The Committee was briefed by the Council for Geoscience (CGS) on its mandate, budget, and strategy for the coming years. The main national and international programmes were outlined. The importance of innovation and creativity were stressed. One of the major challenges was lack of funding. Expenditure on personnel alone took up the entire government grant, which made it necessary for CGS to cut bursary funding and purchase of some movable assets. The CGS was increasingly reliant on commercial enterprise, which meant that less time was focused on research. The projects of the CGS covered mineral resources development, environmental geosciences, water/geohydrology, geo-energy, engineering geosciences, and public education and information. Activities included basic rough scale geological mapping, geophysical mapping, monitoring of seismic activity, and advisory collaboration with the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) in dealing with earthquakes, dolomites and sinkholes. Three key projects were water ingress, closure of abandoned mines and rising water levels. The CGS collaborated with other scientists and participated in training. Some of its projects, as well as the staff demographics, were outlined. Key challenges included the economic crisis, the need to replace ageing equipment, and lack of resources, which impeded research. There was a need to reactivate exploration in South Africa, with offshore mapping and environmental issues associated with mining and land use being identified as priorities. Members required more detail on the nature, progress and timeframes of rural development projects, particularly those affecting small miners. They questioned the retention strategy for highly and expensively-trained staff, and suggested that incentives be considered, including honouring those achieving well. Further questions related to the cost of producing maps, the need to solve existing problems rather than focusing on new ones, the need for inter-departmental collaboration, and detail on the rationale, progress and benefits of the seismic project. Members were also interested to hear what advocacy work CGS was undertaking, where it was operating, whether it was possible to improve the early-warnings for seismic activity, why several earthquakes internationally were not anticipated, and the reasons for South Africa’s high mining fatality rate. Members were sympathetic of the CGS’s need to access further funding, questioned what the shortfall was, whether it performed contract work for other departments, and suggested that personnel costs should be brought down. Other questions relate to its work in preventing the rise of subsurface water levels, the percentage of CGS work that was mine-related, and its views on sinkholes and rehabilitation of both water and land. Members expressed their commitment to put forward proposals for total government funding to allow CGS to realise its full mandate.
Mintek then briefed the Committee on its strategic plans, noting that it was involved in the post exploration/mining components of the mining value chain. Its primary role was as inventor. However South Africa was putting too little into research and development and was thus uncompetitive. Mintek’s affiliation to other institutions and universities, worldwide, was outlined, and its collaborative work was outlined. The streams of revenue and its expenditure were tabled and explained. It was noted that it did not aim to make a profit, but its income for 2009/10 was below expectation. Mintek, like the CGS, complained of insufficient funding which meant that it must rely on commercial activities to survive, with insufficient time and resources allocated to research and development. Its plans were outlined, noting that it focused on organisational and human skills and good governance. Its staff demographics, its involvement with other science bodies and achievements relative to other science councils were detailed. The sources of revenue were outlined, as wells as some of the projects. A major challenge related to retention of staff. Members enquired about the employment equity targets, the strategies for monitoring accountability, and the origin and use of any profits made. A Member noted that scant support was offered to a local project in de Aar for smelting of ore. Another suggested recycling water for sale. Once again, Members expressed the desire to focus on solving existing problems rather than tackle so much new research. Members suggested that the core mandate should receive greater focus, and that in order to do so, support must be found to resource Mintek better.
Members noted that some issues would be further discussed during the forthcoming workshop.
Council for Geoscience (CGS) Strategic Plan
Dr Thibedi Ramontja, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Geoscience, outlined the mandate, budget, strategy, key national and international programmes and the key challenges facing the Council for Geoscience (CGS or the Council).
He noted that as a science council, the GCS was mandated to undertake mapping and documentation of the earth’s surface, and to undertake basic geoscience research. Important areas included the collection and curatorship of all geoscience data and giving geoscience knowledge and advice to State organs. The GCS also managed a number of national geoscience facilities on behalf of the country, including the National Geoscience Library, arguably the largest on the Continent, which was open to and widely utilised by the general public and for academic research, the National Core Library supplied by exploration companies, the National Geoscience Museum, and the National Seismological Network. In addition the CGS provided commercial services and supplied products to national and international clients, which provided it with vital income.
