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SA mining companies urged to embrace new technology - Business Day

Thursday, 29 October 2015
SOUTH African mining companies must embrace new technology and concepts at their operations to mine more cost effectively in an increasingly difficult environment, Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland said.

Outlining his view of the future of mining, Mr Holland told delegates at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) on Wednesday night of the wave of technological advances in places like Australia, where remote-controlled trucks and loaders were increasingly used, giving continuous and safer operations that were more productive.

In the gold industry, where the easiest and richest ore bodies had been found and mined, the future promises to have lower-grade, narrower, more challenging ore bodies that needed technology to mine cost effectively, he said. This had implications for SA’s deep-level, labour-intensive gold mines, which needed fresh ways to unlock gold at depths of 4km or more, he said.

"Conventional mining is going to disappear over time even though it’s going to have a short-term impact on jobs. We will have to deal with that in different ways. We need to create a more safe environment by means of mechanisation and beyond that with automation," he said.

"The workforce has to be taken along this path along with management. It’s going to take a lot of effort. We need to re-energise and re-invent what we’re doing in mining and exploration. If we’re going to bring down our cost structures, we need to do something fundamentally different. Doing the same is not going to help. We’ve taken the easy money out of costs," he said.

Gold Fields estimated refractory ore bodies, which were more difficult to process than other types of ore bodies, would make up between 30% and 50% of the ore bodies that would be mined in about two decades from now, he said.

As the nature of mining changes, mining companies will need to forge much closer relationships with companies that design and make machines and equipment, making sure that kit is fit for purpose.

Relationships with communities, a major issue in SA, will have to be deepened and strengthened , with visible and tangible benefits of mining flowing into them to prevent disruptions to operations.

"By taking more of your employment and your procurement from around you, you can reduce your costs and create linkages that will be self-fulfilling for the community long after managers have changed, whereas handouts get stopped when things get tough. That’s why shared values are better," he said.
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