Without innovation, the mining industry risks being taken over by conglomerates who can innovate. This view was expressed by the incoming CEO of Anglo-American, one of the world’s largest mining companies and parent of DeBeers, when he assumed the CEO role almost four years go.
He said, “Our industry is damned by the fact that our spending on innovation, research and development is one-10th that of the petroleum industry. If we don’t start to bring innovation back and do a hell of a lot better on our cost structures and deliver returns, the major diversifieds will be subsidiaries of General Electric or some other conglomerate that has still got innovation in their vocabulary. We either pick the ball up and innovate or somebody will do it for us.”
So, four years later, how is the mining industry embracing innovation? I was in Cape Town this week for the annual mining Indaba conference. There were high spirits. Commodity prices have reached a three-year peak and the global economy is growing. These are reasons to be cheerful, after one of the worst downturns for the industry in living memory. Most of the big mining majors have shed their CEO’s during this period. Marius Kloppers, Tom Albanese, Cynthia Carrol, Sam Walsh, to name a few.
Some of these individuals were in Cape Town, scouting for the next job. Most notably, there were many more exploration companies in attendance than in previous years– which bodes well for the sector. Mining has very long horizons, so if you aren’t exploring today, you won’t be producing in ten or fifteen years.
I chaired a session at the conference on the theme of mechanisation in the industry. My panel comprised the CEO’s of Zambia’s and Botswana’s Chamber of Mines, as well as the CEO of Royal Bafokeng Platinum and a Director of Government Relations at Anglo-American. We concluded that mechanisation was being adopted slowly in Africa, perhaps too slowly. We worried that Africa’s mining sector might become uncompetitive if it doesn’t adopt some of the technologies that are being introduced to mines in North America and Australia. These include driverless vehicles, robot excavation and location awareness technologies that improve the safety of each employee, which in turn reduces downtime and insurance costs.
Data-gathering and analytical tools are being introduced throughout the sector also, enabling miners to proactively manage environmental and energy inputs and emissions, such as carbon, water, fuel and waste. Company managers can now get a real-time view of their entire operations.
With the growing level of remote automation and computer-driven management, many operations managers might well ask “Couldn’t I run do this job remotely, from our headquarters in London or Toronto or Perth? Which begs the questions, how many local jobs will technology replace? Already drones are being introduced into mining operations and replacing humans with impressive results. Specifically, drones have replaced humans for many dangerous jobs, such as transporting hazardous waste; or monotonous jobs, such and monitoring and reporting.
My panellists in Cape Town concluded that the impact of innovations on unemployment will depend on government policies. To date we have witnessed a tendency on the part of African governments to bury their heads in the sand in an effort to protect jobs. Moving forwards what we need to see instead, is a commitment to protect the workers, not the jobs. Governments must be willing to pay for re-training or retiring of displaced workers. Nordic countries have demonstrated that this gives workers a much greater sense of security and makes them more supportive of technological innovations than workers in Tanzania, Zambia or the United States, for example.
Mining must embrace innovation. It’s good for safety and good for the environment. It’s the only way the industry can remain competitive. We must face a future with fewer people employed in mines. This requires honest acceptance and then concerted efforts to design and execute local economic development and diversification plans, so that communities can find employment in alternative industries.
Marcus Courage is CEO of africapractice, a pan-African strategic advisory group, specialised in political risk, public affairs and strategic communication. www.africapractice.com
Botswana has recorded its first trade surplus for 2021 since the only one for the year in January.
The country’s exports for the month of July surpassed the value of imports, Statistics Botswana’s July International Merchandise Trade data reveals.
Released last Friday, the monthly trade digest reports a positive jump in the trade balance graph against the backdrop of a series of trade deficits in the preceding months since January this year.
According to the country’s significant data body, imports for the month were valued at P7.232 billion, reflecting a decline of 6.6 percent from the revised June 2021 value of P7.739 billion.
Total exports during the same month amounted to P7.605 billion, showing an increase of 6.1 percent over the revised June 2021 value of P7.170 billion.
A trade surplus of P373.2 million was recorded in July 2021. This follows a revised trade deficit of P568.7 million for June 2021.
For the total exports value of P7.605 billion, the Diamonds group accounted for 91.2 percent (P6.936 billion), followed by Machinery & Electrical Equipment and Salt & Soda Ash with 2.2 percent (P169.7 million) and 1.3 percent (P100.9 million) respectively.