Dr Ramontja outlined the vision, mission and values of the Council, emphasising the new focus on solutions, and the importance placed on innovation and creativity. After 2003, with the change in management, CGS had steadily come closer to reaching its goals. He outlined its strategic objectives. These included driving stakeholder and customer satisfaction by developing world class products and services, having good organisational systems to develop and maintain effective, streamlined processes using appropriate tools and methodologies, achieving economic growth through sustainable revenue and profit growth, and creating a world class geoscience organisation capable of attracting and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce. The indicators included the number of staff and students enrolled for MSc and PhD degrees, published output, and the proportions of scientists and those with higher degrees on the staff. Collaborations with external scientists were crucial in generating funds and strengthening international ties. He outlined the current achievements in each area and tabled the projected targets for 2012/13 (see attached presentation for details).
Dr Ramontja outlined the budget for 2010 to 2013. Expenditure on personnel had exceeded the government grant for the current year, creating a shortfall which was projected to continue. The financial climate had forced CGS to cut bursary funding, and it would not be purchasing vehicles. He stressed the Council’s reliance on commercial enterprise to make up the shortfall.
Dr Ramontja described the business model as comprising six scientific focus areas, of mineral resources development, environmental geosciences (which was central to solving environmental pollution), water and geohydrology, in which it collaborated with the Department of Water Affairs, geo-energy, engineering geosciences, and public education and information. All were linked to the geological, geochemical; geophysical and remote sensing aspects of geoscience mapping.
Dr Ramontja noted that the activities of the CGS included basic rough scale geological mapping, which had covered 98% of South Africa. There was also prioritised finer scale geological and geotechnical mapping on a scale of 1:50 000, and metallogenic mapping, which analysed soil for 40 elements, and enabled the identification of potential mineral-rich areas and provided information for environmental protection against pollution. Geophysical mapping, revealing deep subsurface features, had advanced from a 1km line-spacing to a 200m line-spacing. The South African National Seismic Network monitored seismic activity and planned to collaborate with the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) to improve safety in mines. South Africa was at risk from earthquakes, as well as dolomites and sinkholes and CGS advised State organs on these risks.
CGS had three key projects in mining and the environment. These related to water ingress, closure of abandoned mines and a collaboration with Mintek and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), regarding rising water levels in the central basin, currently 600 metres below the surface.
The CGS was collaborating with many scientists internationally and on the African continent. South Africa held the presidency and secretariat of the Organisation of African Geological Surveys. The AfricaArray Seismic Network was integrating data over the continent and training young scientists, and had produced the first black seismology PhD graduate in Africa. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), both geological and mineral, was an important area of research, with implications for climate change mitigation. South Africa had won the bid to hold the International Geological Congress in Cape Town in 2016, representing an invaluable opportunity to build a legacy in the geosciences.
The field mapping school was enhancing the mapping skills of young geoscientists. Dr Ramontja noted that the demographic staff profile had altered in the years between 2004 and 2010, with current levels at 53% blacks, 39% whites and 8% foreign nationals, although professional jobs still did not show equity, with 48% black, and 52% white staff. Staff were still male-dominated at 64% male, and 39% female. Bursary intake had increased up to 2008, but was reduced in 2010 to 29 bursary holders, of whom 97% were black, but 55% were female.
Dr Ramontja outlined the key challenges internally as the economic crisis and the need to replace ageing equipment. Lack of resources impeded research. The output of research, while invaluable, did not produce income. The implementation of the recently released Geoscience Amendment Bill was critical. Externally, there was an urgent need to reactivate exploration in South Africa and offshore mapping, for which Department of Science and Technology (DST) seed funding was expected, was a high priority. Finally, environmental issues associated with mining and land usage would be addressed.
The Chairperson commended the clarity of the presentation.
Professor Jay Barton, Board Member, CGS, expressed the Board’s full support of management in the challenges facing the organisation.
Ms F Bikani (ANC) congratulated the CGS on its progress since 2008. She asked, however, for more detail on progress in rural development projects, particularly to what extent small miners were able to access support from the CGS, and the nature, progress and timeframes of any projects. The CGS was functioning at a high level locally and internationally, but it was also important to see it meeting the needs of small miners.
Dr Ramontja assured her that he would give more information on rural development projects at the next meeting. He outlined that in regard to small scale mining there was a two-pronged approach, including collaboration with the Department of Energy and Mintek in funding specific projects. The CGS used its geological knowledge to identify small-scale mining projects. It had recently held a highly successful workshop in Kimberley, where small-scale miners had been taught the basics of geology, and this initiative would be extended to all provinces.
