In a virtual meeting, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) presented to the Committee on the South African Mining Extraction Research, Development, Innovation (SAMERDI) strategy and the Mandela Mining Precinct (MMP). The meeting aimed to address the pressing issues facing South Africa's mining sector and the strategies in place to revitalise it.
The presentation highlighted the critical challenges in the mining sector, including declining contributions to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), decreased production, uncompetitive prices, resource depletion, labour-intensive operations, and environmental concerns. It stressed the SAMERDI vision was to maximise the sustainable returns of South Africa's mineral wealth through collaborative research, development and innovation while benefiting the local community and national economy. SAMERDI's objectives were to focus on research, development and innovation to ensure sustainable and socially responsible mining practices. The Mandela Mining Precinct, a public-private partnership, played a crucial role in implementing SAMERDI by coordinating research efforts and revitalising mining's research, development and innovation (RDI) capabilities.
During the discussion, Members raised questions about demographics in the industry; timelines for achieving project goals; sourcing participants; district development involvement; competitiveness within the mining sector; ongoing research projects related to open-cast mining damage and mine rehabilitation methods; the importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college partnerships in modernising the mining industry and ensuring local communities benefit from mining activities; and the need to strengthen South Africa's position as a top mining research destination.
In response, the DSI and CSIR addressed the issues, stressing the importance of proper mine closure and rehabilitation to ensure community safety; emphasised the collaborative nature of the Mandela Mining Precinct and its role in pre-competitive research that benefited all mining companies; discussed the balance between the roles of universities and science councils in research and development; acknowledged the difficulties in getting consensus among different universities on a common RDI theme while maintaining their funding sources and speciality areas.
In conclusion, the Committee acknowledged the challenges faced by the mining sector, but expressed optimism about the strategies presented by the DSI and CSIR to revitalise the industry and promote sustainable, responsible mining practices. They stressed the importance of continued collaboration and investment in research and innovation to address the sector's complex issues.
DSI and CSIR on the SA mining extraction RDI strategy, and the Mandela Mining Precinct
Mr Beeuwen Gerryts, Chief Director: Technology Localisation, Beneficiation and Advanced Manufacturing, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), led his team in the presentation of the South African Minerals Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) strategy, and the Mandela Mining Precinct (MMP).
The presentation outlined that the SA mining sector was in crisis, facing a confluence of short-term and deeper structural issues, exemplified by near-constant prices against rising costs and complexities. The main problems were:
- Mining's declining contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), dropping from 21% in 1980) to 8.2% in 2020.
- Decreased production.
- Declining/constant commodities prices, exposing South African mines as uncompetitive.
- Depletion of easily accessible resources.
- Mining was essentially labour-intensive, posing the challenge of mining competitively and safely at deeper levels.
- A significant proportion of SA's resources were not mineable using existing technologies.
- There was a legacy of environmental problems.
- The slow rate of transformation.
Mr Gerryts said the vision of SAMERDI was to “maximise the sustainable returns of South Africa’s mineral wealth through collaborative research, development, innovation and implementation of mining technologies in a socially, environmentally and financially sustainable manner that is rooted in the local community and national economy”.
Objectives of the SAMERDI programme
- The programme aimed to maximise sustainable returns on mineral wealth through collaborative research, development, and innovation.
- Implementation of technologies in a socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable manner.
- Dual objectives: Developing technological solutions and revitalising research, development and innovation (RDI) capability.
Role of Mandela Mining Precinct
- The precinct was a public-private partnership (PPP) between the DSI and the Minerals Council.
- Its purpose was to coordinate and implement the Samadhi Strategy, focusing on revitalising mining and RDI capability.
- The precinct would be co-hosted by the Minerals Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), with both entities managing operational aspects.
(See presentation for more details.)
Mr K Pillay (ANC) mentioned that he was asking some of the questions on behalf of Ms J Mananiso (ANC). He asked about the demographics, particularly regarding disability, and whether the Department had met its goals of accommodating and allowing for participation. On slide 14 about the process version two database, he asked if it was achieved by June 2023, per the timeline. He inquired about the project scope journey, asking if it had been completed or achieved to date, and if there were any challenges. How did the Department source participants -- did it go directly to universities, or have a different recruitment process?