Asia was the leading destination for Botswana exports, receiving 65.2 percent (P4.96 billion) of total exports during July 2021.
These exports mostly went to the UAE and India, having received 26.3 percent (P1. 99 billion) and 18.7 percent (P1.422 billion) of total exports, respectively. The top most exported commodity to the regional block was Diamonds.
Exports destined to the European Union amounted to P1.64 billion, accounting for 21.6 percent of total exports.
Belgium received almost all exports destined to the regional union, acquiring 21.5 percent (P1.6337 billion) of total exports during the reporting period.
The Diamonds group was the leading commodity group exported to the EU. The SACU region received exports valued at P790.7 million, representing 10.4 percent of total exports.
Diamonds and Salt & Soda Ash commodity groups accounted for 37.8 percent (P298.6 million) and 6.2 percent (P48.7 million) of total exports to the customs union.
South Africa received 9.8 percent (P745.0 million) of total exports during the month under review. The Diamonds group contributed 39.9 percent (P297.4 million) to all goods destined for the country.
In terms of imports, the SACU region contributed 62.7 percent (P4.534 billion) to total imports during July.
The topmost imported commodity groups from the SACU region were Fuel; Food, Beverages & Tobacco, and Machinery & Electrical Equipment with contributions of 33.3 percent (P1.510 billion), 17.4 percent (P789.4 million) and 12.7 percent (P576.7 million) to total imports from the region, respectively.
South Africa contributed 60.1 percent (P4.3497 billion) to total imports during July 2021.
Fuel accounted for 32.1 percent (P1.394 billion) of imports from that country. Food, Beverages & Tobacco contributed 17.7 percent (P772.0 million) to imports from South Africa.
Namibia contributed 2.0 percent (P141.1 million) to the overall imports during the period under review. Fuel was the main commodity imported from that country at 82.1 percent (P115.8 million).
During the months, imports representing 63.5 percent (P4.5904 billion) were transported into the country by Road.
Transportation of imports by Rail and Air accounted for 22.7 percent (P1.645 billion) and 13.8 percent (P996.2 million), respectively.
During the month, goods exported by Air amounted to P6, 999.2 million, accounting for 92.0 percent of total exports, while those leaving the country by Road were valued at P594.2 million (7.8 percent).
Founders from twenty companies have been accepted into the program from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa
The 4th Cohort of the Stanford Seed Transformation Program – Southern Africa (STP), a collaboration between Stanford Graduate School of Business and De Beers Group commenced classes on 20 September 2021. According to Otsile Mabeo, Vice President Corporate Affairs, De Beers Global Sightholder Sales: “We are excited to confirm that 20 companies have been accepted into the 4th Seed Transformation Programme from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The STP is an important part of the De Beers Group Building Forever sustainability strategy and demonstrates our commitment to the ‘Partnering for Thriving Communities’ pillar that aims at enhancing enterprise development in countries where we operate in the Southern African region”. Jeffrey Prickett, Global Director of Stanford Seed: “Business owners and their key management team members undertake a 12-month intensive leadership program that includes sessions on strategy and finance, business ethics, and design thinking, all taught by world-renowned Stanford faculty and local business practitioners. The program is exclusively for business owners and teams of for-profit companies or for-profit social enterprises with annual company revenues of US$300,000 – US$15million.” The programme will be delivered fully virtually to comply with COVID 19 protocols. Out of the 20 companies, 6 are from Botswana, 1 Namibia, and 13 South Africa. Since the partnership’s inception, De Beers Group and Stanford Seed have supported 74 companies, 89 founders/CEOs, and approximately 750 senior-level managers to undertake the program in Southern Africa.
Minergy, the coal mining and trading company with the Masama coal mine, this week released results for the year ended 30 June 2021. The company achieved revenue of P193 million (2020: P81 million) with significant improvement in sales volumes surpassing 415 000 tonnes sold for the year.
The performance was divided into two distinct periods with very different operating environments. The first eight-month period (July 2020 – February 2021), was negatively impacted by delayed funding, COVID-19 impacts and excessive rain; and the last four-month period (March – June 2021), was a more stable production environment moving toward nameplate capacity.
