Members briefly discussed and acceded to requests that the Committee be addressed by a mining company and by the Taung Community.
Mintek, a company that had been in existence for 75 years, addressed the Committee. Its challenges included the need to adapt to changing circumstances, the need to retain scientific staff, who were the core of Mintek’s activities, to curtain wasteful and needless expenditure, and to counter fraud. Several times during the presentation and questioning the Mintek delegation also emphasised that Mintek was in dire need of more funding from Government, to prevent it relying on the funding from its commercial activities, which detracted from its core programme of scientific research for the benefit of South Africa. Mintek had an unqualified audit report, although it had detected, and had thereafter pursued disciplinary action against some employees for fraud. Mintek was devoted to beneficiation, not only of minerals, but also was actively involved in intellectual property and licensing of its solutions both to local and overseas operations. It had patents both in use and not in use due to the fact that it was not yet opportune to do so. It was a knowledge factory, but also a global player. The entry of some entities into the market only after others had tested the water was described. Some partnerships showed huge viability whilst others showed far less immediate returns. Mintek stressed that the short term benefits should never take precedence over the long term approach. It was involved, amongst others, in research into alternative uses of minerals, such as for health purposes. Wherever possible, Mintek would undertake the initial research and then contract out commercial utilisation of the processes it developed. A database and identification of the provenance and source of diamonds was now attracting some acclaim. Beneficiation processes were explained, and Mintek emphasised that this comprised far more than turning unwrought gold into jewellery. Mintek also explained the hydrogen fuel cell projects, and noted that this was not, as yet, showing any advance on current methods as it was still reliant on coal-driven power. Mintek’s financial statements showed that although it had a small surplus in the past year, it was not really making a profit. It was trying to cut down on use of labour brokers, and was attempting to reach gender targets, to retain staff through proactive measures but had not yet managed to employ sufficient people with disabilities, although it noted that no suitable candidates had applied or made themselves known. There was not sufficient funding for maintenance of the buildings and replacement of scientific equipment, and the state of water in the campus dam required attention.
Members noted that the delegation was all male, but was assured that there was good representivity of females in management, but that they were unable to be present at the meeting. Members discussed beneficiation in some depth, asked how many papers were produced by each scientist, asked for clarification of Mintek’s role in regard to tailing or slime dams, desalination projects and water testing. Members also asked if there were plans to relocate the campus, who bore the responsibility for upkeep of the buildings, what Mintek’s ultimate aim was for the world-wide footprint, the relationships with other scientific councils, and the reasons for suspension of some of the bursary-holders funding. A Member made a strong plea that work that should be benefiting South Africa was in fact being done in India, and that sufficient funding should be provided to allow the work to be done by local businesses. Mintek too pleaded several times that it be given sufficient funding to sustain the scientific research. Other questions related to staffing, the wellness programme, the hydrogen projects, and use of gold in medical technology.
The Chairperson announced that it seemed that this session of Parliament might be reduced by one week, and asked the Members for their views on an amended programme.
Mr S Marais (DA) supported the suggestion, provided proper advance notice was provided.
Mr E Lucas (IFP) asked what date it was likely to end.
The Chairperson said that although he was awaiting official confirmation, Parliament was likely to end on 11 November 2009.
Mr C Gololo (ANC) and Ms D Mathebe (ANC) said they were flexible.
The Chairperson noted requests from Simmer & Jack, a mining company to address the Portfolio Committee, about issues that they considered should be brought to the attention of Parliament, similar to the recent meeting with Xstrata. Another request had been received from the people of Taung, Northern Cape, who wished to place before Parliament certain serious issues, through their tribal leaders.
Adv H Schmidt (DA) commented that he was not opposed to such presentations, and felt that it was valuable to hear their views from companies. This was certainly an improvement on the past, when some views were “muted” by entities such as the Chamber of Mines. He felt that joint presentations were not altogether in accord with the principles of democracy. It was important also to hear the views of those who differed from the official line. He had unfortunately been absent on the occasion of the submission by Xstrata, and had looked to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) website for a summary of the meeting. Conversations with others had indicated to him that the PMG website was too sanitised on the meeting with Xstrata, and that there had been some sharp words that were not recorded in the meeting report. PMG usually did not add any spin or bias, but he was concerned that here it appeared to had deviated from past practices.
