+27 71 448 3496

Mining’s bold new future

Share Article
Forging a lower carbon future has also meant a renewed focus on renewable energy, and the explosion in battery technology to store this energy has sent ripples into commodity markets and mining itself with the focus squarely on critical minerals. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Mining’s bold new future 

Considering the theme of the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2024 – Embracing the power of positive disruption: A bold new future for African mining – the term ‘disruption’ has come to describe a raft of rapid technological and other advancements that have significantly changed the way we do business today.

“Perhaps not many mining commentators would suggest that the traditional mining sector would embrace disruption, but there have indeed been various forms of disruption in the industry – several of them positive,” says Andrew van Zyl, Managing Director, SRK Consulting (South Africa).

Van Zyl points out that disruption is invariably associated with risk, and most stakeholders in mining spend a good portion of their days working to avoid or mitigate such risk.

“This is as it should be,” he says. “As engineers and scientists providing technical solutions to the sector, we must be as skilled in developing innovative answers as we are in helping clients apply them practically and responsibly.”

SRK Consulting will be celebrating its 50th year in business as it attends and exhibits at the Indaba in Cape Town, and there is much to be discussed at the forum that resonates with the company’s history and vision.

Recognising context (Mining’s bold new future)

Van Zyl highlights that a fundamental aspect of mining’s evolution in recent decades has been the growing recognition of its context – within the natural environment, within the host communities where it operates, and within society in general.

These themes have been well ventilated in previous years of the Indaba and deserve ongoing attention. Indeed, the global effort to slow the pace of climate change is affecting not just the way we mine, but what we mine.

Leading mining companies have committed to reduce carbon emissions as part of their role as good corporate citizens. “This has led to initiatives to decarbonise mine sites, and to meet ambitious sustainability targets; the testing of a hydrogen-powered mining truck in South Africa typifies the commitment of industry to innovate and test possible solutions,” says van Zyl.

“Forging a lower carbon future has also meant a renewed focus on renewable energy, and the explosion in battery technology to store this energy has sent ripples into commodity markets and mining itself,” says Van Zyl. “The search for minerals critical to the manufacture of batteries has affected commodity prices, exploration programmes and production plans. As battery technologies compete for acceptance, the market value of the minerals required has become unusually volatile. This in turn has complicated the task of project valuation and planning.”

Responsible sourcing (Mining’s bold new future)

For Africa, the search for battery minerals is generally good news. The continent is a well-established producer of some of the key minerals required by the energy transition – such as copper and cobalt. There are also signs that many other battery minerals are to be found here in economic quantities, such as lithium. There is another important factor to consider in the battery mineral ‘revolution’, however, and that is the growing attention to responsible sourcing.

“Among the world’s consumers of battery minerals, there is a concern that such commodities be extracted and processed responsibly, and that their provenance be carefully tracked to prove this,” he says. “In Africa, like elsewhere, this puts an onus on the producers, and also on governments and other stakeholders. They must all ensure that conducive conditions are created to allow such an ethical supply chain to be established and maintained.”

He explains, however, that this is not a one-way street. “As part of SRK’s commitment to mining in Africa, it is working with an important European initiative, RE-SOURCE, to find ways to avoid unintended consequences of such responsible sourcing policies. If not carefully considered, these efforts could inadvertently disadvantage those constituencies – in Africa and beyond – who they were meant to assist,” says van Zyl.

SRK reflections (Mining’s bold new future)

“Reflecting on SRK’s contribution over the five decades, we are proud of many aspects of our technical and strategic input; among these have been those related to ESG,” says van Zyl. “While this focus was once limited to mining’s local environmental impacts, it now extends into the global issues related to climate change, and to social issues from artisanal mining and human rights, to localised supply chains and responsible sourcing.”

As consulting engineers, SRK has walked this journey with its clients for half a century. Much has changed since Oskar Steffen, Andy Robertson and Hendrik Kirsten established their practice in Johannesburg in 1974, offering services in soil and rock mechanics and tailings disposal.

