The mining fraternity gathered for two days to discuss all things mining at the 2020 Joburg Indaba. Due to Covid-19, this year’s event took place as an online discussion which was nothing short of a virtual success.

Bernard Swanepoel, Joburg Indaba chairman started off proceedings by welcoming attendees to the event and thanked sponsors and organisers for supporting the online event. “This event has truly over the years gone from strength to strength.” He also mentioned that the new reality was one that everyone, including the mining industry, had to deal with.

“Due to Covid-19 social distancing rules, this Joburg Indaba, which I think is South Africa’s mining premier event, has had to go online. It’s a new reality and one which creates the perfect context for the critically important sector of the South African economy to pause and to reflect.” He also talked about one of the unique factors of the event – the blunt and honest conversations about the challenges and opportunities in the mining industry.

Because the event was an online discussion, Swanepoel noted that some of the advantages of having everybody in the same room would be hard to replicate. “The online platform does have its advantages. Firstly, we have more international CEOs and investors participating than ever before. Secondly audience participation is probably easier via the online platform.” He also said that more importantly, the content would still be available even after the event had concluded.

The topic for this year’s event was focused on resetting the industry in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. “We designed this year’s programme to deal with how to best move forward as a country and as the South African mining industry.”  

Candid constructive engagement

With more than 50 speakers and nine sessions, the event delivered candid and constructive online engagements. Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani delivered the first keynote address of the event on day one. Cutifani’s address was centred around ‘South Africa’s decade of promise’. He mentioned that the next decade would be crucial for the mining industry and South Africa. In his address, Cutifani also outlined the challenges and opportunities for mining in South Africa. “South Africa’s mining industry will be prosperous if it is inclusive,” Cutifani said. He concluded his address by saying that the pandemic had given the industry an opportunity to press the ‘reset’ button.

Session one followed after Cutifani’s keynote address. The session was a panel discussion about the outlook for the world economy, commodity markets and the global mining industry. The session was chaired by Sandile Zungu, chairman, Zungu Investments. He was joined by Roger Baxter, Minerals Council South Africa CEO, Dr Martyn Davies, MD for emerging markets and Africa at Deloitte and Claude Baissac, Eunomix CEO. During the discussion, Baxter explained that South Africa was adding value and beneficiating where opportunities exist. “We can’t be all things to all people. We are really good at mining so that’s where we should focus and create positive incentives to encourage the export of beneficiated products,” he said.

The second session was about what life would be like after Covid-19 for mining companies. Chairperson at Impla Platinum, Advocate Thandi Orleyn, chaired the session. The panel for this discussion was Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman, Harmony Gold CEO Peter Steenkamp, Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke, De Beers Group MD Mpumi Zikalala and AngloGold Ashanti interim CEO Christine Ramon. The consensus among panellists was that the new normal of working virtually would remain post Covid-19. “Revised working arrangements are here to stay,” said Froneman.

The day’s second keynote address was delivered by Mxolisi Mgojo, president of the Minerals Council and Exxaro Resources CEO. His address was about the industry’s response to Coivd-19 from a health and safety perspective. In his address, Mgojo explained how the mining industry managed to restart operations following the 21-day hard lockdown. “We announced a 10-point plan which would form the basis of our standard operating procedures,” he said. Mgojo also added that the industry had been transparent from the outset, with daily dashboards and regular media briefings. “The more you screen and test the more cases you will diagnose. We believe we’ve protected the industry’s reputation in dealing with the pandemic.”

Other sessions on the first day of the event included panel discussions about the Northern Cape’s mining potential and capital allocation in the new normal. The day ended with a keynote address by Barrick Gold president and CEO Mark Bristow. His address gave a global perspective on gold in 2020 and beyond. “To be successful in this sector, you must have a global presence,” Bristow said.

Day two of the event started with a keynote address by Advocate Thabo Mokoena from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. He was delivering the address on behalf of Minister Gwede Mantashe, who despite best efforts could not attend due to other cabinet related commitments. Mokoena noted that the industry needed to improve geoscientific information and increase the percentage of global exploration spend. “We’re developing a comprehensive exploration strategy in the next 3 months to reduce the turnaround times of licence applications by 50%,” he said.

The first session of day two was a panel discussion about the response by mine companies to an increased focus on ESG and corporate governance. This session was chaired by Nolitha Fakude, chairperson of the management board at Anglo American South Africa. Panellists for this discussion were Peter Davey, independent non-executive director at Implats, Deshnee Naidoo, mining executive and former CEO of Vedanta Zinc International, Claire McMaster, executive head for human resources at Fraser Alexander and Robin Bolton, sustainability executive at IsoMetrix. Panellists shared similar sentiments that ESG was not new in the mining industry and that mine companies needed to tell more stories which highlighted ESG initiatives in which they were involved.

Day two of the event also saw a keynote address from Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, in which he discussed the power producer’s plans and current strategy. He explained that sustainable economic recovery would not be possible without reliable electricity supply. De Ruyter also added that the power utility was working to reduce the risk of load shedding by September 2021, however emphasised that this did not mean the elimination of load shedding altogether.

Other sessions on day two included discussions about international investors’ perspectives in the new economy, the outlook for energy supply, the coal mining industry and the ‘just transition’ towards cleaner energy sources and digital transformation, innovation and 4IR. There was also a keynote address by With Professor Bob Scholes about the mining industry and the environment.

As the event drew to a close, Swanepoel declared it a success and thanked the team responsible for organising the event. “Let me conclude this very successful 8th edition of the Joburg Indaba,” he said.

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