The Chairperson stated that there were two aspects of the request by Simmer & Jack to be considered. Firstly, Parliament itself had declared officially that it was to be an activist Parliament, or a Parliament of the People, and so every opportunity to make Parliament more accessible should be canvassed and followed. Companies and individuals should be encouraged and made welcome. Currently issues of beneficiation and the Mining Charter should be aired fully, so companies, in addition to the Chamber of Mines, should be invited to attend the meetings when they took place.
Adv Schmidt repeated that his impression of the former meeting from the PMG minutes was that the company had not been made to feel welcome.
Mr Lucas said that there had been criticism of Xstrata but perhaps this was rather to do with the policies of the company, not their appearance before the Committee. A courteous welcome did not necessarily mean that the Committee should endorse whatever views were submitted, and he felt it healthy that contrary views be heard.
Members agreed that the requests of Simmer & Jack and the Taung community should be approved.
Mintek Annual Report 2008/09
Mr Harold Motaung, Chairperson, Mintek, reminded the Portfolio Committee that the Mintek campus was situated in Randburg, and invited the Committee to visit it. He outlined the immediate challenges as including the need for Mintek, which was 75 years old, to adapt to changing circumstances, the need to retain staff, especially the scientific staff, the core of Mintek's activities, and the curtailment of needless and wasteful expenditure, by introducing and implementing controls to obviate fraud and similar criminal activity. He reminded the Portfolio Committee that most of the staff of Mintek were trained as scientists, not bureaucrats, and that they concentrated on scientific activities, not management. He conceded that Mintek had fallen prey to fraud. However, Mintek believed that it had learned from past errors. Although the criminal mind could see opportunities where the non criminal mind could not perceive them, he nonetheless believed that the fraud had been reduced if not removed completely. He placed on record his gratitude to his accompanying team and Mintek's staff for having executed their duties so admirably. Despite the challenges Mintek had received another unqualified audit report from the Auditor-General (AG).
Mr Abe Mngomezulu, Chief Executive Officer, Mintek, tabled and amplified upon his presentation and the Annual Report. Mintek was a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) but was unique in that it was devoted to beneficiation, not only of minerals but in its whole approach. Thus Mintek was actually involved in the field of intellectual property. The nature of this work meant that sometimes the scientists laboured for years, if not decades, before they stumbled on the answers sought. Thereafter their solutions were patented in terms of the intellectual property laws, in order both to protect and maximise the financial benefit or return from such research. There were instances where the Mintek patent could not be licensed to South African operators. In this case, the patents would be licensed to external or foreign companies. Whilst the foreign exchange earned was welcome to South Africa and Mintek, there was a need to take care that the licensing agreements did not operate to the detriment of South Africa, such as care that uranium be used for benign, not offensive purposes. Care had to be taken to ensure that the licence fees actually came to South Africa and did not become short-circuited somewhere else. Mintek possessed a range of patents which were neither utilised nor licensed out, simply because it was not yet opportune to do so. This did not mean that the research behind such patents was neither justified nor non essential. Therefore, there were patents both in use and not in use.
Mintek received funding from two sources – one being basic funding from Government which, as indicated by the bar graph, was static, if not declining in real terms, while the second source of funding, derived from Mintek's' commercial activities, was currently increasing exponentially. He cautioned that this had the danger that in order to retain profitability, Mintek could be diverted from pure scientific research, which was its main function in terms of the legislation, to becoming a mere commercial entity. He emphasised that the funding from Government did not even cover Mintek's salary bill, let alone provide for replacement of any scientific equipment or the maintenance of other assets. Instead, the salary bill, the maintenance and replacement of scientific equipment, and the maintenance of the buildings and similar equipment were all subsidised by Mintek's' commercial earnings. Although these were quite considerable, they contained a large percentage of foreign currency, whose value could either rise or fall, without Mintek being able to influence the value one way or the other.
Mintek was both a knowledge factory and also a global player. He cited the smelting of high chrome content, the ConRoast Technology process, as an example. No other entity but Braemore was prepared to become involved, for a variety of reasons. Braemore had had to adapt itself for Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), health and environmental issues. Those who had in the past been resistant to this were now beating a path to Braemore's door, as it had the licences for the technology. Despite this, the really big players in this market, who were the producers of platinum catalytic exhaust systems, were still not involved.
