Mine Health and Safety Council, MINTEK and Council for Geoscience Annual Reports: briefings

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Mineral Resources and Energy

27 October 2004
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


27 October 2004

Chairperson: Mr E Mthethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Mine Health and Safety Council PowerPoint presentation
Mine Health and Safety Council Annual Report, April 2003 – March 2004 (document awaited)
MINTEK PowerPoint presentation
MINTEK Annual Report 2004 (
MINTEK website)
Council for Geoscience PowerPoint presentation
Council for Geoscience Annual Report 2003/2004 (document awaited)

The Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), MINTEK and the Council for Geoscience (CGS) briefed the Committee on their 2004 Annual Reports. Throughout existing achievements and future challenges and projects were outlined.

Members were concerned about safety and training standards in the mining industry; mining-related health problems; beneficiation of raw mining materials; a lack of spending on research and development; retention of skilled personnel and accelerated human resource development.


Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) briefing
The Mine Health and Safety Council delegation consisted of Ms M Hermanus, Chairperson; Mr T Doyle, State representative; Ms E Solomons, MHSC Operations; Mr D Adams, MHSC Research Programme; Mr J Moralana, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM); Mr S van Woude, Chamber of Mines, Employer representative; and Dr F Randera, Chamber of Mines, Employer representative.

The MHSC was established in terms of Section 41 of the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996. The role of the MHSC was to advise the Minister on legislation and health issues. The delegation briefly looked at the organisational structure of the MHSC. Its goals included meeting international guidelines by 2013, the elimination of silicosis and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The fatality and injury rate had dropped significantly over the last twenty years. The four main causes of deaths included tuberculosis, occupational hearing loss, silicosis and pneumoconiosis. As part of their legislative overview, the delegation stated that the Mine Health and Safety Act should be redrafted. The MHSC legislative framework had been 92% completed.

The Auditor-General had drawn attention to specific material matters, including non-compliance with laws and regulations; maintenance of effective and efficient systems of internal control; the internal audit function; the tender procedures, and the ‘framework of acceptable levels of materiality and significance’ not having been approved; the absence of an effective cash management system; the strategic plan not having been approved by the Minister; non-capitalisation of research assets, and the ownership of levy issue.

The delegation looked at the Council Report, problems and compliance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). They drew out MHSC’s corrective measures for the 2002/3 Audit. The delegation explained what had happened at the Northam accident where nine workers had been killed at the Zondereinde mine. The accident had occurred on 20 September 2004 when a fire broke out underground and resulted in the closure of the mine for 19 days.

Adv H Schmidt (DA) asked whether the MHSC had considered an increased use of machinery instead of manual labour. He also said the tender procedures were not "looking very good". In addition, he asked whether there had been a toxic substance in the conveyor belt that caused the belt to burn. What was the substance? What could be done to reduce or cut out this substance?

Ms Hermanus said the MHSC needed proper systems to protect workers. All materials consumed oxygen, but the MHSC should try to minimise fires. Most of the materials in conveyor belts were selected to minimise fires. The MHSC had conducted research on the issue of materials and the Council could ban certain substances from mines. The Bureau of Standards set the general standards for every country; therefore the Council should conform to their standards when banning a substance.

Mr S Vundisa (ANC) said he did not understand the Northam accident report and the pushing of timber on the conveyor belt. The report had been ‘improper’.

Ms Hermanus said the reference to the fire in the timber only served as an example to show how spontaneous fires occurred. The conveyor belt had caught fire as a result of the drive motor and overheating of the bearing. The fire had raised questions concerning maintenance.

The Chair said the Committee should remember that the Northam accident investigation was still in process.

Mr E Lucas (ANC) asked whether the MHSC deficits had been written off. He said the Northam accident had been a serious issue and actually called for a summons. How could such accidents be prevented in future?

Ms Solomons said the MHSC had put a process in place to manage the debtors and had appointed staff to look at the situation and to manage the process. She referred to page 68 of their financial statements and said the Department had made additional payments to clear deficits. The MHSC would look at options to finance it, but the deficits had been as a result of bad debts.

