The University of the Witwatersrand is set to launch its Wits Mining Research Institute (WMRI) in a session that will be addressed by the Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu.
The initiative is quite timely, coming at a time of great stress for the mining industry. In a speech this week academic and activist Mamphela Ramphele desribed the South African mining industry as trapped in the 19th century. “We’ve just had this tragic Marikana debacle, and what was in evidence there is the consequence of South Africa failing to transform the mining industry from a 19th century business model, which relies on cheap migrant labour, very archaic mining technology and a… low-skilled, labour-intensive industrial base.”
The university said in a statement the Institute is set to advance the sustainability of the mining sector and affected societies through conducting research and developing high level skills in several key areas including new methods of mining and exploration; policy changes; health and safety; environmental impact; sustainability; and the impact on communities. It is also set to develop increasing numbers of trained postgraduates in the sector.
“Africa is renowned for its extraordinary mineral wealth, yet the last two decades have seen limited research in mining, minerals and exploration,” says Prof. Nielen van der Merwe, Interim Director of the Wits Mining Research Institute. “We are hopeful that the WMRI will reverse the recent decline in South Africa’s mining research output. During the period of decline of mining research, there was not only a lack of much needed research outputs but the next generation of researchers were not trained either. We intend to work with the public and private sectors, and others, in order to find creative, lasting solutions to our own unique South African problems, at the same time equipping young researchers with the necessary skills to continue doing so into the future.”
The WMRI will serve as Africa’s leading multidisciplinary research in all technical, social, and economic aspects of mining and will help a key part of the South African economy to reach its potential while developing sustainable communities and safeguarding the environment.
“It will expand mining research from geology and technical studies to include the social impact of mining, community participation, land rehabilitation and labour issues,” adds van der Merwe. “The Institute will stimulate collaboration between disciplines as diverse as law, management, sociology, migration, economics, engineering, healthcare, materials science, geology, energy, environmental science and community development. Some of the key specific challenges are the extraction of gold in narrow reefs at depths hostile to human survival, and the identification and exploitation of resources in remote and sensitive environments.”
The Institute will also contribute to the opening of new mining areas, a national mine closure strategy, the development of a minerals beneficiation economy, and the nurturing of skills in a key sector of the economy. Research will include exploration, safety in mining, economic geology and the efficient extraction of resources, environmental sustainability, deep-level mining, safety and occupational health, and the full spectrum of social impacts and mine rehabilitation.
“Importantly, the Institute will provide independent evidence-based advice to industry and government. It will undertake valuable contract research and development, develop skills and expertise, and increase South Africa’s capacity for mining research and development,” says van der Merwe.