Ms Bikani congratulated the CGS on the absence of audit qualifications, and apologised for the lack of funding and the Committee’s inability to help in this regard. She assured the Council of the Committee’s continued support and encouragement.
Ms Bikani noted that large amounts were being spent on training, and she asked whether there was a retention strategy for these highly qualified trainees. She suggested that such persons should be honoured, perhaps Parliament should recognise their achievements, thus inspiring and motivating other students.
Dr Ramontja explained how the CGS policy of contracting trainees for four years was undercut by companies buying out its graduates. However, CGS was providing incentives by upgrading salaries of those staff who completed their masters and higher postgraduate degrees. Public appreciation of a graduate’s achievement would also act as an incentive, as had occurred with the first black seismologist to be awarded a PhD.
Ms Bikani asked for a costing on the production of the maps shown in the presentation.
Dr Ramontja estimated the cost of one map as approximately R3 million rand over a period of two to three years
Ms Bikani acknowledged the skill level required and the intricacy and extended timeframe of the outlined projects, but stressed the importance of tangible results. She asked to what extent CGS was involved in issues of underground water retention and mine dumps, and what its research timeframe was, as people were anxious to live on that land. She suggested that giving attention to solving these existing problems rather than focusing on new ones would be helpful, and urged that other departments, such as the Departments of Water and Environmental Affairs, communicate and collaborate to solve problems more rapidly.
Ms Bikani expressed appreciation of the seismic project and asked for more detail on the rationale, progress and benefits of the project.
Dr Ramontja described the ongoing monitoring of earthquakes, especially around Johannesburg, and assured the members that government would be informed of any seismic activity.
Ms Bikani enquired as to any advocacy undertaken by CGS, in relation to its developmental work and potential benefits for the community. Such information could be useful in minimising complaints with the labour force.
Dr Ramontja affirmed the need to integrate and communicate with the community, the Department of Health and Safety, the unions and miners.
Mr C Gololo (ANC) enquired whether CGS was exploring only locally, or would also be operating in Angola and other mineral-rich countries.
Dr Ramontja responded that exploration was continuing both locally, according to the mandate, and in Mozambique and Ghana, and it was planned to expand into Uganda and Angola, where a proposal was currently under consideration by the Department of International Relations. If funding could be secured, exploration would commence in Angola.
Mr Gololo asked if Johannesburg was likely to be more prone to earthquakes, and whether CGS would be equipped to pick up early warning signs.
Dr Ramontja replied that CGS could not currently predict earthquakes.
Dr Gerhard Graham, Executive Manager, CGS, described two significant types of earthquakes around Johannesburg. Natural seismic activity occurred on a geological fault, such as the earthquake in Ceres in 1969. Mining-related earthquakes tended not to be as drastic, with magnitudes varying from 1 to about 5, but these could be deadly for working miners, as breaking rock sent out fine shrapnel. In the short term, an alarm system was needed to allow miners to evacuate. In the long term, there was a need to collate past and current data from the gold mines and apply what had been learned to the platinum mines, which operated at shallower levels, (now deepening) and over wider areas. It was necessary to understand the effect of mining on different geological terrains and structures.
The Chairperson enquired as to whether it was possible, globally, to predict seismic events, particularly at the level affecting mining. There was an urgent need for more precise early warnings to avoid mining fatalities.
Dr Graham indicated that the early warning technology currently in use in South Africa was the best in the world, and was used in other countries. However there remained a challenge of developing an early warning system that detected cracks inside the rock acoustically, before they became critical and linked with other cracks to precipitate earthquakes. Current technology in the oil industry detected cracks on a large scale in reservoirs, and could be applied at a finer scale in detecting rock cracking in the mining industry. Current models were too simple but acoustic detection of cracks would better predict seismic events.
Mr M Sonto (ANC) asked why, when the existing technology was capable of accurately detecting the magnitude of earthquakes, countries such as Chile and Haiti were unable to predict earthquakes, which he too noted as the major cause of mining fatalites.
Mr H Schmidt (DA) noted that South Africa had a higher rate of mining fatalities than other countries, and wondered whether this was related to the rock formation in the country.
Dr Graham responded that the depth of 2.5 to 3 kilometers at which mining was taking place meant that there was high geological pressure. Another factor was the hard and often layered rock type. Furthermore, the mining practice of leaving rock behind as a support, but then over time mining the pillar, was also responsible for rockfall. In Canada, technology to monitor changes inside the rock had already been used to predict an earthquake in Iceland (one of only two successful predictions) within approximately five days. Far greater accuracy – such as one hour’s notice - was needed in the mining industry.
