Most of South Africa's deep-level underground gold mines are aging with travel times to the workface sometimes reaching an hour or more. With this increasing depth and distance from the shaft, time spent at the workface has reduced, resulting in shrinking production and mounting costs.
Modernisation could save around 200,000 jobs in the gold sector by 2030, affecting 2,000,000 dependants.
Without a move to modernisation, the industry will fail to mine the country's deep-level complex orebodies safely and profitably. This could, in turn, result in premature mine closures and job losses. Modernisation in the South African gold mining industry will also help to improve safety and health, and achieve zero harm. It will also contribute to increased skills development. In prolonging the lives of mines, it will also contribute to employment, and exports and revenue, and aid the socio-economic development of local communities.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
In part, modernisation will be driven by technological innovation, which in turn will be driven by research and development (R&D). To be successful, all elements of mining need to be modernised.
MODERNISATION INCLUDES RESEARCH INTO:
- The human factor. This encompasses areas such as accelerated skills development of local community employees and other community-related issues.
- Modernisation of mining operations that cannot be mechanised. Systems to modernise current conventional mining operations, to make them safer, healthier, more productive and sustainable have been identified.
- Advanced orebody knowledge. The aim of this research area is to find ways of "seeing through the rock", creating an accurate threedimensional real-time model that can be used for real-time planning and design work.
- Real time information systems. This includes digitisation, where technologies and systems are developed to improve underground communication and data management.
- Mechanised and 24/7 mechanised mining systems. The Minerals Council has identified the products, technologies, people and infrastructure required to mechanise the stoping and development cycle with remotely operated equipment by 2020. Similar requirements have been developed for a 24/7 mechanised mining system that operates without explosives by 2025.
THE WAY FORWARD
Detailed plans have been developed for modernising mining through a partnership between the public and private sector. The Minerals Council will participate actively in the implementation of these plans. Mining companies have spent over R500 million annually over the past couple of years on innovation. The government has also allocated increased funds in the national budget for R&D in the mining industry. To facilitate the process of mining modernisation, 'The Mandela Mining Precinct' – a private-public partnership – has been set up to coordinate R&D, mining equipment manufacture and skills development.