The MHSC had looked at the fire issue from a preventative approach and a need for more research and transfer of practices had been identified. The MHSC had been overwhelmed by the attention required by mines and its related problems. Mine managers should be requested to share information, as the Council had been unable to do everything.

Mr Lucas (ANC) asked what happened when companies trained the mineworkers.

Ms Hermanus said they had training systems on site at platinum mines and had the highest accredited training. The workers had also received health and safety training. The quality of training should be addressed in particular areas where needed.

Mr Lucas asked what could be done to improve the bearings or conveyor belts. He emphasised that the MHSC should not cut costs on materials.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) asked whether the loss of hearing also had a delayed effect such as in the case of silicosis. How long would the period be before the person’s hearing would be affected?

Ms Hermanus said hearing loss did not have a delayed effect and workers should be compensated immediately. Hearing conservation programmes should be implemented.

Mr S Louw said accidents had decreased, but the Committee and MHSC had been ignorant in terms of small-scale mining operations. The MHSC should focus on small-scale mining operations as the accident rate had increased. He asked who should be held responsible for operational issues. Should the Council not shut down the mines for a longer period of time?

Ms Hermanus said she had not address the issue of SMEs, but it had been on the Council’s agenda. The Mining Qualifications Authority focused on smaller mines and trained workers on site. The Council had provided advice to small mines. The accident benchmarks in gold mines had not been reached and there had been a need for more benchmarks.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) asked why the accident rate in the diamond industry fluctuated as he felt it unacceptable. How did South Africa compare to other countries such as Australia?

Ms Hermanus said the safety rates in the coal and diamond industry had been improved, but the accident rates in the diamond industry always tended to fluctuate. Low numbers could have a large impact on the rate. This had also been the case in Australia.

Professor Mohamed (ANC) asked where the research been done and whether it related to research by the CSIR.

Ms Hermanus said the Council had not done research. The MHSC put out tenders to do the research and only managed the process.

Professor Mohamed (ANC) said there had not been timber to support the rollers and spontaneous outbursts of fire had occurred in the past. The MHSC should take precautions for temperature control and the mines should have automatic sensors.

Professor Mohamed (ANC) referred to the problem that pensioners had experienced and that they could not handle the disease. Pensioners had been ignorant of mine-related issues.

Mr Moralana said mineworkers should go for a medical examination when they leave the mine. They should visit the MBOG for an examination to determine whether they qualified for compensation.

Professor Mohamed (ANC) asked what the MHSC had done in terms of HIV/AIDS.

Ms Hermanus said the MHSC had a Tripartite Committee and the HIV/AIDS issue had been raised in the Council. The severity of rates had all been affected by HIV/AIDS and the MHSC struggled with issues such as HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and Silicosis. The MHSC had the largest research programme in the country to look at a curing regime to minimise the effects of HIV/AIDS.

Mr C Morkel (DA) asked why the MHSC Annual report had not really addressed the issue of asbestosis. He said the audit report had made reference to a missing R6 million and asked about developments in this investigation. He said the industry organisation should support proper training of workers. Had there been any guidelines for training mineworkers?

Mr E Ngcobo (ANC) asked why quality systems had not been implemented earlier? He said new government systems had been in place to compensate families who lost siblings. The Northam accident report had not provided information on the number of workers killed.

Mr Ngcobo (ANC) said tensions had been experienced between management and workers, but no systems existed to address the problem. It should be the Department’s responsibility to suspend work until systems had been corrected.

The Chair noted that Members had made more proposals than asking questions. He suggested that the Northam accident should be discussed comprehensively at a later stage. Proper planning was needed to prevent such accidents from happening. He asked whether the Committee would see monitoring from the Council in terms of state debts.

The Chair asked how the MHSC completion of its legislative framework looked in terms of the broader picture. The Chair asked whether there had been any individual rewards. He said emphasis should be placed on the urgency of the accident results. The investigation should be completed as soon as possible to enable the MHSC to identify the problems.

The Chair said he had been concerned about the Auditor-General’s report. Why had there not been such systems in the past?

