Building a sustainable road ahead in a changing landscape

Modernisation, beneficiation and community development are key elements that have to be addressed if the South African Development Community (SADC) is to be sustainable in what is a changing landscape.

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While the SADC region has significant quantities of minerals, and these are the drivers of the member country’s economies, the mining sector is experiencing the same problems as its counterparts worldwide.

With increasing energy demand, fluctuating precious metals markets, a shifting exploration landscape, subdued commodity prices and a gradual – not steep – recovery forecast, among others, the region will still have to find answers if it is to survive, never mind be sustainable.

The inaugural SADC Africa Mining Conference explored these opportunities through the insights from various industry experts.


The industry is in a tough place, concurs Roger Baxter, CEO of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa. He believes the big challenge is that we continue to use conventional mining methods while we view modernisation as a threat; one that will do away with people. The answer, he says, is far more complicated than that and if we are to realise the potential of the SADC region we will need to migrate to modernisation.

“Modernisation holds massive cost benefits and will mean that mining can contribute to the economic development of region as a whole. If we modernised we would have 11 large gold mines and nine platinum mines that could be mined safety.”

However, without it what we have is a rapidly depleting resource that is costly but with declining jobs and limited export opportunities.

In fact the opposite is true. With modernisation, bigger ore bodies can be mined, job losses will be slowed down, skills will be developed, investment will flow in, and, if we manufacture the technology here, it will further mitigate job losses. “While this will take time – about 20 years – the impact on growth will be significant.”


Charles Siwana, CEO of the Botswana Chamber of Mines, says mining companies need to position themselves into the lower quartile of the cost curve. He acknowledges that this is an easy statement to make, but a difficult one to carry out.

Next he says we need to tackle the infrastructure constraints we face, such as power interruptions. “Both the private and public sectors need to make themselves attractive to attract FDI. The private sector must indicate its ability to have a sustainable business that yields high returns, while governments must facilitate a conducive environment for such funds.”

The biggest opportunity for the region, in his opinion, is to beneficiate its raw materials instead of exporting them. “Africa has a history of exporting its raw materials and then importing the beneficiated goods back at a higher price. This has to stop.”

He adds that this will also help to close the gap when commodity prices do rise.

Mining communities

Mining community development is not succeeding, despite legislation and the intent of policies, with the benefits not being seen by the supposed beneficiaries.

So says Deepa Vallabh, director: cross border mergers & acquisitions: Africa & Asia, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyer. She has counselled mining companies for 17 years and, in her experience, the social labour plan (SLP) of many mining companies is a tick-box exercise, not a strategic plan for long-term sustainable development.

Government shares her view that community development as not working. “If the community is not seeing the benefit or correlation than it means it is not working and this includes mining communities that form part of the equity structure. When mines have sustained losses no dividends are paid. To properly benefit communities, long-term investment is needed.”

Given the above, she says there are other questions that also need to be asked. “When it comes to community development, what is the end goal of that community… do they want to stay there, or is it about developing skills that will take them to urbanised areas?”

If urbanisation is key for our future growth, she asks, why are we continuing to develop communities as if they are going to live there forever? It will only be there for as long as the life of the mine.”

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Earthy energy-smart home maintains a minimal eco-footprint in the South African bush

Living in harmony with nature calls for a small environmental footprint, and a great example of this philosophy can be found in the House Mouton, an earthy family home that makes sustainable design a major focus. Designed by Pretoria-based Earthworld Architects, House Mouton is a low-profile structure that minimizes both its visual and environmental impact on the rural landscape. Mostly natural materials were used to construct the home, which also features a green roof, highly efficient insulation, and intensive water harvesting systems.

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Located just outside Pretoria, the 705-square-meter House Mouton is set on a 1-hectare bushveld plot near the ecologically sensitive Roodeplaat Nature Reserve. To minimize its appearance on the landscape, the dwelling is split into four separate but linked single-story pavilions—for living, sleeping, services, and guests—carefully set between existing acacia thorn trees. The areas in between thepavilions have been turned into outdoor courtyards.

