Address by Minister Susan Shabangu at the Council for Geoscience Centennial commemoration, Pretoria
8 Nov 2012
Honourable Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources, Mr Fred Gona
Chairperson of the CGS Board, Prof. Phuti Ngoepe
Members of the Board
CEOs of organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a very proud moment for me today as I stand here in this auditorium to bear witness to the Council for Geoscience’s (CGS) hundred year celebration of geological excellence. Indeed, the CGS has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1912 as the Geological Survey of the country to become one of the best geoscience institutions in the world. Co-incidentally this year also marks the 100 years since the birth of the African National Congress. The two organisations lived through the same history of the country but perhaps at different extremes of the spectrum.
The establishment of the CGS came shortly after the Union of South Africa was formed - a union with appallingly discriminatory laws. It was no coincidence therefore that the CGS itself was a designated work place for a few privileged. The skills base required for such a technical area was also limited to a few. We have since moved on from the dark discriminatory days.
The CGS has to evolve and the institution needs to posture itself as a centre of excellence in a democratic and diverse country. The CGS played a critical role in not only providing the necessary knowledge, but also requisite skills that underpinned a mining legacy of over a century in South Africa. The organisation should position itself to continue to play this pivotal role in skills development in the mining industry. This can be achieved with a concerted effort through partnerships with institutions such as the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) and universities.
The CGS has always been committed to increasing its skilled human capital to provide high-quality geoscientific input in order to solve societal problems. In this regard, the CGS is continually involved in the training of junior scientists in various geoscientific fields through their enrolment in short courses, MSc studies and the CGS geological mapping training school. This training is aimed at continually upgrading and developing the skills of our young workforce to equip them with the necessary skills to face the important geoscience challenges of the next century.
Ladies and Gentlemen, South Africa has a well-developed mining sector, with world class mining companies operating in the country and with well-organised industry structures. However the future of the mining industry will depend on increased and continuous investment in research and technology development. Mining innovation straddles research and development (R&D), cost efficiency, productivity and management, all of which impact on sustainable growth of the industry. I’m sure you will agree with me that mining research and technology development is at its lowest ebb and fragmented, thus stifling potential for South Africa to be on the cutting edge of future mining development. To the department, the CGS is central in contributing towards addressing research and development in the sector.
Recently the University of the Witwatersrand launched a Mining Research Institution which will cut across the entire mining value chain; that is exploration, mining and mineral processing. This presents us with an opportunity for the CGS to partner with academic institutions in ensuring that we move research and development to a higher level.
In terms of exploration, South Africa should increase its share of the global exploration budget. This will not happen without sufficient investment in geological research and associated technologies. The potential for discovery of world class mineral deposits with the use of advanced exploration/prospecting technology remains very high in South Africa, with a healthy mineral “real estate”.
In this regard, acquisition of new high-quality geological information using modern technology and higher-resolution geological, geophysical and geochemical data, combined with new knowledge on mineral deposits in the various mineral provinces, belts and districts, will turn around investment in the country’s mining and mineral exploration sector. Government has granted R200 million over three years for the re-investigation of selected potential mineral belts and districts. The CGS will use the allocated funds to begin addressing the modernisation of geological data available to South Africans.
So today is a culmination of what perhaps started out as an exclusive institution but now is central in driving government’s plans to be at the forefront of the knowledge economy so that we make informed and thoroughly researched policy decisions.
Such an occasion does require us to blow our own horn a little bit, because there are achievements; not many institutions live to tell of 100 years of existence and still maintain their relevance. The CGS was relevant in 1912 and has become even more relevant. In recent years, personnel of the CGS have contributed extensively to the development of South Africa and internationally.
Internationally, this contribution has been through their involvement in international mapping projects in a number of African countries and the United Arab Emirates, amongst others. The collaboration of CGS in these projects with international geological surveys from Britain, France and Finland as well as for private clients, attests to the geological mapping expertise of CGS. This clearly indicates that the world recognises and appreciates that South Africa has the requisite skills and indeed has set international standards.
