"There is certainly more interest in Africa’s minerals today, not only from countries like China, but also the Middle East and India."
What are your strategic priorities as the new chairman of SRK Consulting South Africa and lead of SRK on the African continent?
Providing innovative technical excellence in our services to clients remains our strategic priority. A recent example of this is our work helping clients work towards compliance with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM). Despite the high workloads and deadlines, we have been able to develop solutions and build capacity.
To support our professional engineers and scientists, SRK has a data services group whose role includes developing smart tools to analyse the increasingly large datasets that we have to deal with. With real time monitoring, for instance, large volumes of data must be processed efficiently to reduce uncertainty and risk in mine planning and operations.
SRK has long operated all over Africa – wherever our clients need our services. With branches in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ghana, we continue to pursue opportunities for expanding our footprint. Strategically, we build on local expertise in countries where we work and collaborate with like-minded partners.
How has SRK grown across Africa over the past year and what have been the latest developments in the continent?
In Africa, there has been particular interest in developing targets in lithium. SRK’s intuitive collaboration between our SA, DRC and China offices has assisted primarily China-based companies in their DRC operations. Elsewhere in Africa, our office in Ghana continues to gather momentum in building a client base across West Africa.
From a project evaluation angle, do you see a greater interest in African mining assets compared to previous years?
There is certainly more interest in Africa’s minerals today, not only from countries like China, but also the Middle East and India. We have seen that players in the Middle East are exploring ways to diversify away from an over-reliance on oil and to use oil profits to establish themselves in battery minerals and to decarbonise parts of their economies. This sometimes involves investing in mining projects and companies in Africa and elsewhere. Perhaps in response to the growing presence of China-based firms in Africa and challenges opening mines in many developed economies, there are signs that some Western countries are also targeting more investment in the continent.
Among the other factors driving this interest, there has been growing resistance to mining in parts of South America, and companies may feel they need to diversify their geographic base.
With the development of modern exploration techniques and developments, do you expect Africa to deliver more discoveries?
Modern technologies such as hyperspectral remote sensing and deep-penetrating geophysics are giving exploration and mining companies the opportunity to investigate larger territories for minerals faster and deeper. Whilst large parts of the African continent remain under-mapped and under-explored, most of the near surface, easy to find deposits have already been found. The future of any exploration program must be able to explore at depth. This is allowing a great deal of ‘homework’ to be done before committing resources to drilling or excavation. Exploration programmes can therefore be initiated on a much more informed basis – with a higher likelihood of discoveries. The higher volumes of data also improve the levels of certainty when making investment decisions on new projects. The introduction of Machine-Learning and AI analysis during exploration stages enables the application of predictive modelling and thereby improves targeting and minimizes drilling costs.
What is SRK’s expansion strategy in Africa?
The reality is that it is becoming more onerous to travel across national borders, with work permits and special visas often making business trips difficult to arrange at short notice.
Among the regions of future interest for SRK are East Africa, and other Southern African countries.
Do you have a final message?
The leading industry institutions within the mining sector have recognised that the future of mining lies in practices that support positive outcomes for all stakeholders. At SRK, our innovative technical excellence aligns with these principles, and we work towards the aim of responsible mining which prioritises the broader sustainability vision and consideration of climate change. As end-customers and consumers of mineral commodities increasingly demand ethical and sustainable supply chains, we help clients align with the responsible sourcing aspirations of tomorrow’s markets.