The road ahead: Mining for tomorrow’s world

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As South Africa celebrates a generation of freedom, Anglo American acknowledges its deep roots in the country and looks ahead to its contribution in the next 25 years and beyond. Over the next five weeks experience 25 Reasons to Believe with City Press as we explore the economy, job creation, enterprise development, health, land reform, sustainability, education, technology and – most important of all – the communities

"The world has a new way of viewing mining and we have embraced it. It’s all about having a shared purpose to redefine what we do,” says Chris Griffith, the CEO of Anglo American Platinum.

Anglo American, a global leader in mining platinum group metals (PGMs), with the bulk of its operations in South Africa, is redefining the ways in which its operations can make people’s lives better.

PGMs, which comprise six elements, including platinum, palladium and rhodium, have numerous applications and there are more to come as the global economy adapts to the climate crisis.

IN NUMBERS:

R609 million invested in 2018 through initiatives aimed at uplifting host communities

R142 million of that paid out to community shareholders

in dividends

474ha of land transferred to advance sustainable

land reform to date 

Griffith, an industry stalwart who is celebrating three decades in mining – starting as a night shift cleaner and working all the way up to executive level – said health, safety, technology and structural changes to demand were crucial challenges that require urgent attention.

“Perhaps the greatest factor in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the PGM industry is the demand for these metals. That’s why growing the market in the jewellery, as well as in the industrial and investment segment, will require a concerted and coordinated effort by the producers.

“While some demand growth takes care of itself, such as rising demand for palladium and rhodium in petrol vehicles’ catalytic converters thanks to a continued expanding demand from the automotive sector, some require active intervention.

“There is, for example, a direct correlation between marketing spend and platinum jewellery demand,” says Griffith.

To stimulate investor interest in the metal, the South African producers of PGMs founded the World Platinum Investment Council. It has worked to generate new types of investment that did not exist before to widen the potential pool of investors. One possibility, albeit a long shot, is the inclusion of platinum as a reserve currency by central banks.

The company’s care, not only for those who work for it directly, but for their families and the larger host communities where it operates, has become one of its greatest success stories.

“The PGMs are metals with unique attributes and they should find a role in a whole host of areas tied to longer-term societal trends, from medical treatments to clean energy. However, just because they are great materials, we can’t trust demand to miraculously appear.

“Through AP Ventures, which was set up by Anglo American Platinum in partnership with the Public Investment Corporation, we have invested in a number of companies using PGMs in new applications, often related to hydrogen and fuel cells. This is a story that has been oversold before, but there is clear credible progress on the ground today in hydrogen production and distribution areas, notably in China, Japan and California.”

This development of future markets is part of Anglo American Platinum’s holistic approach to sustainable mining, Griffith says – all with a view to sustain its host communities and maximise the benefits of mining, while also prioritising safety and innovation.

The company’s care, not only for those who work for it directly, but for their families and the larger host communities where it operates, has become one of its greatest success stories.

Griffith explains: “In 2013, we lost 60 of our employees to HIV-related illnesses and TB. Last year, we had four colleagues dying from the same conditions. So we were able to reduce deaths from HIV-related illnesses and TB significantly.”

He stresses that “investing in the health and safety of our people simply has to be done”.

Griffith also points out that getting Anglo American Platinum on track for the future meant going back to being an innovator of the industry – “one of the things that has made Anglo American the market leader it is today”.

Tough structural changes had to be made after the global financial crisis to adapt to a PGM market in oversupply. A heavily indebted Anglo American Platinum had to restructure its portfolio to focus on mining profitable ounces, shutting loss-making shafts and selling most of its deep-level, underground mining operations in the process.

“We’re in a whole different place compared with a few years ago. Now we’re in a position where we can continue to invest in communities, we can invest in growth and we can start employing people in new projects,” says Griffith.

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