INTERVIEW Are you working on better ways of mining? Our contribution to better mining can only be limited to characterising the rocks that will be mined. In the debate around data mining technology, there have been three primary questions that have been asked. The first one is, how can we mine more with less energy? How can we mine with less or no water as we are a water-scarce country? The third one is how do we minimise the environmental footprint? Our contribution lies in characterising those rocks where mining will take place, allowing mining professionals to be very clear of that distinction and they can then design the appropriate technology that takes into account the types of rocks that they have. There was a time some years ago when a lot of noise was created in South Africa about acid-mine water. Part of the reason for that noise dissipating is because of the work that we have been doing behind the scenes, and we continue to do that work. It is a huge task with limited resources but our scientists have really done a sterling job and they continue to do so. I have every confidence that in the next couple of years we will be making major announcements. What role does the CGS play in assisting with land-use planning? In early August a tremor was felt between Johannesburg and Alberton. These seismic events are sometimes due to mining and some are natural seismic events. It is the responsibility of the Council for Geoscience to record those events, to study them, communicate them to the public, to indicate the risks and also to work closely with the National Disaster Management Committee. Areas which have a proliferation of dolomite rocks have a direct bearing on infrastructure and our role is to advise the state on risks. Certain areas in Mpumalanga have large areas of subsidence. Now that the state has adopted the District Development Model, they are placing us at the centre of working with the District Municipalities in assisting them with the optimisation of land use. Was the International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage productive? This is something that is very, very important in the South African context. We know that there are many nations, including developed nations, that are battling with the acid mine water drainage problem, particularly those countries that have a long history of mining. We have found common space with the Americans, the Germans, the Polish and the British and realised that what we thought was a major problem for us is actually very small relative to those countries. The size of the problem is irrelevant; however, what is important is that we have to find solutions to this problem to the greater benefit of humanity. A sealed ownerless mine entrance, near Sabie. MPUMALANGA BUSINESS 2021/22 36
INTERVIEW Please describe any staff development programmes. Our biggest competitive advantage is our human capital. We intend to create at least 10 A-rated geoscientists on the global scale in the next five to 10 years because once you have created a capable institution then all these other things become very easy. Anything and everything is possible when you have competent, agile, committed world-class rated scientists. Do you have a bursary programme? We do. We have just concluded collaborations with many of our universities that have geosciences units. We want to expand that. We have collaborations with the United States geological survey and we are looking at the BRGM of the French and the Swedish and at some of the institutions in the East as well as on the African continent. These things create room beyond the bursary programmes for those who are upcoming and for those who are already in the system to have much greater exposure. One of the things that looks impossible in the world right now is to predict earthquakes. We have been collecting a lot of data and there are huge amounts of data from countries that are prone to earthquakes. We are marrying data that we have collected with multi-disciplinary geoscience functions and subjecting it to big-data processing. The ultimate goal is to try to develop the capability to predict earthquakes, not only for us in South Africa but for greater applications in humanity. Imagine if we crack that as the geoscientific community working together? It is my deep conviction that our world-class rated geoscientists will arise from those kinds of platforms. What are your targets in terms of staff development? Currently, 37% of our scientific staff has Master’s degrees and doctorates. We have a very ambitious target of 60%. If you have quality staff you will have a quality institution. Do you have mining-specific research projects? We have in the past year been asked to refocus on research related to derelict and ownerless mines. In relation to asbestos and its product, our scientists have installed equipment that detects and quantifies articulate substance in the air. In some areas we have been able to correlate the abundance of asbestos particulate matter in the air with a particular type of sickness within that community. We continue to track the closure procedures of mines. There has been a substantial decline in the amount of fibre in the air and we have seen how that has reduced a particular type of sickness in that community and enhanced general health. Those are some of the results that get us very, very excited: we scientists are just too modest! ■ CGS geologists undertaking integrated mapping, Makhonjwa Mountains.