Regarding the district development model (DDM) involvement, he asked which district or province had already been part of it. How had the four universities with which contracts were signed, been identified? He also asked about signing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with specific stakeholders, questioning whether it was a standard MOU, or if it differed according to the services offered by each stakeholder. On special environmental management (SEM), did the Department have its own, or did it rely on localities?
Ms C Phillips (DA) asked whether any ongoing research projects examined damage to surrounding buildings, houses, and so on, during open-cost mining, and how this could be mitigated. Was any research being conducted to determine the most efficient and cost-effective method of rehabilitating open-cost mines in particular?
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) referred to slide two, which discussed the problems, and requested clarity on the issue of slow transformation and the decline in constant commodity prices. She specifically asked for more insight into why transformation was occurring at a slow pace.
On technological innovation, Ms N Chirwa (EFF) requested a concise clarification of the interventions or innovation projects from 2018 to 2023. It was not clear in the presentation what the technological advancements had been in terms of the Mandela mining precinct. She also asked for these projects to be matched with the outcomes of what the aims of the precinct had been from the beginning. There seemed to be a lot of digression from what the aims had been from inception to what the projects were, and the work that the MMP was doing concerning the aims.
She asked for clarification regarding at what level the issue of competitiveness was a factor, so that they could engage on that aspect more cautiously.
The Chairperson asked about the sector's research capacity, specifically whether there were areas where research was being outsourced due to insufficient capacity within the CSIR. She asked if an analysis had been made of how much financial resources would be needed to increase the capacity to conduct the research internally, instead of outsourcing it. She said it was great that there was a broad private-public partnership, and the increased collaboration among various stakeholders improved innovation. She asked about the partnerships with TVET colleges concerning manufacturing the innovations that had been researched.
The Chairperson asked about the selection, echoing the concerns around inclusivity raised by Mr Pillay. She was concerned about the slow pace of transformation in the mining sector, which was monopolised by a particular cohort of individuals. She emphasised that through research and innovations, there should be a contribution to an increased pace of transformation within the sector. She said Mr Pillay’s question on damage to homes was important.
Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, explained that the universities running the project were chosen through an open call, with conditions imposed to ensure inclusivity. Successful respondents, such as the University of Pretoria (UP), Witwatersrand University (WITS), and the University of Free State (UFS), were required to work with universities where capacities may be lower to help them build capacity. This was why there was training between the University of Venda, WITS, and the University of Limpopo and UP. Discussions were underway for potential training of UFS and the University of Limpopo, and perhaps any other institution that could come in.
Dr Muofhe also addressed the issue of demographics. He said that 60% of the student cohort were women, which was seen as a huge achievement given that this area had traditionally been male-dominated. There was a healthy split on race -- maybe not at 50-50 -- but they were working to improve it.
Mr Sietse van der Woude, Senior Executive: Modernisation and Safety, Minerals Council of South Africa, said that the Council's board had agreed to participate in a report every two years to assess the progress of the first industrial revolution in the South African mining industry. They had partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and the Mandela Mining Precinct for this report. The report for 2022 had been completed, and preparations would soon begin for the 2024 report.
Mr Van der Woude said it was important to be globally competitive in the mining industry, which included not only economic issues, but also environmental, social and governance issues. He acknowledged that there were challenges around being globally competitive for some of their commodities, and that was where the Mandela Mining Precinct was helping them to find solutions to enhance their competitiveness.
They had advocated for a comprehensive study to be done into research capability and capacity. Over the years, research capacity had been eroded considerably, with only about 20 researchers left. They had started with the CSIR as a key player in this ecosystem to understand their capability and capacity to help mining solve its problems. The study had been completed, and they were encouraged that the CSIR had already started to respond by appointing people with the necessary skills. Despite the challenges, they were on a steep learning curve and intentionally building capacity and capability.
Mr Gerryts responded to the question about technology advancement, and said it was difficult to give a direct output of all the variables because it was about capability building. Not everything directly impacted the goal, as sometimes one would lay the foundation and then the bricks, but the foundation was not always directly attributable or visible to the house. He referred Ms Chirwa to the Technology Availability Readiness Atlas (TARA) website, which was an index of the technology readiness of the outputs from the Mandela Mining Precinct. He acknowledged that it was challenging to show the causality of all the work done to the final output, and that was where the technical steering committee were key, because they ensured the causality and the value of the research programmes.
