Appointed as new MD in December last year, Ockert Douglas has wasted no time implementing strategies aimed at achieving significant growth for Redpath Mining South Africa.

Douglas, newly appointed MD of Redpath Group’s local subsidiary, has stepped into the management position with the intention of achieving two primary targets: sustainable growth and changing the industry’s perception of “who we are and what we do”, he tells Laura Cornish.

Changing the perception

“First and foremost we need to change the industry’s perception of what we do. In Africa, we are an infrastructure developer and a shaft sinker. Underground contract mining is a speciality in North America and Australia for Redpath and holds interest for us here in the future,” he states. Its Canada-based parent company, the Redpath Group, has over 50 years of shaft sinking experience and over 100 years through its wholly owned European company. Douglas is looking to leverage that experience locally and across Africa, and has already positioned the company to take on its first deep level shaft sinking project.

“We are the youngest son of one of the biggest engineering, mine development and shaft sinking companies in the world, leaving little doubt that our shaft sinking growth potential is open-ended,” former MD, Jimmy Erasmus notes. Redpath’s Canadian company has sunk 74 shafts around the world to date and is currently busy with another seven.

Redpath’s European company has sunk over 500 shafts totalling 210 000 m including 190 freeze shafts totalling 37 000 m and is currently sinking two freeze shafts in Russia.

Erasmus will continue to play an active role in the company as chairman and will facilitate communication between Redpath Mining SA and Canada. “Erasmus has solid and well-established relationships with the industry and remains pivotal to the projects we anticipate securing in 2016 and 2017.”

The company has already brought in some “dynamic” young staff who will constitute a fraction of its senior management team. “We now have the right balance of young and experienced personnel; we have the capital and the equipment and are ready to take this business forward. I must point out, however, that we are a medium-sized contractor and have no intention of being or competing with the biggest shaft sinking and development contractors for the foreseeable future, but one of the best in terms of safety, quality and delivery.”

Growing its African footprint

The second aspect of Redpath Mining SA’s growth strategy is building critical mass – which means accumulating project work in Africa. “This has always been our mandate, but you need to create a solid base first and then build up from there, which is what we have been working towards. We want to achieve comfortable growth levels – at a rate where we can still manage and control. Under no circumstances will we allow our safety achievements to be shadowed by our growth,” Erasmus points out.

The company has tendered on six shaft sinking projects this year, three of which are not in South Africa. “We are hoping to secure an underground horizontal development contract with an Australian company in Tanzania,” Douglas notes.

Changing its approach and methodology

“While ensuring quality delivery and project execution is above standard is common practise for us, we are working on changing our thinking and approach to adopting the methodologies and technological practises of our Canadian parent – particularly in terms of handheld machines and mechanical drilling.”

Redpath’s approach to projects combines global competencies and skills with innovative techniques, regulatory knowledge, regional expertise and cultural sensitivity. According to Redpath Canada: “This allows us to provide timely front-end engineering and design models, as well as selection and sourcing of hoisting facilities, to fast-track any shaft project. This seamless project planning phase has continually proven to yield high-quality products that exceed our clients’ expectations.”

In order to achieve this locally, Redpath Mining SA is intent on training. Douglas says he will establish a training centre on head office property (in addition to on-site training), which will develop and elevate employee’s skills. The company employs 800 people.

“We have also purchased a winder capable of sinking a 2 000 m deep shaft. We will use the winder to demonstrate our shaft sinking capabilities and commitments to potential clients going forwards – when it is not in use of course,” he explains.

Innovative problem solvers

The company was recently contracted to rehabilitate a 2 000 m deep, 7 m diameter ventilation shaft in the Free State. “The collapse had started gradually and become progressively worse over time,” Douglas explains. “We will now rehabilitate the collapsed portion, from 120 to 240 m.”

The project will showcase the company’s innovative approach to solving challenges. A vetter bag will be installed at 240 m, which will expand and block the shaft. Aerated and coloured cement will be pumped into the collapsed shaft area, which will function like a plug. The remainder of the shaft (to surface) will then be filled with cement following which the shaft can be resunk. “We will know we have reached the plug because of its different colour. Because it is aerated, it is softer, which will enable us to blast it out.”

Douglas estimates the project to take about nine months – meaning it should be completed towards the beginning of next year.

Redpath South Africa is also busy with a major decline sinking project in Botswana for Gem Diamonds. Due to the unstable, sand-like quality in the area, the company developed an innovative development solution to counteract the problem. “We developed a structural ring shield that provides support and enables us to line the decline (in rings using precast cement segments) as we progress.”

To date the company has installed over 540 rings and over 1 100 will have been installed once it reaches the basal rock layer.

The company is also a permanent contractor on-site at Northam Platinum where it is working on an underground decline development at the Zondereinde deep level platinum mine. It is also rehabilitating three shafts for Gold Field’s South Deep operation.