From some partnerships, enormous viability ensued, whilst others showed less immediate profit. However, this did not mean that Mintek was insignificant. The role or position of uranium and gold, for health purposes, remained questionable. There had always been a role for gold in the health field, but the price of the metal had precluded against its greater use. There remained an alternative role for gold, possibly even in HIV/AIDS. The national innovation centre was busy with malaria, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS programmes, not all of which may be successful or could be concluded immediately or cheaply.
A 75-year-old institution would obviously be able to cite some instances in which research was delayed, seemingly unconnected with the immediate problem, or too costly. However, there were successes stories at Mintek, which proved that doubts about the immediate efficacy, or failure of research should be approached cautiously. The long term was more important. Where possible, Mintek did the initial research and then entered into partnership with other entities for the commercial utilisation that would bring long-term benefit to Mintek. He cited the Kimberly process for the identification of the provenance of diamonds, to prevent a flooding of the market with diamonds from trouble spots. Initially there had been little interest, and in fact opposition, but this had changed and Australia and Canada were enthusiastic about the process, though their enthusiasm was based on the protection of their own diamond mining rather than the quelling of trouble spots. Proper utilisation of the Kimberley process, after the establishment of a verifiable database, would indicate not only the geographical source of the diamonds but would also assist the policing of the diamond markets.
Arising from this he addressed the issue of beneficiation. Beneficiation, as conveyed by the popular media, would seem to be limited to taking a lump of unwrought gold and turning it into a piece of jewellery. Although this was beneficiation, it was only one aspect. The Kimberley process was beneficiation, not in the short commercial term, although its long term process development would benefit South Africa immeasurably. Beneficiation meant getting a benefit from raw material, in the wider sense, for the State, and was not to be viewed in isolation.
Dr Molefi Motuko, General Manager, Mintek, then noted that in the hasty search for alternative supplies of energy there had been a concentration on hydrogen as an alternative source of fuel. However, the conversion of hydrogen into a usable form required old-fashioned coal-driven power initially to effect the change. Thus, in the long run, hydrogen power was not, in its present state of development, any advance on the current methods. However, these catalysts did add value.
Mr Mngomezulu then added that the Portfolio Committee should have regard to the slide depictions of Mintek's activities, which reflected the approach and vision of Mintek.
Addressing the financial slides he again reiterated that Mintek went as far back as 1968. He emphasised again that the lack of funding by the State jeopardised the position of Mintek as a research centre. He asked that the Committee give consideration to this and raise it further in the corridors of power.
Mr Motaung confirmed that this was a vexed issue. He suggested that Mintek should be retained as a pure science research institute and not be contaminated by the need to pursue commercial activities, for this might cause Mintek to lose its cutting edge advantage. He emphasised that scientific research was a slow and laborious process and could not be hurried, nor should the long term or ultimate benefits be abandoned for short term gains.
Mr Mngomezulu then tabled the financial slides. These showed that profits were exceeding targets while at the same time costs were being cut as far a possible. However, Mintek was not making a profit. The staff complement was now 780 employees. Previously, Mintek had utilised labour brokers for temporary staff. He was aware that the question of labour brokers was presently being discussed. He noted that what he had to say applied only to Mintek’s own experience, which was that there was a distinct division between those employed by Mintek and those working at Mintek through labour brokers. A large sum of money was paid to the labour brokers, which included an agency fee for the finding suitable temporary staff. However, if the true costs of employment were factored in, the saving through the use of employees generated through labour brokers was minimal. Once the employees were no longer employed through the brokers, but became permanent employees of Mintek, their changed attitudes more than compensated for their cost in financial terms. Those employed through the brokers were sometimes doing the same job for three years and showed little loyalty to Mintek. Mintek was therefore pleased that a conscious decision to ease out labour brokers had been taken. Most of such employees acquired through the Labour Brokers had not been but support staff. However, it had also been found, with the scientists, that they were most prone to being poached away by other entities offering greater financial rewards, once they had worked for Mintek for four or five years. They were generally, also, at this stage at a very vulnerable stage in their careers and were possibly also having families and increased expenses. The Mintek remuneration package had been reviewed and now Mintek offered an annual across the board increase, or cost of living increase, coupled with an extra incentive increase, of as much as 2%, for good work or potential. The result had been a marked reduction in turnover of this category of staff, who were just coming into their most productive years. There were also now weekly meetings being held to discuss injuries and similar matters which fell under the term employee wellness, which had also markedly improved the morale of all the employees, from the top to the bottom.