On the continent, the CGS continues to actively participate in a variety of Southern African Development Community projects aimed at promoting the economic development of the African subcontinent. In this regard, the organisation has contributed significantly in the development of geoscience knowledge on the continent. Accordingly it was instrumental in the founding, and still plays an active role in the activities of, the Organisation of African Geological Surveys.
Towards the centenary of the CGS, in December 2010, the Geoscience Amendment Act was accepted by Parliament and signed by the President, His Excellency Mr Jacob Zuma. This Act refocuses the objectives of the CGS to promote the search for and exploitation of any mineral in the country and to act as a national advisory authority in the areas of geohazards and geo-environmental pollution.
These amendments to the Act impose several new mandatory functions on the CGS and will certainly have a substantial impact on the future activities, staffing and structure of the organisation.
So, as the CGS commemorates 100 years of existence, we have to ask the question how does it continue to keep its relevance and perhaps carve its niche as an expert institution within the continent and the world, as it exists in one of the largest and oldest mining jurisdictions?
Forward looking, it is envisaged that the CGS will play a key role in providing geoscientific solutions to a number of challenges facing our country.
It is expected that the CGS will play a technical role in addressing the urgent problems of water ingress and Acid Mine Drainage that we have inherited as a result of historical unsustainable mining practices. Moreover, there are challenges of water scarcity in many parts of the country which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The CGS is actively involved in assessing the negative impacts of the mining industry as well as other human activities on our water resources. This is achieved by conducting episodic and continuous monitoring and by providing support and recommendations to institutions and other government departments. Furthermore, the CGS is actively involved in water-related research and the development of local skilled manpower in collaboration with several institutions including the Water Research Commission, the CSIR, the Department of Water Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology and the South African National Research Foundation.
The President recently announced government’s multibillion infrastructure build programme which will see South Africa being turned into a major construction site as government expedites the unlocking of economic opportunities to deal with the triple evils of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The CGS as the custodian and curator of all geotechnical information in the country must be at the centre of these plans.
It is essential that infrastructural development be accompanied by sound geotechnical investigations and information. As the national mandated authority in respect of geohazards related to infrastructure development, the CGS should in future ensure safe development on hazardous ground, by verifying that all necessary steps of the appropriate geotechnical investigations are performed prior to any housing and infrastructure development.
I am proud to note that the CGS is already undertaking work in this area of geotechnical investigation reports on potentially unstable dolomitic areas identified for the construction of RDP houses and will be expected to participate in the infrastructural development programme of government.
With regards to one of the most important functions of CGS. being Geoscience mapping, I would like to emphasise that the organisation must put more focus on this area. This will require us to remap the country in a detailed manner so that we can produce a new generation of geoscientific maps.
This is important because geoscience mapping forms the basis for collecting information for all geoscience investigations, ranging from resource identification and exploitation, infrastructure planning including roads, bridges, dams, nuclear waste disposal sites and nuclear power plant siting and urbanisation.
Related to the modernisation of geological mapping is the need for rapid collection, interpretation and integration of mapping data as well as the dissemination of the products to clients and stakeholders in digital formats accessible via the internet. The rapid collection of comprehensive data will also facilitate a more pro-active approach to planning and development. The CGS is indeed integral to government planning and this needs to be elevated as we move to reposition this organisation.
While it is safe to assume that this centennial year of the CGS will usher in changes to many aspects of the organisation, clearly the future success of the CGS will depend on how successfully it provides solutions to the changing needs of the community it serves. However, I have confidence that the CGS will gain strength in its journey as it continues to build on past successes and adapts itself to the changing global landscape of the earth sciences. However, as a science institution the organisation can only increase its success by expanding it partnerships in the geoscientific environment.
Let me end off by invoking the wise words of American football coach, Vince Lombardi who said; “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defences, or the problems of modern society”; and indeed as a nation we are faced with complex socio-economic challenges but our collective effort through partnerships with relevant stakeholders is what will see us through.
I wish to congratulate the staff of the CGS on 100 years of proud achievements. May the next 100 years be better, and may you contribute greatly to the well-being of South Africa and its people.
I thank you!
Issued by: Department of Mineral Resources
8 Nov 2012
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