Mr Gololo asked for a rough estimate of how much the CGS would need to make up its shortfall.
Mr Leonard Matsepe, Chief Financial Officer, CGS, stated that the State grant went straight to the salaries of highly skilled staff. Overheads, including support staff and operating staff, were not funded. Yet, CGS was still expected to make a profit. CGS planned to use commercial revenue to create a fund to support this aspect of the operations. CGS was not awarded sufficient funding to fulfill its mandate.
Mr E Marais (DA) asked whether the CGS had been contracted by other departments in relation to the enlargement of dams in Clanwilliam and De Hoop, and, if so, whether such contracts were included in the CGS predictions of revenue.
Mr Marais also noted that the ratio of personnel costs was projected to increase from 61 to 63, whilst in corporate institutions, staff costs should ideally fall within the 29.5 to 35.5 range. While CGS was not a corporate institution, he still believed personnel costs should be cut to below 60. He asked what plans had been made to lessen the dependence on State grants and increase reliance on contract revenue.
Dr Ramontja expressed the desire that the CGS should be less dependent on government grants, but explained that its work was public service oriented. The production of one map cost approximately R3 million rand over a period of two to three years and that money was unrecoverable. CGS’s counterpart in Australia was 100% funded. It was difficult to combine financial enterprises and research. He urged that CGS should be following the route of pursuing research for the public good, and leaving the finances to consultants and funders.
Ms N Mathibela (ANC) welcomed the excellent contributions of Dr Ramontja in building cutting edge skills and bringing women to the fore. She enquired whether the CGS was putting anything into mines to prevent the rise of subsurface water levels.
Dr Ramontja described CGS’s achievements in closing holes in abandoned mine-dumps, with the assistance of the Department of Mineral Resources).
Mr Marais enquired as to the percentage of CGS work that was mine-related. He expressed concern over the extent of sinkholes in areas such as Carletonville, Westonaria and Randfontein, and asked whether this land would now be permanently unavailable for further use.
Dr Ramontja explained that leaking pipes were an important cause of sinkholes, and education on this matter was needed in the community. The problem lay not with the dolomite itself, but rather with lack of proper risk assessment when identifying areas for building, since dolomite could be built upon, provided proper precautions were taken. New amendments would make proper assessment and consultation mandatory.
Mr Marais asked whether the holes were simply filled up.
Dr Ramontja confirmed that where too many holes existed, the land could be used for grazing. He reiterated that proper planning was essential.
Mr Marais noted that the water level in mines was rising, sometimes up to 90 cm per day, and enquired what CGS was doing to solve the problem.
Dr Ramontja explained that during mining operations water was regularly pumped. When mining ceased, the water table rose again and water decanted from small streams was polluted with sulphurs exposed during mining operations, becoming acidic. There were two methods of cleaning polluted water. The first, active cleaning at treatment plants was expensive. The second was passive treatment using plants and vegetation, and this option was currently being researched. CGS was providing advice to a high level governmental committee, including the Department of Water Affairs, on a daily basis.
The Chairperson suggested that the CGS should consider reselling such purified water to industry as a way of lightening the burden on the government.
Dr Ramontja, referring to several initiatives for cleaning water, outlined the economic challenges in reselling treated water, stressing that industry would not buy more expensive cleaned water when it could, at lower cost, treat rain and river water.
The Chairperson pointed out the distinction between water treated to industrial standards, and to human consumption standards.
Dr Ramontja described a plant in Witbank where industrial standard water was being produced, and stressed the importance of linking this to the relevant market.
Mr Schmidt referred to a proposal to treat mine water to industrial standards and send it to mines in the Rustenburg area, where there was a shortage of water.
Professor Barton described a planned project moving strongly ahead to build a pipeline to bring water from the Cape Town area to the Waterberg for industrial use.
The Chairperson thanked the CGS for this fruitful engagement, noting that reassuring responses had been given on the important issue of fatalities as a result of rockburst and rockfalls, assuring the Committee that lasting solutions were being sought. He also commended the mapping work and the development strategies undertaken. He supported the view that, in a developmental State, the focus should be on strengthening the organs of State. He would like to spend a whole day deliberating with the CGS to formulate proposals for total government funding, to allow CGS to realise its mandate.