Attention was being paid to transformation and Mintek felt that good progress had been made in this regard, as targets, as reflected in the slides, had been exceeded. There was still concern about the employment of persons with disabilities, as Mintek conceded that it had not been able to meet and match the demographics of the country. However, there was also a marked reluctance of suitable persons with disabilities to come forward. Bursaries showed a concentration on the demographics, with blacks and women increasingly being given bursaries and thereafter entering Mintek as employees. However, it must be remembered that the pool of suitable candidates for employment was small.
Mr Mngomezulu concluded that the low level of State funding precluded maintenance of the infrastructure and equipment, which meant that money from the commercial activities was ploughed back, which was not ideal. The purification of the water in its dam required funding and was of concern. In short Mintek did make a profit for the State but not in accordance with its mandate.
Mr Motaung reiterated that funding was a very vexed issue and he repeated his suggestions that Mintek should be retained as a pure science research institute, to retain its cutting edge, and his remarks about the slow progress of research, which should not be abandoned for short-term gains. He submitted also that the lack of a suitable dedicated building or infrastructure was draining money from other areas where expenditure was either more necessary or appropriate to the source of the money. There was a need to have more for maintenance of the physical infrastructure. The state of the water in the campus dam needed attention. There was an unidentified problem of contaminated water leaching into the water table of the greater Gauteng area. In addition, the Mintek campus, which had once been isolated, had now been overtaken by urban sprawl.
Ms N Ngele (ANC) emphasised that she was not impressed that the presentation was delivered by an all-male team, which was an affront to the dignity of Parliament, which demanded demographic representivity.
Mr Motaung tabled the organogram of Mintek, which reflected high female representation in the management structure of Mintek. He stated that on this occasion, the two top women mangers were engaged in the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for wage negotiations.
Mr Mngomezulu also tabled the slide reflecting that Mintek was concentrating on equitable representivity in management, employment and bursaries, and noted that this had been the attitude of Mintek since 1994.
Ms Ngele asked whether there was a market for the short-term training of scientists and asked what happened to them afterwards.
Adv Schmidt referred to page 3 of the presentation and expressed the opinion that the summary of the financial situation presented an acceptable picture.
Adv Schmidt noted that “beneficiation” had become something of a buzzword. He asked if Mintek co-operated with the Department of Mining.
Mr Peter Craven, General Manager: Technology, Mintek, explained that beneficiation was viewed by the media, and hence the lay public, simply as being no more than taking a piece of unwrought gold and turning it into a piece of jewellery, hence the current simplification that beneficiation was merely adding value to minerals before export. The media and the lay public were correct in the limited sense. However, for Mintek, beneficiation was a wider concept and entailed adding value to resources, whether to the mineral or to a product, but ultimately for the State. Titanium and platinum were suitable, but not exclusive, examples of the beneficiation process.
Mr Gololo sought clarification on beneficiation and, if jewellery was not the ultimate objective for gold, he wished to know if this remained true of all minerals.
Mr Craven summarised beneficiation as being adding value to the chain, and to do so required clarification of the objectives.
Mr Motaung added that beneficiation was misunderstood by the poplar media and the lay public. A degree of boldness was therefore required. Beneficiation meant that a benefit was to be added, whether this was a new technology, or simply a way of extracting the mineral more efficiently and hence more cheaply, or the manufacture of the extracted substance into consumer goods. The aim made little difference to the sense of adding value to the chain. He added that there was a need to be bold and not to limit one's thinking to commercial applications.
Mr Mngomezulu noted that beneficiation had neither been defined, nor legislated for. He submitted that until this was done there would be confusion and problems. He pleaded with the Portfolio Committee to exercise its powers in securing legislation on this subject.
