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MINERALS AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 May 2003
MINTEK; COUNCIL FOR GEOSCIENCE: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr M Goniwe (ANC)
Documents handed out:
MINTEK presentation by Dr Paul Jourdan
Website address: www.mintek.co.za
Overview of Council of Geoscience Activities for the 2002/2003 Financial Year
Activities of the Council for Geoscience (CGS) for 2002/3 presentation
Time constraints as a result of members' commitment to attending a memorial service for the late Walter Sisulu limited discussion on these briefings, which nevertheless highlighted important developments at each organisation in respect of responding to the imperatives of the Minerals and Petroleum Resource Development Act as well as black economic empowerment (BEE) imperatives. Both organisations remained world leaders in their respective fields of expertise, although each acknowledged the need for investment in the development of young scientists if South Africa was to remain at the cutting edge of geological and metallurgical research.
Referring members to the annual report for 2002 and the contents of a booklet entitled 'Mintek in brief' that had been made available but not circulated (www.mintek.co.za), Dr Jourdan appraised the committee of activities and recent achievements in Mintek and its subsidiaries Tollsort, Musuku, Mogale and Atoll during 2002/2003 against the background of a challenging year financially as a result of the weakened rand. Of particular note was the elimination of loss-making activities in Alexcor, for which Mintek had been responsible during the turn-around period. Alexcor was now operating as a profitable, stand-alone entity.
Mintek was also well ahead of its transformation targets, with no concomitant reduction in the quality of its products and services. It remained the premier research institution for improving gold recovery around the world. Mentoring and training programmes put in place some six years earlier had achieved the desired results in record time, proving that it was indeed possible to radically transform highly specialised and technical research and development organisations without compromising standards. However, attracting women to what was essentially a male environment continued to present challenges since most women with the required levels of expertise in maths and science tended to prefer the life sciences and information technology to minerals and metallurgical research and development.
A commitment on the part of committee members to attend the memorial service for the late Walter Sisulu placed constraints on the time available for questions and discussion, which were deferred until after the presentation by the Council for Geosciences (CGS).
Council for Geosciences (CGS)
Mr V Khanyile, Chairman of the Board of CGS (hereafter referred to as the Council), read a summary of his annual report for the year 2002/2003 during which the Council had built upon the successes of four good years that had proved to be the most successful period in its long history. A healthy surplus had been accumulated for significant future investment in infrastructure and equipment that would ensure that the Council remained a world-class centre for geological survey.
Dr C Frick, the Council's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) then appraised members of developments and activities at the Council during 2002/2003. A particularly notable achievement had been the publication of a set of maps of all on- and off-shore mineral and oil deposits on the African continent and in the Middle East. This was the culmination of thirty years of work and made Africa the second continent after South America to boast a modern set of geological maps. Plans for mapping South Africa's continental shelf would effectively double the landmass available to South Africa for mineral exploration and could pioneer the way for similar initiatives elsewhere in Africa. Although this project would take up to nine years to complete, its implications for South Africa and the New Programme for Africa's Development (NEPAD) were profound. With these in mind, funding had already been requested and received from the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.
In appraising members of plans and strategies for expanding the Council's focus areas to accommodate the provisions of the Minerals and Petroleum Resource Development Act, Mr T Ramontja, CEO designate, emphasised the importance of developing the Council's services to include those applicable to engineering and construction geology, physical hazards, groundwater investigations and the management of water supply systems. In the interests of time, and at the Chair's request, he then concluded his presentation so that members could proceed to the memorial service.
When the meeting reconvened, the Chair asked members for a collective decision on proposals for an in loco inspection of a petroleum pipeline prior to public hearings on the Petroleum Pipelines Bill. It was generally agreed that this would be useful and that, with a view to formally approaching key industry players who had expressed an interest in funding a port-to-refinery trip for committee members, a motivation to this effect should be presented to the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
The Chair then advised members that workshops on the Petroleum Pipelines Bill and Mining Titles Registration Bill would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week. The drafters of the Bill would also attend these workshops, which were critical to arriving at a strategy for effectively handling public submissions on both Bills.
In the absence of a quorum, it was nevertheless agreed that discussions should proceed since no resolutions were required.