Mr Johan le Roux, Director, Mandela Mining Precinct, said that they had slides of information from each programme that Mr Gerryts was referring to, that had been prepared on the work done in each programme over the past five years. These had been discussed in a full-day session with the technical steering committee members, where they had also looked at the way forward. They shared the historical roadmap, what had been done to date, and where they planned to go. This information could be made available to the Committee Members.
On sourcing participants or collaborators, he explained that they followed a hub-and-spoke model, with the precinct as the hub and the research being done by the collaborators. They run a process of getting a request out to collaborators, who respond with proposals. These proposals are evaluated by their technical steering committee and programme managers, who decide which ones to support. Collaborators were also expected to contribute, either through funding or in-kind contributions, such as infrastructure and testing facilities. They followed an expression of interest process, where interested parties could respond to become part of the collaboration network. There was an evaluation process to see if they met the required requirements and if successful, they joined the pool of collaborators.
Mr Le Roux clarified that the precinct itself fulfilled the facilitating coordinating management role, while the research experts in the research spokes, or research collaborators, did the work that they monitored and reported on. Regarding provinces, he said that the focus of the precinct was on the mining industry, specifically mineral extraction research, with a strong focus on gold and platinum. The focus was therefore on the mineral extraction industry, and not necessarily on specific provinces.
Ms Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Executive Cluster Manager, CSIR, responded to Ms Chirwa’s question about technological solutions and investment. She said they had developed a digital twin for trackless mobile machinery. This tool, developed over a period of fewer than two years in partnership with the Minerals Council, CSIR industry members and others, was a near real-time digital risk tool that predicts the performance of traffic management systems in support of mining industry collision prevention. The tool was developed in response to the Chapter Eight regulation of the Mine Health Safety Act of 1996, which was recently promulgated. The tool aimed to provide real-time or near real-time performance of traffic management systems to prevent collisions and improve safety and productivity in mines, especially those that did not have deep pockets to adopt what they call level nine -- a collision prevention system.
Ms Ntsoelengoe said that a mining capability assessment had been undertaken over the past two years. This was aimed at establishing capability specifically to support modernisation. Over the past two decades, there has been a regressive period in capability. The number of engineers and scientists looking after mining-specific RDI had regressed from over 200 to about 25. This sharp decline also resulted in a loss of skilled resources, specifically people with mining operational knowledge to develop industry solutions. Over the past two years, they have re-established the mining cluster and developed an innovation strategy with the industry to address gaps in the mining industry RDI. The cluster had grown from fewer than 25 science, engineering, and technology staff, to over 40 currently. They had appointed a chief engineer with over 30 years of experience and mining operational knowledge, including having an in-depth understanding of a specific technical base, such as rock engineering. There was currently a process for skills transfer from what one would typically say was white males who had been in the industry with in-depth knowledge to previously disadvantaged technical staff, who would grow moving forward.
On the rehabilitation of mines, she said that they had identified the circular economy as a part of their refocus on technologies that would support a circular mine, secularity in mining, and rehabilitation in mining. They were currently working on two projects. One was addressing the issue with slime dams, which they had presented to the DMRE. The second project involved the application of their geophysics tools in support of mine sites that had old waste dumps left behind. They were exploring how they could use high-resolution geotechnical solutions to provide insight into the recovery and the mineral resources that were there.
Follow Up Questions
The Chairperson emphasised the importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) partnerships in modernising the mining industry. Students in TVET colleges are studying subjects like mechatronics, which could be instrumental in modernising the mining industry. She stressed the need to include TVET colleges in various sectors and developments within science and innovation, particularly those relevant to the mining sector. She insisted that TVET colleges should not be left behind in research, development and innovation projects.
The Chairperson, said that one of SAMERDI's aims was to look into the lifespan of mines or the life of mines. She acknowledged her unfamiliarity with the mining sector, but noted instances where certain mines were no longer actively mined and had since seen illegal or unregulated mining activity. She said regulated, structured, organised artisanal mining could take place to assist local economies. She expressed hope that their research would consider how to ensure that such spaces were not used illegally or unregulated, but rather for beneficial artisanal mining for local communities.
