value-driven approach, we are able to help African mines utilise innovation and technology to mitigate risk, improve efficiencies and drive down costs,” he explained.
Other topics delved into evolving technologies that are influencing business models, connectivity and security in mining, ranging from embracing a hybrid-IT strategy and the importance of managing unstructured data in content management, to combining the power of artificial intelligence and humanity in mine surveillance.