By KELLY LOUISEIZE
Northern Ontario mining outfits can share their expertise in high-end technology and health and safety, but may still have a thing or two to learn about secondary mineral industries.
Enter South Africa.
The Managing director of South Africa Capital Equipment Export Council, Sybil Rhomberg, minced no words when she spoke with Naturallia attendees on how progressive her country is in secondary industry manufacturing.
The Naturallia 2004 conference was held in Timmins last November. The aim was to connect mining and forestry entrepreneurs with others from across the globe to provide future business ventures and ongoing partnerships.
She said companies such as Anglo American Diamonds Ltd., owned by De Beers, are interested in Canadian diamonds only because they can extract them uncut and unpolished, she said.
If mining houses extract minerals out of the ground without creating a secondary industry in South Africa, they can lose their concessions.
“Government gives five years for mining companies to get involved because otherwise they are no use to the industry. If they just extract minerals, they are stealing from the grandchildren.”
Anglo American has been successful in South Africa since 1914, she said. They realized they are not so much into the mining business as they were in the precious commodity industry. They cut a section of the company producing gold and called it AngloGold Ltd. They soon realized the largest end user for gold is jewelers.
Who better, then, to go to for a partnership than the Italians? A facility was established to manufacture gold and now South Africa has one of the largest gold markets in the world.
“ We produce I would say 85 per cent of all gold chains in the world,” she said.
It does not stop there. They have joint venture partnerships with platinum jewelers in China and Japan.
“Anglo Gold makes a 300 per cent increase in profit if they convert gold into chains. This is just common sense.”
It is amazing when faced with a challenge how lateral thinking comes into play, she said. When a mine expires, companies in South Africa have to find another use for the industrial site, usually dark, dank moist places. Mushrooms, anyone? Today, South Africa is one of the world’s largest exporters of mushrooms. Roses have also been cultivated in the mines.
“We now export millions and millions of roses internationally,” she said. “This is our long-term vision. Why are you not doing that here? Here it is a means to an end not an end to a means.”
On the flip side of the South African/Ontarian coin, there is a severe labour shortage looming on the horizon in both places, but for vastly different reasons.
As Nelson Mandela’s 54-year-old son did in January, an estimated 65-per-cent of the country’s population is expected to succumb to Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) before 2010.
Greg Baiden, director with Laurentian University’s school of engineering and head of a tele-robotic submarine project, has been there.
“You cannot understand the devastation that is going to occur there.”
Automation will have to replace human manpower. Specialized equipment, ventilation systems and sensors as well as communication systems, will be in high demand.
Protocol for health and safety is becoming more prevalent. South Africa has taken much of Ontario’s health and safety practices and adopted them into their own structure. They use Ontario’s statistics as a benchmark for attainable goals. However, fundamental links like the right to refuse unsafe working conditions have yet to be legislated, according to Alex Gryska, manager of Ontario mine rescue with the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association. The South African mining sector has a highly educated mining force and is interested in partnering with Laurentian University for mining programs that could be offered in cities or towns without a university. South Africa spends approximately 20 per cent of GDP on education.
“We are one of the most highly educated countries in the world,” Rhomberg says.