Ms F Mathibela (ANC) asked what funds were available for scholarships and bursaries in maths and science for historically disadvantaged South African (HDSA) students in rural areas. Was it safe for miners to work with cyanide? Was Mintek's training programmes open to women and, if so, what funds were available?
Mr B Bell (DA) enquired how the new functions planned for the Council would be funded.
The Chair asked if the Council could assist new entrants to mining to save on prospecting costs by identifying suitable locations for new exploration initiatives.
Professor I Mohamed (ANC) enquired if Mintek's bioleach technology for sulphide gold concentrates was being used in South Africa and whether wider and more creative use could be made of lower-grade gold in beneficiation projects. Regarding recommendations emerging from a recent international review of the Council, he asked if more input in respect of educating HDSA learners in basic science was likely to address the paucity of matriculants and undergraduates with the necessary levels of expertise in that subject for ongoing development and, if so, what level of support the Council and Mintek were likely to receive from the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in promoting basic science among learners.
In response, Dr Frick agreed that there was a desperate need for investment in basic science in order to avoid intellectual bankruptcy in the science councils in the very near future. He advised members that eighty per cent of the funding available through the Council for scholarships and bursaries was dedicated to HDSA students and forty per cent to women students who nevertheless remained difficult to attract to geological studies. Special funds had been dedicated to stimulating innovative research and skills transfer in-house. The Council's new functions would be financed separately and would not encroach on funding ring-fenced for research. All geological information produced by the Council was freely available to members of the public, in keeping with the requirements of the Access to Public Information Act.
Mr Ramontja confirmed that the financial implications of the Council's proposed new functions had been quantified and a request for nine million rand per annum submitted to the Department. Regarding assistance to new entrants to mining, he advised members of plans for making geological data produced by the Council more user-friendly and inviting black economic empowerment (BEE) groups to bid for new data in respect of suitable exploration initiatives. Recent changes to the legislation on mineral rights had made this possible.
Dr Jourdan advised members that Mintek had adopted twenty per cent of students identified for development by the national fund especially created for young scientists, referring members to the annual report and booklet for more detail on Mintek's Edumap bridging programme. Noting that miners themselves had no contact with cyanide, which was only introduced to the gold recovery process during the crushing and digesting phases, he acknowledged that the presence of cyanide in the slimes dams used to store waste from these phases did have implications for communities living nearby and needed to be appropriately addressed.
Regarding support for new BEE entrants to mining, he notified members of proposals for establishing a state initiative aimed at partnering BEE groups in mining and encouraging new green-fields ventures. With this in mind, it was envisaged that new geological data would be made available to this organisation for a limited period before entering the public domain. BEE groups would therefore be given an opportunity to identify new mining opportunities from the data concerned before these came to the attention of the established mining houses and to explore them with the assistance and support of the proposed new state initiative. Seed capital for this initiative would come from the old Lebowa Minerals Trust. Funding for exploration in small-scale mining ventures would continue to be met from the fiscus and controlled by the National Steering Committee on Small Scale Mines.
On the issue of bioleach technology, Dr Jourdan advised members that this was utilised in some of South Africa's green stone belts, as well as in the recovery of base metals such as copper and zinc. He assured the committee that all beneficiation opportunities in respect of varying grades of gold were being optimised, although jewellery had proved to be a difficult industry to break into.
Noting that Mintek had been the first of the science councils to ring-fence its core research funding, he advised members that the utilisation of state funds to subsidise commercial products was in breach of the legislated requirements of the Competition Commission and could not be condoned.
Referring to the Kgabane Jewellery and Craft Project, Ms F Mathibela (ANC) enquired what steps followed the training of HDSA women in jewellery production. She was advised that ongoing support in business and production skills was available to women who successfully completed this training, as well as start-up funding through a trust established and run along the same lines as the Kagiso Trust
The Chair suggested that, regarding the need to attract HDSA and women students to mining and minerals related sciences, a 'basket' of all available education and training programmes should be developed and promoted among school learners and educators to give practical impetus to the efforts being made at other levels.
Appealing for members to communicate and engage with Mintek and the Council on an ongoing basis. The Chair wished Dr Frick everything of the best for his retirement and acknowledged the significant contribution he had made to skills transfer within the Council by preparing the way for Mr Ramontja to succeed him as CEO.
The meeting was adjourned.
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