Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: South Africa’s loss of the top global ferrochrome spot to China has been self-inflicted.
Creamer: It was very sad and also very happy occasion this week when we had the 33rd Chromium Conference in Johannesburg. Sitting on my right were French people and on my left Belgium people and in the distance were Chinese and Indian people all packing the Hyatt to look at chrome.
We know that we are big players in chrome, but the sad part of it is when they whisper to you in the corridors what’s happened in South Africa. Why have you lost out to the big ferrochrome industry? You were the leaders by far and now China is the new leader. Why are they eating your lunch? They don’t even have chrome, they are using your chrome.
The big problem is Eskom. Eskom has inflicted this on us, because the ferrochrome business needs electricity and it needs it in big volumes. The manner in which Eskom has just lifted the price in such a cavalier fashion has set us back pretty badly. We now have a situation when you produce ferrochrome you produce 400% more jobs than just producing chrome. We had that advantage, you also produce many more big value, the value uplift is huge.
It is all about that beneficiation which the government says it wants, but it doesn’t foster, because errant Eskom just damages what was a very prosperous business. We now need to look at ourselves and see how we can recover on that. In the meantime a lot of our chrome which we produce here goes to China and they convert it into ferrochrome.
We are in a better position because we pollute the air less and did it in a less costly fashion. We are holding on to a big slice of that still and we are in a better position than Kazakhstan and the other places. Even at the conference we didn’t have any input from the South African government, because people don’t put them on the stage anymore; when you have got a foreign crowd there you don’t want them. What did we put on? We put on Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe had first dibs and they are not ideal, they were given top spot at the conference, they were the first input providers into what is happening in chrome in Southern Africa. They were inviting the people to come and invest in Zimbabwe. We didn’t have that opportunity, because of our errant behavior in mining.
Kamwendo: New funding for the Wits Mining Institute is giving mining a big Fourth Industrial Revolution boost.
Creamer: This is fantastic that mines are still seeing their way clear to ploughing money into education. In this case it is Sibanye-Stillwater and they have ploughed R15-million into this partnership they have with the Wits Mining Institute so that we don’t lose our hold on this very fast changing technology that is going through the world and that we apply that digital technology into our mines.
For the next three years they will put R5-million a year to boost this DigiMine project, which is going on at the Wits Mining Institute. It will also mean that many more students get bursaries. The whole activity changes when you are funded in this way to focus on the mine of the future. We know we are losing ground.
We see in Africa that the technology that we should be planning here and moving into mines is being applied there. It is already being applied never mind theoretically being done on computer screens by students. This input by Sibanye-Stillwater needs to be applauded. I think coming up is going to be another big input by another mine.
So, hopefully even though they are in desperate straits they still see their way clear to make sure that they can fund education and ensure South Africa does not fall behind.
Kamwendo: Pounding the streets of Perth, Toronto and London is paying off for South Africans in desperate need of scarce mine project work.
Creamer: This is really resourceful of our South African supplying community. They are used to supplying into our mining industry here, because we normally have got projects on the go. We are totally bereft of projects.
Now you have got to get to the investor first. This is where it all starts and we know that people are wanting to put investment in Africa and not South Africa. So, where do they have to go? They have got to go and pound the streets of Perth, Toronto and Europe. They have done it very innovatively, but they have done it in a very rudimentary fashion.
They say you get there on foot, you get in to Western Perth, look at the notice boards, check out which are mining companies, because a lot of them are not listed they are still incipient. Then you go into Google, it is as basic as that. Then you go up and make your appointment and you hope you will get your appointment.
They have been so resourceful that the one company I spoke to has secured 60 projects in Africa. That was just by leather pounding the streets and making sure. This will benefit us during this period where we are totally bereft of mining projects. Even when you put in an application for exploration you don’t get it in South Africa. For some crazy reason the Department of Mineral Resources is not awarding them.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.