Adv Schmidt pointed out that with Ferrochrome beneficiation it was clear that a one size fits all approach could not suffice.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee revealed that Cabinet was currently involved in fast tracking legislation with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), and the intention was to achieve a holistic approach.
Mr Motaung said that there were a lot of technological challenges, and much talk of beneficiation but it was a question of cost effectiveness. Overcoming such handicaps required political will, which was out of Mintek’s hands.
Adv Schmidt noted the volume of production of scientific papers, and asked that the number of scientific publications per scientist be provided.
Dr Motuko said that if the number of scientific papers was divided among the number of scientists then the figure, derived from the number of hours devoted per paper, was 10 papers for each scientist, and that this rate of production placed Mintek among the world leaders. However, so that it was not regarded as an elitist-orientated organisation the figure of 4 papers per employee embraced all employees. Mintek attempted not to discriminate between employees as every Mintek employee was regarded as adding as much value as any other.
Adv Schmidt also asked for clarification about the tailing or slime dams that were commonly regarded as a problem in the whole Gauteng region, but most especially on the West Rand.
Mr Craven noted that the question of the tailings was intertwined with the process of environmental control around tailing of dams, rivers and lakes, especially in the Witwatersrand area. Mintek was not concerned with the purity of the water, as this was not its function. Mintek’s function was limited to determining the presence and density of minerals in the water, especially the presence and density of uranium, copper and similar minerals emanating from the slimes or tailings dams. The Department of Water Affairs was concerned with the fitness of water for human and animal consumption. He conceded that excessive uranium, copper or other minerals could make the water unfit for human and animal consumption, although it could still be classified as “pure”. The presence of minerals in water was a concern. However, he reiterated that the mandate of Mintek only extended so far. There was asbestos present in the Northern part of the country.
Mr C Gololo asked whether, in the light that Mintek was a victim of urban sprawl, there were any plans to relocate the campus.
Mr Craven reminded the Portfolio Committee that when Mintek had been established in 1974 the campus had been considered out in the country but the suburbs had caught up. He suggested that the relocation of the Mintek campus would incur enormous costs, beyond the capability of either the State or Mintek to bear. In addition the question of satellite campuses was not feasible or desirable because the operations of Mintek were inextricably involved and Mintek needed to be a one-stop shop, for itself and those who consulted it.
Mr Gololo asked what the ultimate aim for Mintek’s footprint was.
Mr Craven said, with regard to the world wide footprint, that there were advantages and disadvantages, that required careful balance. The advantages were that Mintek, and the standing of its scientists, were firmly in the view of the world wide scientific community, which was of great importance to South Africa and its reputation. However, much of the work and research of Mintek had the potential to be altered into offensive weaponry, and this required that great care be exercised in the licensing of foreign licensees, to ensure that they would not abuse the offensive potential of some of the developments. If this was not done, Mintek would return to isolation. Not to do so, would he suggest, be a return to isolation.
Mr Gololo asked about any relationships between Mintek and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Mr Gololo asked what the criteria were for the small jewelry project, as he was interested in introducing such a project to his constituency.
Mr E Lucas wished to compliment Mintek on a good presentation of a healthy situation with an excellent financial situation and no qualifications by the AG.
Ms A Simelane, Chief Financial Officer, Mintek, stated that while the financial statement reflected a satisfactory position there had been a concentration on detecting fraud, and fraudulent payments. Suspicion had been aroused in 2007 and 2008, and in an effort to restrict any opportunities for fraud the internal controls had been improved. It had been discovered that some internal staff had been involved in fraud. However, she informed the Committee that adequate action had been taken and this had included suspension and disciplining. Some employees had been arrested, convicted and were sentenced to jail terms. Wherever possible, attempts were being made to recover what was lost through the frauds.
Mr Lucas expressed concern about the purity of water and reminded the Portfolio Committee that far too many people did not have access to piped, pure water.
Mr Lucas expressed gratification that Mintek had been proactive with the labour broker issue.
Mr Mngomezulu reiterated that Mintek had more or less balanced its expenditure on labour brokers with the increased cost to the company of turning agency employees into direct employees, and had found that the increased morale more than compensated. He conceded that in the case of illness or unplanned absences from work, there was still a demand for temporary or casual employees and labour brokers or temping agencies would supply temporary staff.