Mintek: Strategic Plan 2010/11 to 2012/13
The Chairperson indicated that, because of time constraints, questions should be interspersed with the presentation.
Mr Abe Mngomezulu, Chief Executive Officer, Mintek, extended an invitation to members to visit this organisation. He tabled his presentation and took Members through the most important features of the Strategic Plans, which had already been approved by the Director General of the Department of Mineral Resources.
He noted that Mintek was involved only in the post exploration/mining components of the mining value chain – the concentration of minerals using hydrometallurgy, biotechnology and pyrometallurgy- in refining, and in value addition. The main role of Mintek was that of inventors, yet only a small proportion of the patents would be in use.
The number of researchers in Africa was low, at only 169 researchers per million inhabitants, and South Africa’s number was only slightly above the African average. He indicated that the fact that South Africa was not putting sufficient money into research and development, with expenditure on research being below 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), made South Africa uncompetitive.
Mintek was distributed and well known worldwide, and was affiliated in its developmental activities to Rhodes University and the Universities of the Western Cape and Johannesburg, in the Sensor Nanotechnology Unit, the Biolabel Nanotechnology Unit and the Water Nanotechnology Unit respectively.
Mintek also collaborated with the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) to investigate the origins of rough diamonds against a database run by the Kimberley Process. This would have forensic applications.
A further collaboration locally with Jubilee involved producing platinum at Mintek from ore from outside companies. Work was also in progress with large international State companies (for instance, with NICICO in Iran, for extraction of low-grade copper, while similar processes applied to Latin American, African and other Middle Eastern low-grade copper deposits). He stressed that the focus was not only internationally with large companies, citing also collaboration with a jewellery manufacturing project run locally from a shack.
Mr Mngomezulu outlined the planning process at Mintek. In February the Chief Executive Officer and General Manager consolidated all plans into a compact, signed in March by the minister for the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). From April all staff worked according to the approved plan. Problems in planning were compounded by the volatility of revenue and expenditure and although the first two and last three months of the financial year were easy to predict, the remaining seven were not. Previous trends were helpful. The expenditure trend showed improved efficiency in 2010.
Mr Sakhe Simelane, General Manager: Finance, Mintek, identified the sources of revenue streams: as the Science-Vote (a State grant, used entirely for research) from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR); earmarked revenue obtained through contracted research and work for government agencies, commercial revenue gained from products and services based on accumulated knowledge and skills; and other income (sundry) from Mintek property, interest, library fees, conference facilities and similar sources.
The total income for 2009/10 was R375.6 million, which fell short of expectations. It was expected to be at around R416.6 million for 2010/11. The major part of this revenue was from Products and Services. Revenue trend analysis since 2007 showed the highest income in 2009, with similar levels in 2008 and 2010, and the lowest level in 2007. Predictions for 2011 fell between those for 2009 and 2010. Expenditure analysis since 2007 showed the greatest efficiency in 2010, despite Mintek not retrenching any staff. Expenditure for 2011 was projected at just above that for 2010. Profitability was appreciable only in 2009, but Mr Mgomezulu pointed to the small profit in other years as an achievement nevertheless.
Members expressed their difficulty in interpreting the presented graph, in particular the low projected profit when compared with the high projected expenditure.
Mr Simelane explained that the large proportion of the expenditure was fixed expenditure.
The largest resource allocations to research areas were on low grade and complex ore bodies (including research on uranium and base metals), followed by the value-added products and services (fuel cell technologies, nanotechnologies and biomedical applications), and energy efficient technologies. The highest research expenditure for the coming year would be on uranium, PGMs, gold and base metals.
Overall, as a result of insufficient funding, there was not enough emphasis on research and development, and too much on commercial activities. DMR funding was fully ring-fenced for research, and Mr Mngomezulu advocated for increased funding
Ms S Bopope, General Manager: Corporate Services, Mintek, outlined the function of Mintek in three key areas of human resource management, information and communication management, and corporate governance and organisational compliance. Within the compact there were two areas of focus: organisational and human skills, and good governance. Mintek currently employed 916 staff and, because of the recession, deliberately had 141 vacant posts. She outlined the key staff demographics of the company as 78% black, 30% female, and 1% disabled, and outlined six categories of employees within the organisation as top management, senior management, a professional category, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled technicians. She agreed to provide more detailed information to the members in the future. The compact (a document which was not available to everyone in the meeting) contained this information. She then outlined the figures in the categories of top and senior management and professional staff. She noted that Mintek would address its employment equity challenges.