MINTEK briefing
Dr PJourdan, CEO, highlighted that MINTEK consisted of 510 permanent staff members and had an annual turnover of R232 million with a surplus of R4 million for 2004. The aim of MINTEK was to exceed the expectations of their clients. He highlighted MINTEK’s regional studies that had been completed and those that were still underway. The Kgabane Project would serve as a rural development and poverty alleviation programme and had been initiated by the Minister of Minerals and Energy to alleviate poverty and create jobs. The gold industry, platinum-group metals, ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals, industrial minerals and MESU (Mineral Economics and Strategy Unit) had been some of the MINTEK project highlights from April 2003 to March 2004. MINTEK had outreach programmes to technikon and university students. MINTEK qualified for the international quality standard, environmental standard, and safety standard.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) asked whether the water in Gauteng was consumable.

Mr Ramontja said there had been various initiatives to purify the water to make it drinkable, but the option had never been economically viable. The water could be used for other purposes such as agriculture as it was a large resource.

Mr Kekana asked whether there existed any law that protected ideas that had been developed in South Africa. He said the presentation by Dr Jourdan had been impressive and noted the importance to the national interest. Dr Jourdan should give more specific numbers in future briefings in order to guide the Committee.

Dr Jourdan said MINTEK had developed technology to clean up elements and acidities in the water, but the costs of the water would not be profitable. The water had not been economically viable and although MINTEK could do lesser treatments it would still be unable to compete with what farmers paid.

Mr Ramontja said when someone left, s/he left with his/her experience and ideas. The possibility existed that ideas could be protected in future. The CGS had been unable to attract more geologists due to a lack of income. They could only attract students from technikons and universities to develop their own scientists.

Mr Kekana (ANC) said that the Committee had been concerned about raw materials leaving the country.

Dr Jourdan said auditing had been done with the Department to determine targets for every mineral. Manganese and iron had been the only problematic minerals that left the country in a raw form without being developed.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) said that Dr Jourdan had often referred to the Gauteng province during the presentation. She asked whether MINTEK only concentrated on Gauteng.

Dr Jourdan said the Zola school was situated in Gauteng and MINTEK staff worked there on a voluntary basis. Thus, the focus had been on Gauteng as the school had to be within driving distance. The MINTEK map projects and other projects had been national.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) said the presentation by Dr Jourdan had been impressive. He asked whether MINTEK received any income when they sold plants abroad.

Dr Jourdan said their income mandate was very clear in the Act and they should focus on adding value. MINTEK could not afford to make a loss. MINTEK needed to shut the salary gap so that they would not lose more employees in order to close the asset gap. All MINTEK foreign sales had been recovered with a good profit.

Professor Mohamed said the Government had been spending less on research and development (R&D) and should be spending more.

Dr Jourdan said MINTEK had been hoping to double their research and development (R&D) expenditure from 0.7% to 1.4%, but doubling would not be on their base core funds. The R&D expenditure doubling would occur under their new science R&D strategy. The base funding would not increase and remain static and would only increase in terms of inflation. There had been a need to look at other mechanisms to increase R&D national expenditure, but MINTEK would have to be careful. A tax or other fiscal incentive would be a good initiative.

Mr C Morkel (DA) said access to information is important especially to small-scale miners. Small-scale miners did not know how MINTEK operated and what information would be available to them. Some miners had approached him and had been under the impression that large corporations expected the miners to buy from them.

Dr Jourdan said they could help people through the NSC and they had produced manuals such as Egoli with pictures to help illiterate people. MINTEK could do more in terms of advertising, but the option could be explored together with the Committee.

Mr Ramontja said small-scale mining had been a problem in terms of accessing information and finance. The miners and public could purchase maps from the Council for a minimal fee. Maps could be as little as R200 as the Council only wanted to recover their costs. The CGS had given a lot of advice to small-scale miners. But it had been difficult to send geologists out into the field. The Department of Minerals and Energy’s funds would be a good option to pay for geologists in the field.

Mr Morkel referred to the extension of the continental shelf and asked whether there had been sufficient data on whether South Africa had deeper waters below 250m that could have oil and gas deposits similar to those in West Africa.