Mr Lucas asked whether the condition of the Mintek buildings was not the responsibility of the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Ms Simelane said that the funding of Mintek was problematic, especially for upkeep of the buildings, some of which were very old, had been badly planned by today's standards, and were in fact unsuitable. There was no relationship between Mintek and DPW, and Mintek should be better supported by the State. She reminded Members that the scientific equipment was also ageing and required replacement, if not upgrading. The question remained of what the State should be doing for the sciences, and the scientific institutions.
Ms F Mathibela expressed concern about the fact that bursary holders who were not performing had their financial support suspended, pending an improvement in their results. She was of the view that it was these poorly performing bursary holders who were in fact in need of the greatest support from Mintek.
Dr Motuko said that some of the bursary holders had failed because they were not working as was required of them. The funding had been suspended until they could show evidence of academic progress. It was not Mintek's intention, or even function, to subsidise students enrolled for tertiary education who did not take full advantage of their opportunities. Suspension of their benefits had a salutary effect upon those concerned. A Memorandum of Understanding had also been drawn with the tertiary institutions regarding academic support of the bursary holders, since their lack of progress was not always attributed solely to the bursary holders themselves.
As a general comment, Ms Simelane also made a strenuous plea for sufficient funding to sustain Mintek in its primary function, of scientific research, so that it was not forced to trim its sails to commercial research in order to stay in business.
Mr Craven associated himself with such plea, and stated firmly that the nature of scientific research was nebulous but not unprofitable. Despite great worldwide concern about HIV/AIDS, and a lengthy period of awareness about the disease, no cure had yet been produced from the research. Although one view would be to regard the research as a “failure”, it must be remembered that there were many other benefits arising from the “unsuccessful” research. This was similar in other Mintek work, including the purity of the water. Mr Craven noted that although Mintek was not, for example, charged with the task of studying the application and potential of desalination of water, it was charged with examining and solving the problem of toxic water. For this, there was close co-operation and liaison with the Department of Water Affairs and other similar bodies, and exchange of information.
Dr Motuko then amplified the slide on the portable “shack” and explained that even in such circumstances there had been success with the training of the operative. He stated outright that the shelter used for the protection of the workers gave concern and was not secure, but it was never intended to be the end result. As soon as the process was under way and financially sustainable, the intention was to move to more secure premises, but it all depended upon the sustainability of the project.
Dr Motuko also repeated that with regard to beneficiation there was co-ordination at all levels and with every mineral. With regard to water Mintek was examining every aspect and attempting to arrive at the most cost effective result. He also addressed the Kimberley process described earlier, and emphasised that Mintek was establishing a database that would reveal the provenance of diamonds both from countries and areas within those countries, and ultimately even the actual mine. Such process had encountered antagonisms from countries, which were still countenancing or “permitting” blood diamond activity, and Australia and Canada had been antagonistic in order to retain their trade secrets.
Ms Mathibela asked whether South Africa had the same technology as India, to which many production methods were being diverted.
Mr Mngomezulu said that it was not technology that was attracting the cutting and polishing of small diamonds to India, but merely the fact that the Indians were prepared to work for next to nothing, and so their labour costs were unmatchable.
Mr Gololo asked whether seawater could not be utilised to produce potable water.
Mr Mngomezulu said that although Mintek was up to date with developments this did not fall within the mandate of Mintek but of the Water Council.
Ms Mathibela sought clarification on the position of people with disabilities, who were not noted on the organogram.
Mr Motaung confessed that Mintek did not have sufficient persons with disabilities employed, but reiterated the reasons given earlier, noting that although Mintek was searching for suitable candidates, such candidates did not simply offer themselves.
Ms Mathibela asked for clarification on agro geology.
Mr Lucas stated that Sasol had received subsidies in order to make it a commercial success and in essence SASOL was only the beneficiation of coal. He asked why, even if subsidies were necessary initially, other metals and minerals could not receive the benefit of subsidies until they, too, were commercially sustainable.
Mr Magagula sought clarification on the wellness week.
Mr Motaung said that the wellness programme was not confined to HIV AIDS but was extended to diabetes and cholesterol and other chronic conditions. It was an attempt to persuade employees and other people to moderate their lives in order to benefit themselves.
