Opening the annual University of the Witwatersrand Mining Institute (WMI) seminar on September 27, the Engineering and the Built Environment faculty Dean Professor Thokozani Majozi said diversity and transformation, as well as full digital migration, was a necessity for sustainability and growth.
He mentioned that the same tools that have kept the faculty running for 100 years may not be the same tools that are needed going forward.
Both WMI and its anchor funder precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater acknowledged changes in ways of working are inevitable and necessary.
In his keynote address, Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman explained that the company may well morph into an energy company, instead of a mining company, owing to its growing presence in the battery metals space.
The company has, over the last three years, positioned itself in priority battery metal areas such as France and Finland, a diversification strategy which required more than two years of due diligence and planning. This followed the company becoming a top platinum group metals producer in 2016, after having started out in 2013 as a gold miner.
Froneman attributes Sibanye’s market capitalisation growth to R150-billion to continuous innovation and adaptation having been made.
Going forward, Sibanye is pursuing what it calls a “3D strategy”, which speaks to several “grey elephants”, or forces of change.
These grey elephants for the company include an aging workforce. Sibanye says it is making it easier for older people to work, enabling the company to keep valuable experience in place.
Secondly, the company is preparing for at least three more pandemics to occur in coming years. The third grey elephant is an angry planet, which is seeing widespread environmental degradation, a need to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming.
The fourth is inequality, with Sibanye striving to eradicate poverty in its operating communities; and the fifth is “big squeezes” such as skills shortages and food shortages.
Froneman added that another example of a grey elephant for the company was multipolarity. With globalisation unravelling, and again dividing the world in an “east” and “west”, the company is witnessing the rise of separate ecosystems, which provides an opportunity to prosper despite conflicting contexts.
Lastly, all of these forces of change can result in “angry people”, which Sibanye says is a common challenge.
Sibanye recognises that, in keeping with its licence to operate, it has to deal with rising concerns from society and stakeholders.
Intelligent advances, as the last grey elephant on Sibanye’s list, involves a more cognisant and sensitive approach towards people and the inclusion of people in technologies and company changes.
“Our 3D strategy is designed to harness opportunities, manage in a complex environment and facilitate continued growth. Our strategy has environment, social and governance aspects embedded at the heart, while it is also focused on achieving operational excellence and long-term resource value.
“We want to be recognised as a force for good, with a unique global portfolio of green metals and energy solutions that reverse climate change. We want to be inclusive, diverse and bionic, and thereby align ourselves with like-minded organisations, such as WMI,” Froneman said.
In keeping with a culture of change and innovation, Sibanye is instilling and encouraging creativity and inclusion in its workforce and way of working. It vows to do things better or differently, and where this is not possible to do different things.
Foneman believes Sibanye can win at sustainability internationally, if significant shifts in thinking are made across the workforce. He explained that innovation had been sporadic in the past, but said Sibanye wanted to institutionalise innovation.
Meanwhile, the WMI itself also changed its approach to research in recent years, providing more relevant research suited for a particular purpose, and with an emphasis on foresight for what the future will require.
WMI aims to conduct research in a manner that bridges the gap between modern scientific and engineering developments, said WMI director Professor Glen Nwaila.
Particularly, the WMI in December last year opened two new research centres, one involving real-time information managing systems and another involving the successful application of technology centred around people. This added to the WMI’s existing research capabilities, such as its digital mining laboratory, DigiMine.
The institute also recognises that it cannot operate in silos, representing individual disciplines, rather, an integrated model with other disciplines is key.
“It is important that we check the validity of traditional discipline assumptions, and also consider where expensive resources ca be substituted or replaced, lest our research becomes too expensive and irrelevant,” said Nwaila.