Dr Jourdan said the MINTEK shelf had always been open. They had changed the rules on land in the Act so that the sub-surface rights formed part of national rights such as in Australia and other countries. Prospecting had been determined by the experts, but current prospecting was not high.

Mr Ngobo said cyanide was a very dangerous substance. He asked what measures of cyanide controls had MINTEK been using.

Dr Jourdan said cyanide control had been a process control mechanism to constantly measure the level of cyanide. The cyanide level should be kept to a minimum to lower costs. Cyanide had not been controlled in terms of health and safety, but the object had been to control the flow and not overdose or under dose. There needed to be an optimum control of the system to lower costs and make marginal lines profitable.

Dr Jourdan emphasised that it had been difficult to fulfill the NEPAD commitments. South Africa did not have a foreign aid budget and was not a rich country and had difficulty helping its neighbouring countries. Other countries had been in a better position as they had received foreign aid from the World Bank. South Africa had competition when it came to mineral processing, as these countries wanted the jobs in Africa.

South Africa had been missing a science council in the pipeline from exploration to mining and mineral processing. Dr Jourdan said Mining Tech was a division of the CSR and its new CEO, Mr Pilay, should also present to the Committee on another occasion together with MINTEK.

Council for Geoscience (CGS) briefing
Mr Thebedi Ramontja, CEO, reported that the CGS had been established to do systematic mapping of South Africa on land and offshore. The CGS served as a National Repository for Geoscience data, which facilitated access, and to carry out Geoscience Basic Research. The CGS managed national facilities, such as the National Geoscience Museum, National Geoscience Library, and the National Borehole Core and Seismological Network.

Dr Ramontja brought out highlights in their mapping programme. He highlighted other programmes that included the National Mining Promotion System, surface water, Magneto telluric Traverses, poverty eradication, Industrial Mineral Study, National Core Library, Geoscience Museum and Collection. The CGS had developed a Mineral Promotion Strategy for South Africa and had trained other African co-operatives with SADC and NEPAD in Lesotho, Mozambique, the Kalahari Basin, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. He outlined human resources developments in the CGS and broke down the bursary holders in ratio demographics. He listed challenges such as ageing equipment, the retention of skills and expanding the skills base, and further human resource development.

Professor Mohamed said he did not understand the low income levels at the CGS, as it was a state facility. The CGS should focus more on income levels.

Mr Ngcobo said he did not understand the airborne survey. Could it be used in other African countries or NEPAD related projects?

Mr Ramontja said the airborne survey had been a technique to measure the physical properties of rocks through the use of instruments such as the magneto-meter. The whole surface of South Africa had been covered per kilometre, but there had been a need to increase the density to every 200 meters. The CGS had been doing work for the Department of Water Affairs. When flying over the land, they would be able to pick up whether there was any underground water.

Mr Ramontja said a lot of money was needed in terms of renounced funds, but in the case of Lesotho less was needed as it was a smaller country. The CGS tenders had been successful at times and had recently put in a tender in Ghana. These funds generally came from the European Union (EU) and the World Bank.

Mr Ramontja referred to the exclusive economic zones and potential for minerals and said the CGS did not have enough information on resources in all areas. The development of technology would now allow them to do these tests.

Mr Ngcobo referred to the Kalahari-basin rock exposure and asked why it had not been explored further.

Mr Ramontja said the CGS had been getting involved in explorations when the Commission of Environment and companies did not want to work due to the high risk factor. There had been no assurance of minerals when rocks were found.

Ms Mathibela (ANC) asked how many black people received bursaries from CGS and whether they had been concentrating on blacks.

Mr Ngcobo referred to the CGS human resource development and said some of the CGS scientists had mentioned that the field had been too difficult for black people to work in. He asked what the statistics showed in this regard.

Mr Ramontja said 90% of the people in the field were black, but the CGS had been trying to narrow the employment gap between men and women. The CGS had introduced human resource developments, and had addressed black students and staff at universities.

The meeting was adjourned.


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