Mr Gololo then addressed the Portfolio Committee at length in his mother tongue.
The Chairperson stated that whilst South Africa enjoyed the benefit of eleven official languages, and everyone was entitled to use his or her own language, it was unfortunate that the Portfolio Committee did not have simultaneous translation services, and he would prefer it if Members were to bear this in mind when addressing the Committee, otherwise the Chairperson had an extra burden placed on him.
He summarised that Mr Gololo had stated that he did not want South African work to be going to India and being done by foreigners, as this deprived South Africans of the work potential of beneficiation. He was of the opinion that there should be no compromise. Government must be persuaded to find the funding to allow Mintek to do its work.
Mr P Poho (COPE) commented that he found the report refreshing but he asked for greater publicity on the bursary scheme so that more persons, especially those from the rural area, could benefit.
Adv Schmidt referred to the hydrogen project. He noted that South Africa had approximately 75% of the world's reserves of platinum. Beneficiation of this would require hydrogen. South Africa was apparently only active in 25% of the market, and he asked why this was so.
Mr P Craven stated that every effort was being made to ensure fuel efficiency, and the ConRoast technology was an example of this. The energy savings had benefits in other areas, sometimes surprisingly. He stated that the intention at all times was to ensure maximum efficiency and large savings. The major players in the market had initially looked askance at the whole subject, but now that minor players were showing the benefits, the major players had seemingly undergone a change of heart and were expressing interest.
Specifically in regard to hydrogen and platinum, he noted that the major players were in the exhaust system industry, which composed only 25% of the area of activity, hence the figures provided. Additionally the commercial approach of the participating companies, whose duty was to focus on the bottom line, meant that before embracing a new and untried technology they preferred other players to try it first, and report successes, whereafter they would also enter the market. Braemore was a good example of this. Initially Braemore had merely sniffed about the process and technology and then entered the market. In turn, Braemore was merging with Attarsen, and so licensing of the technologies was now a feature. The same was true of uranium. Mintek compartmentalised uranium so that the offensive capabilities were remote, but not impossible, from what Mintek was licensing.
The Chairperson asked whether upgrading of technology improved the capability of the smelters.
The Chairperson sought amplification of the role of gold in medical technology and advances. He added that the role of gold and other mineral in medical technology had been flagged for attention.
Dr Motuko explained that a basket of minerals had been observed as requiring attention. These were outlined on page 42 of the Annual Report. This process had concentrated on Marble Hall and the work was proceeding to finalisation and commercial sustainability.
In response to the queries regarding why Mintek was engaging in biomedical approaches and the aurimedical field it was felt that other applications for minerals in addition to the traditional need to be sought and explored.
The Chairperson expressed concern about the security of the small jewellers if they worked under conditions as reflected in the slides.
The Chairperson conceded that funding was a major concern but pointed out that National Treasury was not only under pressure to fund a multitude of causes but had regulations regarding the disposal and disbursement of funds. However, he gave the Portfolio Committee and Mintek the assurance that this was receiving attention.
Dr Motuko conceded that the challenges facing Mintek were manifold and multiple but the intention was to remain among the top 30 scientific institutions of the world. To do so means that a change of approach was required and this was a work in progress.
Mr Marais raised a question about illegal mining.
The Chairperson said that this was now a matter also for the Justice and Security sectors and that there was collaboration between the sectors, which would be reported on further in the forthcoming weeks.
Adv Schmidt referred to the unspent funds and asked what would happen to these.
Mr Mngomezulu said these would be retained.
Ms Simelane explained that only in the last two years had Mintek had any unspent funding to roll over. It was not certain whether this would happen again.
Mr Mngomezulu then reiterated the need for funding, for the activities of Mintek, which were pure science.
The Chairperson thanked Mintek and its delegation. He asked everyone to bear in mind that South Africa was a developmental state and that required different treatment from that afforded to developed states. He assured Mintek that the Portfolio Committee intended to offer assistance to Mintek and all other entities subject to oversight and he trusted that there would be a happy and fruitful relationship over the next five years. He cautioned that both Mintek and the Committee must constantly be on their guard for unintended consequences.
The meeting was adjourned.
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