According to Minergy CEO, Morné du Plessis, production and sales initially recovered in July and August 2020 with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and recoveries were further bolstered by the successful launch of the rail siding. Delays experienced in concluding the funding contributed to contractors limiting operations to manage arrears.
“However, the heavy rains we experienced from December 2020 through February 2021 flooded the mine pit making access difficult and impacting both production and sales. Fortunately, the rain subsided in March 2021, and we entered a more stable environment, with a positive impact on operations. Good recoveries in production and sales were experienced during the last four-month period of the year, with the mine moving closer toward a breakeven position.”
“Despite these operational constraints, including the effects of COVID-19 on logistics and manning of shifts, we expect to reach consistent nameplate capacity in the 2022 financial year,” du Plessis added.
In addition to the revenue reported above, the company incurred costs of sales of P256 million (2020: P150 million) with operating costs of P23 million (2020: P31 million). This effectively resulted in an operating loss of P86 million (2020: P100 million). Finance costs of P51 million (2020: P17 million) were incurred, bringing the net loss before taxation to P136 million (2020: P117 million).
Du Plessis explains that the adverse conditions in the first eight-month period contributed to 86% of the gross loss, while the more stable four-month period alone contributed to 50% of total sales value, helping to decrease monthly gross losses, albeit below breakeven levels.
The company benefited from a strengthening in the South African Rand (“ZAR”) supporting higher back-on- mine sales prices.
“As announced, we’re pleased to have secured P125 million of additional convertible debt funding through the Minerals Development Company Botswana (Proprietary) Limited (“MDCB”). Minergy remains grateful for this support.”
He added that the first tranche of additional funding provided by the MDCB had been received in December 2020, which allowed Minergy to settle the majority of the contractor’s arrears and allowed their teams to be remobilised. The second and final tranche was paid post the financial year-end and will allow the business to reach nameplate capacity in the new financial year.”
COAL SALES AND MINE PERFORMANCE
Sales volumes increased by 110%, supported by increased sales in Botswana and internationally in South Africa and Namibia. Sales for June 2021 exceeded 56 000 tonnes, a record since the inception of the mine, with pricing increasing late in the financial year on the back of buoyant international prices and a strengthening ZAR.
Minergy also concluded a further 12-month off-take agreement to the existing off-take agreement, with a further agreement finalised post year end.
Overburden moved during the reporting period increased by 86% and extracted coal by 50%. Coal mined in June 2021 alone exceeded 100 000 tonnes. “This is a good performance considering the challenges faced such as sacrificing pre-stripping activities for a period to manage arrears, excessive rain and COVID-19,” du Plessis indicated.
“The wash plant was initially starved of coal due to the factors noted already. Despite this, overall plant throughput performance was 37% higher than 2020. Consistent output was supported by the completion of the Stage 2 rigid crushing section as well as the water saving dewatering screen with filter press contributing to a reduction in water usage of 60% per tonne of coal. A record throughput of more than 84 000 tonnes was achieved in March 2021 and this consistency has been maintained.”
According to du Plessis, the completion of Stage 4 of the Processing Plant, the rigid screening and stock handling section, remains a key optimisation step, which has associated benefits. “The completion was unfortunately delayed by a southern African wide shortage of structural steel but was commissioned post year-end.”
Minergy expects the positive momentum in international coal pricing for southern African coal to remain in place. Higher coal prices have resulted in coal being withdrawn from the inland market in favour of lucrative international markets. Du Plessis added that the regional market is currently under- supplied with sized coal, which supports higher pricing and new customer opportunities for Minergy.
“Our objective for the 2022 financial year is to achieve nameplate capacity by completing final ramp-up of operations. This will enable the company to generate sufficient cash flow to stabilise the business at breakeven or better. The bullish coal market is also providing support. COVID-19 will still be closely managed, and we look forward to the lifting of the State of Emergency, as announced, and trust that vaccination programmes will achieve herd immunity in Botswana during the next 12 months.”
Du Plessis expressed his excitement on prospects stating that, “The Eskom due diligence process is continuing, and we are hopeful of receiving feedback during the current financial year. In addition to this opportunity, Minergy is also investigating participation in the request by the Government of Botswana to provide a 300MW power station for which the company has been shortlisted.”
The approved process to issue shares for cash is showing positive leads and he concluded by saying that a listing in London is still being investigated.