Mining plays a key role in driving infrastructure development, attracting foreign investment, boosting exports, creating jobs and reducing poverty across Africa.
The Investing in African Mining Indaba is considered the global premium event for influential stakeholders with a vested interest in Africa’s mining value chain.
As it wrapped up in Cape Town last week, despite a gloomy outlook for industry, a key take away was the significance of mining in driving economic development.
Mining plays a key role in driving infrastructure development, attracting foreign investment, boosting exports, creating jobs and reducing poverty across Africa. When new mines come into play, entire communities develop alongside the mines. In addition to creating direct jobs, the infrastructure required to support mines – from the development of roads, to ports, to rail infrastructure – contributes to the creation of local employment opportunities.
South Africa is one such country where the mining industry is considered the bedrock of the national economy. The mining industry alone accounts for 1.4 million direct and indirect jobs. These jobs support almost 12.6 million dependents.
In his opening address at the Indaba, South African Minister of Minerals and Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi emphasised the significance of the mining industry to the South African economy. He called on industry to promote economic growth and employment. In fact, on several occasions the South African government has stated that a prosperous mining industry is fundamental to the country realising its National Development Plan (NDP), which aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.
With many African countries’ development prospects linked to their natural resource endowment, the continued decline in commodity prices and increasing cost base in today’s mining sector is placing pressure on mining businesses and national economies alike.
Sharing his insights from the Indaba, John Manison, General Manager, GE Mining Solutions said; “The general consensus is that industry needs to focus on the long-term and build for the future.” Manison believes that there are two key things that the mining industry can do to manage through today’s volatility and re-emerge stronger and more sustainable:
Firstly, the industry should embrace technological innovation to drive efficiencies, reduce costs and increase profitability.
Industry should use clever technologies to squeeze more out of less. Computers, the industrial internet and big data need to be at the forefront of decision-making. The Industrial Internet combines industrial engineering with sensors, software and big data to create intelligent machines that optimise processes and asset performance. It is networked technologies that utilise the industrial internet that can help cut costs and enable greater productivity.
“GE has been investing for decades in utilising and analysing big data to drive process optimisation. Our African mining customers, such as Lonmin, are already reaping the benefits of our intelligent platform system with increased output in one smelter by 10% within just six months,” explained Manison.
Secondly, he believes that the industry must think long-term and build for the future to ensure that mining remains a positive force in economic development.
“A major issue facing the extractive industry is a lack of skilled labour. Therefore, it is essential that industry remains committed to develop local talent amid difficult economic times,” said Manison. “To be future ready, industry needs talent and skills in place.”
In light of this, GE has multiple skills development programmes underway across the region. In Mozambique, 20 graduate engineers are taking part in the prestigious GE Graduate Engineering Training Programme with the aim of joining GE’s Global Field Service Engineering Team in the future. In South Africa, GE is investing R700 million to support innovation and enterprise and skills development. These are just two examples of the multiple skills development programmes GE has in place across the region.
“The fact is that the mining industry is likely to face continuing pressure in the coming years,” Manison added. “With the economic development of many African countries dependent on the sector, it is essential that industry leaders consider the long term and make smart investments in technology and people for the future.”