The shed-like pavilions are built from steel and supported by masonry walls. Large infill timber windows frame views of the landscape. The interior is minimally finished and features an earthy color palette that features natural materials. To keep energy costs to a minimum, the architects installed effectively shaded energy-efficient glazing, solar hot water heating systems, green roofs, and water harvesting systems that feed collected water into the irrigation system and emerging water supply system.

“The house consists of three conceptual elements: the roof and ceiling emulates the horizontal plane of the acacia thorn trees providing shade for its inhabitants; the two ‘anthill like’ fireplaces are beacons in the landscape; and thirdly, the jagged edge stonewall elements emulates the klip kopje of the landscapes,” write the architects. “Finally, the building design in essence attempts to be sensitive to the pristine bushveld landscape, and at the same to create a warm home for it its dwellers without opulence.”

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Makgoba’s thesis of excellence

To forge a research-intensive university that would be the best in South Africa was a publicly declared goal of Professor Malegapuru Makgoba when he became vice-chancellor of the University of Natal, then poised to merge with the University of Durban-Westville (UDW).

Given the higher educational landscape at the time, he faced scepticism. For some, the new institution’s dual aspirations of social transformation and scholarship seemed to be in conflict with each other. For others, it was simply too audacious an ambition to be realistic.

But two years before the end of his second term of office, the University of KwaZulu-Natal was able to announce its position at the top of the Department of Higher Education and Training’s list of research-led and publicly funded universities. This is a position the institution held for a second consecutive year and is hoping to maintain.

“This is the achievement of which I am most proud,” Makgoba said, speaking from his parents’ home in rural Sekhukhune, Limpopo, where the crowing of roosters filters down the line and where he is building a home – “The Nkandla of Limpopo”, he quips, “but without the fire pool, chicken run and amphitheatre.”

“To create an institution at the top of the ladder in South Africa in an era of extremely tough global competition is what I strived for from the start, and it fits my personality as an individual.”

Such a personality, Makgoba explains, is characterised by a drive to give his best and be judged on what he can deliver.

“From my days as a schoolboy, I have wanted to be at the top, to achieve excellence, and this attitude followed me everywhere, from the Natal medical school to Oxford and the National Institutes of Health – I’ve been competing all my life.”

Makgoba said his international experience had impressed upon him the importance of research in academia.

“I was taught to aspire to originality, not imitation, to develop ideas so they added value to knowledge. And this approach is the foundation for teaching in a university.”

When Makgoba took over as vice-chancellor of the then-University of Natal, he perceived that the institution and UDW were dogged by an inferiority complex and were content to play “second fiddle” to other South African universities in scholarship. At the same time, staff, certainly of the old University of Natal, sought jobs at institutions such as UCT, which were seen as being more prestigious.

But, from the start, Makgoba was “fixed” on his goal of a globally competitive university.

He understood that there would be positive spin-offs in attaining such a goal.

“I refused to negotiate on this goal and I also knew that, on that particular score, I was not going to be challenged by any self-respecting academic.”

Makgoba and his team set about implementing a string of related strategies to improve research output and productivity.

These included an emphasis on academic qualifications – all academics were required to hold a PhD – greater productivity among individual academics (all academics were expected to start producing research papers and to supervise larger numbers of postgraduates) and a PhD programme to nurture a future generation of African academics.

“Really, the question was not whether we could do it, but whether people were ready for it.

“There was some resistance at the outset – it seems to be a uniquely South African phenomenon that you should hold an academic position without the requisite qualifications – but most came around to the idea, even if reluctantly.”

At the same time as he was pushing for new levels of scholarship, Makgoba was determined to transform the university demographics, to create staff profiles that were more representative of the race, gender and age profiles of South Africa.

“Across all divisions and colleges and at all levels, including the deanery, heads of schools and directors, the university is now well-represented by women, Africans, Indians and whites.

“We’ve managed to capture the mix very well and enrich the institution through diversity.”

