Event Review Mining Indaba 2024: Are Young Academics Included?

06 Mar 2024 | By Lindsay Moses,Zandile Munyai
Event Review Mining Indaba 2024

Event Review Mining Indaba 2024:

06 Mar 2024 | By Lindsay Moses,Zandile Munyai

The future belongs to the youth. The youth are our drivers, innovators, and the ones who will successfully lead the country into its next path of economic development and growth. Equally, the youth will also be the ones to inherit all the misfortunes emanating from poor decision-making of the present industry practices and choices. As Herbert Hoover once said, “[o]lder men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die”.On the 8th of February 2024, Mining Indaba, in collaboration with Brunswick, hosted the annual Young Leaders Programme geared towards enriching students and young professionals who desire a successful career in the mining industry. This year’s theme was “positive disruption”, a concept which challenges the youth to push against the status quo, embrace change and encourage innovative solutions to the issues they face while breaking new grounds into the mining industry. This theme appears to address the growing anxiety around job losses as South Africa commits to reducing its net carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. 

In his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the harrowing issue of unemployment in South Africa. He noted that millions of young people aged 15 to 24 are without education or training, and millions of others who have a matric, diploma or bachalors degree cannot secure a job. While the Young Leader’s Programme hopes to spark optimism for a meaningful future and career in the so called “sunset industry”, one questions if these musings are not overly ambitious and the youth will be left with the burden of picking up the pieces, once again.


The main Mining Indaba event was held three` days prior to the Young Leaders Programme, which consisted of discussions and presentations by renowned mining professionals from across the globe. Ministers representing various African countries had an opportunity to showcase the growth and development of their extractive sectors. Mining giants such as Anglo-American offered case-studies on their cutting-edge innovations that would help transform mining in Africa. At its core, the Mining Indaba is an important initiative offering great insight into the progress of Africa’s mining industry attracting foreign investment into the development of Africa’s mineral resources. The event claims to have provided enormous economic support by making a GDP contribution of R248 million in 2023.

Despite the success of the Mining Indaba, the exclusion of young and aspiring professionals in mining from the main event that presented the most important insights, the ‘meat’ of it, is disappointing. According to the African Union, Africa has the youngest population in the world, with over 400 million people between the ages of 15 and 35, many of whom lack the critical skills to make it in fast-paced industries like mining. Further, the mining industry in Africa is often criticised for it’s inability to absorb and retain the talented youth due to its exclusionary nature, where generally older, unsuitably qualified men get to share in the piece of the pie. Does a just transition not require meaningful inclusion of the youth tasked with transitioning the country?

Despite the need for meaningful engagement opportunities, the Young Leaders in Mining Programme seemed promising with its panel discussion topics. Industry leaders provided some crucial take-aways. The first discussion by Sereti CEO, Mike Teke noted that there is still a place for coal in a transitioning state and noted some challenges that face the industry, especially in terms of aligning all party interests and the pressure to produce beneficial outcomes quickly despite the long-term nature of extraction. Chantel de Jager, representing AngloAmerican, noted the important role of discovery teams, who are often the community's first contact with extraction companies.

Central themes included the just transition, with the second discussion heavily in favour of critical minerals extraction but noting that exploration rates are too low, and that more investment in exploration must be prioritised so that we can, in turn, stimulate mapping and exploration by the private sector. Moosima Poopedi from the University of Western Cape’s Applied Geology Unit noted that exploration rates are too low, and that more investment in exploration must be prioritised so that we can, in turn, stimulate mapping and exploration by the private sector. Sentiments from the private sector were that corporations feel they cannot keep up with the pace of exploration expected – at least not alone. According to Hogan Lovell’s managing partner, Mr Chris Green, public-private partnerships have an opportunity to stimulate exploration more robustly. Still, corporations require (1) legislative certainty and cited Tanzania’s trend of stabilisation as a successful example and (2) a more simplified regime which can be gleaned from things such as the cadastral system. When tasked to consider whether Africa was on the right path to maximising the benefits it receives from its natural resources in right of critical minerals; positive trends in African regimes identified include a rise in ESG compliance

Another key theme was positive disruptions and technological innovation. Sibongile Ntsoelengoe from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research noted the potential that lies in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in mining operations, such as where from just one operation such as a platform for remote vehicle usage, from this one AI-led operation, data created can be used for better decision-making, risk analysis, feed analysis, fuel consumption, or even in labour-related decision-making such as driver profiling and productivity analyses. The gap identified by industry was the technology required (as AI requires high-performance computing), and buying, owning, or even renting appropriate equipment is extremely costly. Additionally, from a training and research side, WITS Mining Institute representative, Professor Glen Nwaila noted that more tailored programmes for coding and equipment use to foster operational hands-on skills are required.

These extremely important topics discussed set the stage for future industry engagement with technology, government, and communities. Young academics specializing in these areas must be allowed to partake in these discussions meaningfully. The Mining Indaba must be careful not to further perpetuate the harmful and exclusionary industry narratives and ensure that young people are also given a seat at the table. Young professionals and academics would have been able to contribute crucial insights to the discussions at hand.