Mineral exploration projects will benefit SA economy

Blessing Mbalaka is a technology enthusiast and junior researcher at the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

Blessing Mbalaka is a technology enthusiast and junior researcher at the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 19, 2024



As the world branches into the 4th industrial revolution, critical minerals, the minerals that are imperative for this imminent technological transition, continue to grow in importance.

However, the quest for these critical minerals has led to a plethora of environmental woes. The world, thus, finds itself in a dilemma in which it risks causing harm to the environment in this quest for minerals. Could, then, mineral exploration be a remedy to this predicament?

Mineral exploration in short is a systemic array of scientific processes which are used to help find mineral deposits. The benefits of this process are immense, as for engineers, the results from sampled data can be used for optimal mining processes by enhancing profitability, and efficiency.

In the area of mining, slight variations and slight errors can lead to tremendous costs, as such mineral exploration also offers an economic advantage, as its plethora of scientific processes offers businesses the opportunity to minimise errors.

If, for example, a hole is drilled at the wrong angle by the slightest degree, metres of drilling could become wasted, and the drill rig could potentially fail to meet the mineral ore body underground.

This slight variance of a few degrees is not insignificant economically and environmentally. If there is a slight inaccuracy, it could lead to missed profits and enhanced environmental damage.

Mineral exploration, however, has been threatened by unorthodox haphazard drilling digging. In Zimbabwe, the korokoza style of spasmodically digging pits in the hope of finding gold is one method which has been exacerbated by illicit mass-scale exploration companies.

Perhaps one deterrent to sufficient exploration is the cost of gathering consultants and conducting thorough scientific evaluations and feasibility studies. However, this mass-scale haphazard korokoza practice can become counter-intuitive because the cost of haphazard drilling can lead to serious economic losses.

Those who can afford to conduct mass-scale haphazard exploration and the subsequent ill-informed mining can only be sustained by deep pockets. Wolf and Wang's book titled China's foreign aid and government-sponsored investment activities: Scale, content, destinations, and implications delves into how state-sponsored investments from China could be the source of these funds.

The South African Institute for Mining and Metallurgy’s former president Zelmia Botha highlighted the significance of mineral exploration by mentioning how “Every R1 billion spent on exploration by mining companies potentially contributes about R1.2 billion to the gross domestic product through direct, indirect, and induced impacts.”

The economic gains are prevalent. In this global quest for critical minerals, it would seem sensible to increase investments in mineral exploration. However, South Africa’s role, according to Zelmia Botha, is that South Africa’s global exploration activity reduced from 5% in 2003 to less than 1% in recent times. This is a frightening statistic considering the urgency to exploit the global demand for critical minerals.

South Africa has the capacity, and as such it could promote local industry and employment opportunities and become an integral player in the global value chain.

Kweneng Group, Exxaro, African Rainbow Mineral and universities such as the University of Witwatersrand are just a few of the capable agents available in mineral explorations. The minister of mineral resources and energy Gwede Mantashe emphasised that some of these stakeholders need to capitalise on the untapped resource reserves in the Northern Cape.

However, without investment, these untapped resources may lead to South Africa’s continued performance issues in the global mineral explorations.

The exploration strategy for the mining industry of South Africa is 2 years old to date, but its intent remains relevant today. The strategy is a carefully cultivated response to South Africa’s opportunities and threats in Industry 4.0.

If South Africa plays its cards right, it could find itself as a major player in the global pursuit of clean energy suppliers if it contributes to the global value chain. Some could have fears of resource exploitation, but value addition is possible if the government sponsors industrialisation.

The South African government aspires to bolster its underperformance in mineral exploration with the establishment of an exploration strategy for the mining industry of South Africa.

This strategy aims to attract at least 5% of the global exploration expenditure within the next 5 years. This strategy does not only aspire to be profit-orientated but also adheres to environmental considerations and sound corporate governance principles. If successful, South Africa could become a global player in critical minerals and ensure minimised environmental damage.

Unfortunately, environmental degradation remains inevitable, however, this damage can be minimised and in this unstoppable wave of technological disruption, it is important to ensure that efficiency is emphasised through adequate exploration and due diligence in the mineral exploration and mining space.

Only time will tell if the exploration strategy for the mining industry of South Africa will yield significant economic and environmental benefits for the South African landscape, but for success to be attained, there needs to be an influx in investments for the mineral exploration projects. The trickled-down economic benefits would only benefit the country's economic gains.

For there to be sufficient appetite for South African explorations, there needs to be research through geological exploration to help inform local and foreign investors of potential investment opportunities. This is a significant weakness, a weakness argued by the exploration strategy to yield a reduced appetite for investment.

Blessing Mbalaka is a technology enthusiast and a junior researcher at the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg.

Daily News

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