Makgoba is also proud that UKZN has become an institution of young people – 72 percent of the academics are under the age of 50.

Another of his goals was to give substance to the constitution’s recognition of indigenous languages. He oversaw the development of the university’s language policy and plan, a process that culminated in the historic introduction last year of a compulsory Zulu language module for all undergraduates.

“IsiZulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, let alone KZN,” he said.

“Not only was the move aimed at providing young professionals with vital communication skills, but the university is at the forefront of developing isiZulu as a language of science and technology.”

All achievements were led by teams with a common purpose – to develop an institution of academic excellence. “They were not the product of individual effort.

“I was able to create and identify a team of people – it was never an accident that I worked with the people I did.

“I do not publish or do research. All I could do was inspire others to do so. That inspiration multiplies if you have disciples to take the message through.”

The leadership at UKZN, particularly at the level of the executive and the deans, distinguished themselves by showing consistent courage in translating the shared vision of the university into reality.

Unique among South African universities is the devolution of power through the institution’s structure.

“As vice-chancellor, I was conscious of the need to devolve my powers to others in order for them to be able to express their own leadership strengths. In this way one gives space for more diverse creativity in the institution.”

Also critical was the support of the council – the university’s highest governing body.

“One of the pleasures of working at UKZN was derived from the quality of leadership at council (level). We faced criticism as an institution, but we stuck to our strategy and we had the support of all chairs of council and the executive, all of whom understood that we were living in a new country with new values and different emphases.”

Does Makgoba have any regrets about any aspects of his tenure as vice-chancellor? Not really, he says.

“There were obviously limitations in time, capacity and resources that affected what I could realistically achieve. I adopted a focused approach aimed at research because I knew it would translate into a number of positive spin-offs for the institution.

“But if I were to be analytical, I think I could have spent more time promoting the development of sports. At this point, it’s easy to identify this gap, but at the time there were a number of issues competing for my attention.”

According to Makgoba, UKZN’s establishment and development was underpinned at a fundamental level by good governance.

“Governance structures set the tone and environment in which universities operate – and a robust, transparent governance structure is an absolute necessity. All our council chairs have driven this approach.”

Another bonus was that the new university was able to leverage large sums of money from international foundations for the development of world-class research facilities such as the Africa Centre, the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, and the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, or Caprisa.

“During this period, the government also actively supported the merger and gave us resources,” said Makgoba.

For example, the R90-million Biological and Conservation Sciences building was the product of a Department of Higher Education and Training grant, and the UNITE School of Engineering “green” building was funded through a R20m grant from the Department of Science and Technology.

Makgoba said he was happy that UKZN had avoided the kind of anguish and upheaval over symbols and transformation experienced more recently at other universities.

“We are fortunate at UKZN to have embraced change early on,” he said. “What you see at universities around the country reflects the nature of our society’s development… You can’t have Africans pretending to be anything other than African. They are what they are and they will bring their social values into the university.”

Makgoba ascribes the poor level of transformation at institutions to poor leadership.

“Academics love vice-chancellors who do nothing, say nothing and are nobody. They love vice-chancellors who lack clarity of vision, are ambiguous, wishy-washy in their manner of speaking and have no courage… because this allows for privilege, poor performance, the status quo, mediocrity and pervasive corruption.

“Clarity of vision, integrity and courage are needed to transform and overhaul this archaic, race-riddled and underperforming system.”

Without giving away too many details, Makgoba says he will be taking up an important job at a “national level”.

In the meantime, he is writing a chapter for the Oxford Textbook of Medicine on research in resource-constrained countries. He is serving as a health expert on the Defence Force Service Commission for five years and is a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Leadership and Research Policy Unit. He will also continue chairing the oversight committee for transformation at public-funded universities.

“For the moment, I’m enjoying being in the countryside and spending time with my parents. My siblings have been popping in and out and my first month of retirement has been peaceful. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served and led the university and for what the university did for me.”

Source: iol


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