Centre for sustainability in mining - a culture of change
Mining Global spoke with Professor Caroline Digby of the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry and how the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg is creating a future workforce of sustainably sound mining professionals.
In 2004, the mining sector was facing a crisis – one of so many in this deeply cyclical industry. Mining companies were failing to attract the top graduates and were encountering increasing difficulties in securing land, licences and the approval of communities needed for new mine approvals.
“Mining companies were facing increasing risks resulting from poor environmental performance and long term liabilities “says Caroline.
“The gap between the few that benefitted, and the many who paid the long-term consequences, was growing, and growing more unacceptable,”
“Mining leaders were determined to demonstrate that they could create shared value, they could operate responsibly and that they would chart a course of action that challenged the notion of deep, dark and dangerous as the only script for mining.”
And thus, the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) was born out of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) global research project, “Breaking New Ground”. In the report, the MMSD project explored how the mining industry could “transition to a position where it contributed to sustainable development.”
Backed initially by companies like mining giant BHP Billiton, CSMI today trains regulators and industry practitioners alike in health and safety, risk management, environmental management and community development.
“At the time, the industry safety record in South Africa was unacceptable. One of the early initiatives was to drive a concerted approach to reporting transparently on safety performance using industry benchmarks and indicators,” says Digby.
Safety continues to be a major focus and numerous programmes to bring regulators, mineworkers and mining companies closer together on safety issues have been launched or supported by CSMI.
Health issues have also risen up the agenda – particularly in the light of class action lawsuits against the majors.
“Our research and training links safety not only to occupational health but also to the other problems so frequently associated with the health of mineworkers (AIDS, TB and silicosis).”
CSMI’s focus is on providing both the reason and the means for change. Academic and applied research undertaken recognizes both the unique conditions of African mining and the need for internationally acceptable practice.
The results of that research are translated into a suite of training and capacity-building offerings that are included in the building blocks for the next generation of mining professionals, alongside targeted interventions aimed at continuous professional development and building specialist capability.
MSc level offerings include courses on mining and sustainable development leadership; environmental management in mining; SHEC systems; operational risk management and community development. These can also be taken as continuous professional development offerings through Wits Enterprise.
CSMI may operate in Johannesburg, South Africa, but what the centre aims to do is serve the wider mining industry worldwide. CSMI attracts a large number of international participants, as well as having key links with academic institutions from Australia, Canada and the UK, something that Digby sees as a critical aspect for the future of the initiative and the industry.
“The links to other international academic institutions is critical, as it creates the backdrop for the future training of the sector based on international practice and evidence-based research. There is huge potential for mining to contribute to development, articulated in the African Union’s African Mining Vision, which is now being rolled out at the country level,” says Digby.
“Through these links, CSMI can contribute to knowledge sharing in both large-scale and artisanal and small-scale mining sectors.”
It is with these partnerships that CSMI acts as a hub for information and the fulcrum for evidence-based research on responsible mining. It acknowledges the multi-jurisdictional differences encountered by mining companies in Africa, the challenges of regulatory implementation encountered in many mining countries and the need across the continent to improve the long term outcomes and reduce the potential for negative legacies.
The industry faces on-going pressure to prove a demonstrable positive legacy and remain a viable choice in terms of economic activity.
“Despite difficult global circumstances, where it is a price taker and affected by the economic swings and roundabouts of global economies such as China, the industry needs to deliver real local benefits,” says Digby.
Cost reduction measures are becoming more common place across the industry and Digby believes that this is tempting companies to dismiss these legacies as “non-core issues.”
“As the management of any mine or shaft closed by regulators on safety grounds, by communities on social licence issues – or after environmental infringements – can testify, the cost of remediation goes way beyond the sometimes puny fines that regulators levy,” she says.
Technology and Innovation
The impacts of technology and innovation are not only affecting the future of the industry, but very much the here and now. Automation is one of the largest technological changes in mining, resulting in more remote mining and fewer workers.
For Africa, this presents the possibility of significant job losses – particularly amongst lower skilled workers.
“Our focus is on engaging companies on the need to plan for this and retrain workers to develop portable skills,” says Digby.