Ms F Bikani (ANC) asked for more information about employment equity targets.
Ms Bopope referred the Members to tables in the compact and noted that Mintek planned in the future to tap into skills in a more equitable way, via undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and a few internships, and in-service training programmes at masters, doctoral and post-doctoral levels, where employees would assist with innovation at Mintek.
The retention strategy was multifaceted, providing incentives for employees to remain. Transformation in terms of employment equity was a major focus, and performance management was a priority.
She noted that information and communication was concerned with the value chain of information management and knowledge management. Four aspects were important: namely, ordinary communications, a well-resourced library assisting scientists, a registry service as part of records management, and an event management unit utilising a conference facility which could also generate income for Mintek. She outlined the Research and Information Management Programme (RIMS) to which all science councils belonged through the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and which aimed to ensure that all councils managed their research information and intellectual property properly. Mintek had outperformed all other research councils and universities in this regard. Corporate governance and organisational compliance centred on compliance issues, information management in line with access to information requirements, and Board and secretarial support.
Mr Peter Craven, General Manager: Technology, Mintek, tabled the company’s divisional plans. He said that the core of Mintek was to develop technology that would add value to South Africa’s mineral resources. He referred to the Technology Division’s revenue from Products and Services, the State grant and contract research for private companies, and to five of Mintek’s 11 operations, known collectively as the Technology Division, comprising mineral processing, pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy, analytical services and engineering services. This was distinct from the Research and Development Division.
Mr Craven defined the role of the Mineral Processing Division as the separation of metals from ores without chemical alteration, through crushing, milling or screening. The focus was on assessing new ore deposits, since ore had been previously cheap, high grade and easy to access, but was now a diminishing resource and difficult to access, requiring better technology. The division was also tasked with improving efficiency in existing operations, evaluating new equipment, reducing the water and energy footprint of mineral beneficiation plants, and optimising processing circuits by developing mathematical models.
Mr Craven described the Pyrometallurgy Division, which processed ores and metals using high temperature processes, as dealing with highly industrial scale projects in an area like Randburg, where industrial and water pollution would not be tolerated. This division was tasked with commercialising proprietary Mintek technologies, further developing processes for smelting and environmentally cleaner processes, and increasing efficiency, developing titanium production and fundamental research into molecular- and arc modeling.
The Hydrometallurgy Division undertook the recovery or separation of metals. A prime example was uranium, making use of liquid processes. This Division was also tasked with developing novel technologies for recovering metals, assisting industry with compliance testing for arsenic and cyanide in effluents, and leading in cleaner water and waste management technologies. A challenge to this was the cost of treating contaminated industrial water, which was about R15 per cubic metre, although river water could be obtained for around R3 to R4 per cubic metre, so incentives were needed for treatment.
Ms Bikani asked whether there were strategies for monitoring accountability.
Mr Craven affirmed the existence of such strategies, but indicated that there was room for improved coordination and consistency. He outlined the development of cost effective technologies for treating low grade ore and mine residues, and developing complex technologies for treating complex copper, cobalt and nickel ores in Botswana, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to the benefit of those countries.
He noted that the Analytical Services Division, a laboratory determining the chemical composition of materials, provided high calibre analytical support to the Mintek divisions, and provided market-related services to external clients, and developed techniques for improved environmental analysis, while improving accuracy and detection limits for more complex samples.
Finally, the Engineering Services Division provided engineering services, such as the design, construction and installation of Mintek furnaces, both internally and externally, and also marketed a range of proprietary Mintek-engineered products.
Ms Bikani asked for clarity on the origin and fate of the profits Mr Craven had mentioned.
Mr Craven confirmed that such commercial revenue was from Mintek’s commercial activities, and contributed to Mintek’s overall operating costs.
Dr Molefi Motuku, General Manager: Research and Development, Mintek, described the function and structure of Mintek’s Research and Development (R&D) Division. While there was a small artisnal mining component, the focus was not on mining. Major areas within Research and Development were outlined as Concentration, Hydrometallurgy and Biotechnology, Pyrometallurgy, Refining and Vaal Air Pollution Study.
