It may be hard to believe that engineering in mining was so developed 120 years ago that they needed a university for young men to become engineers. Today, 120 years later, the Wits School of Mining Engineering not only boast about the history, but prepare students for the future of mining.

The Wits School of Mining Engineering recently celebrated their 120 years in existence with an anniversary event, and took mining professionals and students back to the time when the school started in a tin shack in Kimberley.

Today, with 35% female students, the school has two Centres of applied research:

  • The Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems (CMMS) which focuses on efficiency and safety improvements, developing new capabilities in technology and in people.
  • The Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) that acts as a bridge between academia and practitioners to integrate disciplines in solving complex health and safety, and sustainability-related problems.

Speaking at the celebration event, Nick Holland, CEO, Gold Fields, said that gold mining will be able to withstand the current challenges for decades of profitability if miners embrace new technology in the mines. They will also have to include new skill sets and a more inclusive approach.

“The use of drones, advancement visualisation technologies, remote rock-breaking hydraulic arms and underground sensors on people and equipment are some of the advances which we are piloting at present,” said Holland.

He added that the high-level skill sets that will be required on mines will lead to a smaller overall workforce, creating a dilemma for many gold miners, as adjacent communities rely on them for jobs and procurement.

Holland stressed that operating practices and technology would be a vital area in gold mining’s new “recipe for success” – and that universities would be key partners in helping research and develop these technologies. He said mines of the future would focus on digital mining, big data analysis, knowledge production and mining mechanisation.

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor, Wits University said: “Universities, the state, communities and the private sector have to work together to promote research into deep level mining and new technology, and address issues related to health and safety and inequality in society.”

Habib said the university was fostering the transformation of the mining sector through changing the demographics of its students and staff, and through leading-edge research that advanced working practices.