“Without this there is a danger that these workers could become the illegal miners of the future in an attempt to continue seeking out a living. Government and companies need to work together on this transition, preparing workers to move from mining into other areas of work,” she adds.
Looking to the future
Digby believes that mining in Africa still presents many greenfield mining opportunities.
“With these opportunities comes the challenge of the influx of people desperate for work, the need for resettlement of communities and the on-going challenge of infrastructure development - bedevilled as it often is by high expectations and low capacity of both communities and authorities to negotiate lasting beneficial agreements,” she says.
“Too often this still leaves mining companies as the de-facto local authority with a long-term responsibility for a lot more than running a mine.”
Ma'aden celebrates 5th anniversary of Vision 2030
Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden), one of the world’s fastest-growing global mining companies, celebrates the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The Kingdom’s mining champion highlights key achievements since the Vision 2030 launch and plans that reflect its commitment to the Kingdom’s social and economic development.
The Kingdom has implemented significant incentive programs and announced major reforms in the last five years to accelerate the development of the mining industry as a strategic pillar of the Saudi economy, including the recently launched mining investment law to attract investors and pave the way for the full utilisation of Saudi Arabia’s mineral resources, which are estimated to be worth more than $1.3trn. This goes in line with the objectives of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), one of the most important programs for achieving Vision 2030.
Ma’aden has kept its projects across a range of commodities moving on a strong growth trajectory since 2016. The company has expanded its investment portfolio, refinanced key projects, and made its first international acquisition, laying the foundation for future growth and new investment opportunities in the Saudi mining industry. Despite some challenges in 2020 due to COVID-19, Ma’aden managed to maintain its agility and remained focused on its goal to become a global Saudi mining giant, while adhering to the highest standards of health, safety, and environment.
Located on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, Ras Al-Khair Industrial City jumpstarted the mining industry development in Saudi Arabia, leveraging the country’s strategic location in connecting three continents. In November 2016, Ras Al-Khair Industrial City was further expanded and connected via railway to Ma’aden’s bauxite mine in Qassim and phosphate mine in Al Jalamid, making it a cornerstone of the Kingdom’s mineral and metal production and export industries.
Ma’aden’s integrated ‘mine to market’ aluminium value chain is the largest in the Middle East and one of the largest in the world, with investments over $11bn. Aluminium products of the highest international standards are sold to both domestic and global markets, encouraging the development of additional downstream aluminium-based industries in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. Operations are centered around the largest and most efficient vertically integrated aluminium complex in the world, in Ras Al Khair Industrial City, which also houses sulfur and phosphate production facilities.
Intending to capture the full value of Saudi Arabia’s significant phosphate reserves and develop new mining and mineral activities, in 2018, Ma’aden celebrated the inauguration of the industrial city of Wa’ad Al Shamal by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Wa’ad Al Shamal is a world-class industrial and mining city in the Northern Borders region of Saudi Arabia. This phosphate super hub will continue to grow with Ma’aden’s latest phosphate megaproject, which is primed to increase phosphate fertilizer capacity to reach 6 million tonnes, making Ma’aden the world’s third-largest producer of phosphate fertilizer and Saudi Arabia the second largest global exporter.
In 2018, Ma’aden also acquired an 85% stake in Meridian, the Mauritius-based fertilizer distribution group, strengthening its position as one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of phosphate fertilizers. This acquisition marked Ma’aden’s first investment outside the Kingdom, in line with the company’s goal to expand globally and significantly contribute to the Kingdom's Vision 2030.
In 2019, Ma’aden commenced construction of the Mansourah and Massarah gold mine, the company’s largest-ever gold project and the Kingdom’s first project to utilize solar power as an energy source. Once operational, the mine and its processing facilities will have a key role in achieving Ma’aden’s target of producing 1 million ounces of gold per year by 2025.
These accomplishments are all due to the steppingstones set by the Saudi Vision 2030, which laid the foundations for creating an attractive environment for local and foreign investments in promising growth sectors and unlocking new ones, in addition to developing remote areas, bringing technologies and knowledge to the Kingdom, establishing specialized and modern industrial cities, and generating diverse job opportunities for Saudi nationals.