Today, SRK’s clients’ requirements have broadened substantially beyond the narrow technical demands of mining operations. The demands of ethical exploration and responsible extraction mean ongoing and systematic engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, for instance – which remains a challenging task.

“At SRK, our development has mirrored the evolving demands of the industry – and our success has been built on foresight into how to prepare for such demands. In 1995, for instance, we employed our first social and developmental specialist – a move that was championed by SRK’s founders, who could see how important this facet was becoming. It is now almost 30 years later, and the industry has come a long way in terms of ESG practice, but we still have much to learn.”

Managing future risks (Mining’s bold new future)

Van Zyl’s view is that mining, as a pioneer industry in Africa, has shown that it has much to offer as a catalyst for economic growth. “Ensuring that the benefits of mining are optimised in host countries and local communities is another vital theme at successive Indabas and has increasingly occupied our minds at SRK.”

“While we work with clients on stakeholder engagement and related issues, we also put Africa’s priorities into practice,” he says. “Our offices around Africa – including Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are staffed and owned by local professionals, and we invest substantially in knowledge sharing across our global network to promote professional development.”

According to van Zyl this year’s Mining Indaba comes at a time when commodity prices have tempered and mining costs are rising, while expectations among host countries and communities are high.

“The sector’s trajectory into the future needs to manage the risks of today while embracing positive disruption and continuing to build sustainable responses to the demands and obligations of tomorrow,” van Zyl concludes.

Mining’s bold new future


WhyAfrica provides on the ground information and business intelligence about the sustainable utilisation and extraction of natural resources in Africa, and can assist your company through:  

  1. Membership:
  • WhyAfrica’s membership offers great business insights to you, your company, and clients.
  • Amongst many other benefits, we will publish editorial content about you or your company on the WhyAfrica online platform and on all WhyAfrica’s social media pages – the annual fee is R6,500 and you can find out more or subscribe here: https://www.whyafrica.co.za/product/membership/ 
  1. Sponsorship:
  • WhyAfrica’s Road Trip takes place annually in July and August. During our Road Trip we aim to visit more than 30 project sites. Sponsoring the Road Trip, or to be a WhyAfrica member, gives you unparalleled insight into the business environment of the countries that we travel to and the project sites we visit.
  • To be a member or sponsor allows you access to invaluable, on the ground, business intelligence and a great marketing opportunity for all companies doing business in Africa.
  • The main aim of our Road Trips is to promote Africa as an investment destination and to showcase Africa’s greatest companies, and projects to our large global audience, which includes a list of potential investors, venture capitalists and serial entrepreneurs.
  • To view the photos of this year’s Southern Africa Road Trip click on the gallery link or follow our Instagram account at why.africa https://www.whyafrica.co.za/road-trips/whyafrica-road-trips/. 
  1. Advertising:
  • We publish daily online articles on our WhyAfrica platform and post them on social media every day. Our combined online reach is more than 45,000. In-article banner ads are highly successful advertising tools as is advertising space on our website.
  • In addition to our bi-weekly newsletters, we publish two printed- and two interactive digital magazines per year. The printed magazines are distributed at major events and conferences throughout the year, and also on our WhyAfrica Road trips.
  • Digital magazines are e-mailed to all our subscribers and shared on our social media platforms. A copy of the latest edition is automatically attached to all our outgoing e-mails.
  • WhyAfrica magazines provide great marketing opportunities. There are also in-article and on-line advertising opportunities at exceptional rates. Contact me for more information on leon@whyafrica.co.za or give me a call.
  • To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletters and magazines click on the link and register: https://www.whyafrica.co.za/subscribe/  
  1. 4. Partnerships
  • Maximise your African exposure and link with our large business network through becoming one of only 10 WhyAfrica partners. We have only five prime partnership positions left for 2023, so contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za to get the best deal.

Mining’s bold new future 


Share Article


AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management