The Chairperson said it was important to revitalise the mining RDI capabilities of South Africa and reposition the country as a top mining research development destination for mining. She commented that South Africa was excelling in the space industry regarding astronomical studies and capabilities, particularly in the Northern Cape. She stressed that it would benefit the national system of innovation to strengthen capabilities to assist the global system of innovation if South Africa were also a top mining RDI destination.
She said she had heard concerns from young people, particularly those concluding or doing their PhDs, about insufficient investment towards South Africa’s research capacity. She emphasised the need to increase the capacity for smaller and local manufacturers to find opportunities to provide technologies and solutions for the mining sector. She asked for thoughts on the view that more money was being spent on capacitating institutions of higher learning to do research around mining, compared to investments put into entities such as the CSIR. She also inquired about capabilities regarding the retention of skills in the industry.
The Chairperson asked what key challenges were experienced in implementing the Mandela Mining Precinct, particularly political issues related to certain collectives or parties within society feeling entitled, and difficulties around transformation in this sector.
Ms C King (DA) asked what the four instruments used to support localisation, competitiveness and research and development-led industries were. What work had been undertaken through SAMERDI, or SAMERDI strategy, and how did this impact mining skills, development and modernisation?
Dr Muofhe said that one of the reasons for the establishment of SAMERDI and the Mandela Mining Precinct was the significant loss of skills over the years. He said there used to be a large programme focused on deep mining research, and another on Coal Tech 2020, which had focused on the coal side. However, there had been a decrease in R&D investment in this space, and a consequent loss of capacity. They were now trying to rebuild this lost capacity by working jointly with the industry. On the issue of effectiveness, he said that most of their projects aimed to enhance mining efficiencies, ensuring that as much as possible was extracted from the ore. This not only added to the longevity of the mine, but also ensured that almost nothing was left for illegal mining activities.
Referring to illegal mining activities, Dr Moufle said that when mines were closed, besides the difficulty in extracting what was left, there was also the issue of safety. He emphasised that proper closures needed to be implemented and proper rehabilitation needed to be done to take care of communities in mining environments. He also touched on the issue of investment in research capacity, stating that they were looking at a government-wide approach to budget coordination so that investment in R&D in the mining sector was not only coming from the Department of Science and Innovation, but could also come from other departments that had a stake in it.
Mr Gerryts began by discussing the role of the Mandela Mining Precinct in mining research. He explained that many mines were multinational companies conducting their own in-house research, development and innovation. The Mandela Mining Precinct, a partnership between the Minerals Council and other entities, focused on pre-competitive work that benefited all and needed to be adopted and tailored for application by specific mining companies. He highlighted a successful example of this approach with the development of a drill that met the requirements of all mines, ensuring that manufacturers were assured of a market, and that all could adopt the drill.
He also addressed the issue of skills, acknowledging that there had been a significant loss of skills over the years. They were trying to rebuild this lost capacity by working jointly with the industry. On the question of investment in research capacity, he explained that it was a balance between the roles of universities and science councils. Universities had slightly longer turnaround times because they worked through students, while science councils had more guaranteed long-term capacity and were better equipped to operate facilities. He mentioned that skills retention was easier in science councils, but was also more sensitive to economic pressures.
Regarding challenges in implementing the Mandela Mining Precinct, Mr Gerryts said there was difficulty in getting consensus among different universities on a common RDI theme while maintaining their own funding sources and speciality areas. He clarified that open-pit mining was beyond the focus of the Mandela Mining Precinct. They had chosen to focus on the most difficult problem -- hard, narrow ore bodies -- with the rationale that solving difficult problems would lead to technology spillovers and benefits for easier problems.
Dr Maserumule addressed the issue of TVET colleges. Within the DSI stable, the CSIR participated in modernising the preparation of TVETs through the Learning Factory implementation. They had worked with the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) to develop several of these programmes. Some mining companies had supported collaboration with some of the SETAs.
He added that within the DSI stable, they had a very expansive involvement in terms of modernising TVETs through the Learning Factory programme within the CSIR. While funding might not be coming directly from this particular programme, it formed a big part of what they did within the DSI stable.
The Committee's minutes of 17 and 19 May; 14 June; and 30 August, were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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