Dr Motuku described Mintek’s mineralogy operations, which were aimed at understanding the behaviour of minerals, ores and derived products at a fine scale, as needing extremely expensive machinery costing around R5 million and pointed out that three of the country’s ten machines were at Mintek. Knowledge gained was used to inform business and to advise on the suitability of various terrains for small and large scale mining operations, based on the grade of the deposits. This effectively translated first economy methodologies for the second economy. There were plans to assist the Kimberley Process in terms of the Diamond Provenance, using the fine scale characterisation of diamonds.
The Mineral Economics and Strategy Unit was tasked to carry out mineral-based studies to support economic and social development. Currently the emphasis was on delivering services but this would change to a stronger focus on research and development He described the major revenue generation plan for the next three years as more R&D-oriented, thus reskilling employees towards offering R&D advice.
Ms Bikani asked Dr Motuku to focus on the mining aspect. In terms of ore extraction through artisnal mining, she noted that there was scant support for a project in de Aar that planned to keep the operation in the country by smelting the ore locally. There was also a standing water problem and she suggested that recycling the water would be to South Africa’s benefit. She asked whether South Africa would not be better served by supporting such projects and solving long-standing problems, rather than continually introducing new projects. She argued that despite excellent research and development results, South Africa was not seeing the benefits.
Dr Motuku explained that Mintek was highlighting the kinds of services that would be available to mining houses and business. In order to provide these services, it needed to conduct research and development. It was important for the division to continuously replenish the knowledge base and develop new models and technologies, and this would definitely form part of its mandate. Mintek had always been servicing big business, but was now also providing a link between large companies and smaller operations.
Dr Motuku agreed that the water issues were important and he would address them later.
The Chairperson reminded the meeting that there were time constraints. He was aware of the importance of the information Dr Motuku was preparing to deliver, and assured him that he would be given an opportunity during the forthcoming weekend workshop to expand on the subject, as it was important for members to gain as deep an understanding as possible on the work he was doing.
Dr. Motuku accepted the offer to complete the presentation at the forthcoming workshop.
Mr Mngomezulu, in making his concluding remarks, noted that Mintek’s annual income from 1968 to 2009 showed extremely limited growth in the State grant, but exponential growth in commercial income and thus in the total Mintek income. His indicated that, in order for Mintek to survive, it had to become increasingly commercial. By implication this meant that as an institution, Mintek was doing less research every year. Any profit from commercial activities was immediately ploughed back into Mintek in an attempt to bolster the infrastructure of the institution and allow for more scientific research. This was worrying because this trend was depleting the scientific knowledge upon which Mintek was supposed to build.
Mr Mohau Mphomela, Board Chairperson, Mintek, acknowledged that Mintek’s mandate was purely one of research, and, through that research, then development, transfer and promotion of technology. A common theme and perennial bone of contention for all science councils was the emphasis on commercial operations at the expense of research, and he said this would continue to cause friction and act as an impediment to Mintek fulfilling its mandate.
He referred to the statement earlier by the CGS about the need for research. The Council’s Chief Financial Officer had made the point that the Council’s government grants did not even cover the salaries of the Council, let alone its operational costs. On the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Mintek, the Minister had dismissed the idea that more State funding would be forthcoming. The sustainability of Mintek, the CGS and many other organisations was at stake. The more the commercial aspects were emphasised and relied upon, the less research would be undertaken. Mintek was staffed by highly skilled people and further training to masters and doctoral level was encouraged and, in some cases, mandatory. Mintek was building and grooming employees, yet within a few years it became impossible to retain them as they were poached by commercial companies. Mintek was faced with the challenge of choosing between becoming more commercial or more research oriented.
Mr Mphomela concluded his address by questioning the sustainability of Mintek. He reiterated that state of the art machinery was in use, and could only be replenished at enormous cost. The lack of profit was not of concern since Mintek did not aim to run as a commercial organisation, and he noted that the CGS had projected no profits between 2010 and 2013. Mintek’s “boom year” of 2007 was followed by a “crash” and any subsequent profit would go into a kitty. The Board was in full support of the organisation’s activities.
The Chairperson thanked the presenters. He noted that the message was very clear. Members needed time to reflect on the nature and mandate of their State enterprises. Mintek needed to return to its core mandate, and needed therefore to be resourced. The Committee, along with the DMR, would try to find ways to resource Mintek in the way it had outlined. There would be opportunities during the forthcoming workshop to engage with these issues in greater detail but this meeting had empowered Members with knowledge and an understanding of the industry, so that they could perform their oversight role from an informed position.
The meeting was adjourned.
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