/ 20 February 2023

Innovation and collaboration key to Africa’s mining success

African Mining Indaba 2023
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: David Harrison)

The private sector must get involved and work with the government to find solutions

Collaboration is key to the success of South Africa’s mining industry, today and going into the future. This was the overarching sentiment that carried across many of the keynotes speeches, media briefings and panel discussions held during the four-day Investing in African Mining Indaba which took place in Cape Town last week.

“Despite being blessed with such enormous mineral endowments, many countries across Africa will sadly fall short of living up to their potential. Breaking this long-standing truism is more urgent than ever before,” noted Duncan Wanblad, Group Chief Executive at Anglo American. “The need to address this challenge and opportunity has been shown, time and time again, to rely on partnerships.” Speaking on the first morning of the event, he outlined that the pandemic broke down many of the barriers to collaboration and strengthened cooperation, because the industry came together to find solutions to the problems presented by a common threat. “But why is it that we have to get to a state of crisis before we are willing to take the decisions and create the partnerships that are needed to drive action?” he asked.

While this is an exciting time in the industry, unfortunately the industry faces some harsh realities that can’t simply be wished away, explained James Smith, CEO at DRA Global, a global engineering, project delivery and operations management group. “Technology is said to be the answer to all of these problems, but that puts quite a big burden on technology, particularly when tech is only one side of things. If you don’t get people to adopt things practically, on the ground, any digital transformation and innovation efforts will fall short.” 

It is encouraging to see different organisations across the industry — and outside of the industry — coming together to innovate and share ideas, said Ian Sanders, Global Mining and Metals sector Leader at Deloitte. We are even seeing some mining companies establishing venture funds and investing in tech accelerators to create the investment vehicles they need to keep apace with innovation within their own industry and across other sectors. These more open source approaches help the industry to find creative and unique solutions to the problems they face.

But innovation cannot happen without people. As Boubacar Bocoum, Lead Mining Specialist at the World Bank highlighted, we mustn’t lose sight of how the development of the industry will affect people on the ground. “At the end of the day, we must not lose sight of the fact that mining and metals are simply the vehicles we use to improve human development,” he said. So, while there is a real need for industry players to move quickly so that they don’t miss out on opportunities, it is important that this acceleration does not leave people behind. 

Speaking on the second morning of the Investing in African Mining Indaba, President Cyril Ramaphosa also highlighted the importance of collaboration. “I am pleased to hear that the industry is working with academics, researchers and with parties from other industries to identify different areas of improvement, and [they are] sharing wisdom and ideas around how this industry can continue contributing to the development of our economies.” 

Acknowledging the many hurdles the industry faces, he called on the private sector to get involved and to work with the government to find solutions for the common good of our country. “Stop moaning,” he said. “We’re not saying you should not be critical. But we are saying stop moaning. We want the private sector to not feel shy, not to stand back and, more importantly, not to stand on the rooftops and just criticise. We want them to get in the ring so that we can work to solve our problems together.”
— Joanne Carew