Setting aside the disappointment felt by the international mining community in terms of not being able to converge in Cape Town for the 27th annual Investing in African Mining Indaba, its head of content Tom Quinn promised to deliver a virtual event with the same high-level content and thought-provoking discussions between some of the industry’s leading lights, just minus the South African sunshine. The event organisers, now part of the Hyve Group, made sure not to disappoint anyone with the first 100% digital event in its history, attracting thousands to a slick ‘television studio’ style experience that felt markedly different to other digital conferences and webinars that had preceded it, with additional interactive features proving a big hit with attendees. This year, the well-entrenched early February ‘Mining Indaba week’ was truncated into a two-day event which took place on February 2-3, but the CPD-certified Mining Indaba Virtual still managed to provide three sitting African presidential addresses and a series of multi-stakeholder discussions on the most pertinent topics facing the African mining industry, including the clean energy transition, ESG investing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution – all under the overarching theme of resilience and regrowth in the COVID-impacted global economy.
Three times a president
After delivering a rousing presidential speech to a packed audience during the 25th year anniversary event in 2019, Cyril Ramaphosa returned with another headline address to Mining Indaba’s online audience on day one.
South Africa’s president hailed this year’s Mining Indaba as one that will help to position mining as a catalytic, transformative, innovative and developmental industry in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised the South African mining sector for its resilience during a uniquely challenging period of disruption to mining activity and volatile commodities and currency prices.
Ramaphosa asked for the mining sector to assist in vaccinating employees against COVID-19. “As we embark on a COVID-19 vaccination programme that is unprecedented in scale and reach, we must work together to ensure that workers who need the vaccine receive it,” he said. “Mining companies are well-trained to support the vaccine programme.”
Following suit was Sierra Leone’s president Julius Maada Bio, who thanked the mining industry for chipping in with PPE and medical support during the ongoing pandemic. After noting that the country would invest heavily in infrastructure to support mining developments, Bio asked for a certain type of investor in Sierra Leone’s mining sector.
“We want trusted, worthy, credible and patient investors. Investors who value fair and ethical business principles and practices. Investors who are interested in a long-term sustainable relationship with our country,” he said.
The third and final presidential speaker at this year’s Indaba was Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana. In the prime-time slot of day two, Masisi told delegates that Botswana needs to diversify its economy away from the diamond sector, which was severely impacted by COVID-19 last year.
“An overdependence on diamonds has more than ever made it imperative for us to urgently expand our revenue base to other minerals such as coal and base metals,” he said. “We are digitising important geological information in an effort to encourage prospecting for non-diamond materials in Botswana.”
ESG investing and technological disruption
ESG investing in the post-COVID world was a recurring theme during Mining Indaba Virtual, with a series of panels comprising some of the biggest names in the African mining sector tasked with discussing the growing ESG trend in mining.
Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani advised that the sector should better communicate the importance of mining to wider society. Discussing the ‘S’ in ESG, he said: “We have to engage people with a different conversation about our role in the world. To support nine billion people, you need mining. For example, without mining we could only feed half of the planet.”
In the same panel discussion, Lord Charles Vivian of Tavistock talked about the influx of younger generalist investors driving ESG in the mining space. “Doing the right thing will not only help your share price, but also help the moral reputation of the business,” he said.
Following the ESG panel on day one, six of the industry’s most innovative minds were gathered to discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The panel were tasked with answering the question: how can African mining harness technology and automation in a pandemic to help grow economies?
Executive vice-president of South African mining giant Gold Field’s Alfred Baku said that the company believes zero harm is possible with automation. “There is also an opportunity to reduce mining costs using automation. But the potential to implement automation will vary from operation to operation,” he stressed.
On a broader note, CGC Consulting CEO Clive Govender said: “COVID-19 has slowed the world but accelerated change. Mining houses are now looking at more innovative technology solutions from health and safety to productivity improvement. It is re-imagining every facet of our business.”
Green metals and the energy transition
Perhaps one positive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the opportunity it provided to ‘reset’ attitudes towards high carbon-emitting elements of the global economy, as the climate crisis continues to intensify.
The concept of a worldwide clean energy transition was given fresh impetus by President Joe Biden’s decision to return the US to the terms of the Paris agreement, while other governments around the world continue to lay out ambitious decarbonisation plans.
The final panel of Mining Indaba Virtual focused on green metals, PGMs and global decarbonisation, with leaders from BloombergNEF, RBPlat and Anglo American Platinum among the guests to grace the virtual stage.
Dr Kwasi Ampofo, battery metals analyst at BloombergNEF, neatly summarised the collective thoughts of the panel by proclaiming that Africa holds the keys to the decarbonisation of the global economy.
“The road to our net-zero future is going to pass through a mine, and mines in Africa will be instrumental. The energy transition will be supported by mines in Madagascar, the DRC, South Africa, Morocco, Zimbabwe and more,” he concluded.
Delivering a digital Indaba
Overall, the first ever virtual Mining Indaba didn’t fail to disappoint, with more presidential addresses than ever before and the usual high calibre of panel discussions delivered via a uniquely interactive digital platform.
“I am really proud of all the hard work that the Mining Indaba team has put into Mining Indaba Virtual this year to make it a huge success,” Quinn told RGN after the event. “True, this year we definitely missed the buzz of a live Indaba Main Stage audience and the ability to walk the exhibition halls of the CTICC or relax at one of the famous Indaba social events in Cape Town, but we have been overwhelmed with positive feedback on the two days of content we streamed both from speakers and the global audience we were able to reach.”
And the content doesn’t stop there either. Mining Indaba will host the Virtual Investment Programme during March 30-31, which will bring together an elite network of mining executives, investors and financiers. Plus, the highly anticipated Investment Battlefield is scheduled to take place during the two-day event.