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15 August 2019

As part of an ongoing series of dialogues with key stakeholders, I recently hosted a dinner in South Africa to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the role of the mining industry. With leaders from civil society, government, labour, business and academia, the conversation touched upon a remarkable number of issues, challenges and possible solutions.

Five themes emerged from the discussion and these are summarised here.

  1. Reconciliation with the past

The group recognised that the mining sector had an enormous positive impact over the past century, but some commented that it continues to be important to address some of the negative aspects of its legacy. One of the most effective ways to address legacy issues, is to recognise past wrongs and current concerns and to work to reconcile these with an aspirational future vision. Greater engagement and transparency are the foundations for such a trust building endeavour.

  1. Fourth Industrial Revolution – Challenge, but also opportunity

All agreed that the conversation on the Fourth Industrial Revolution is long overdue and that Anglo American has the pedigree to convene this type of discussion. The digitisation of the mining sector and the broader economy should be seen as an opportunity to re-skill and re-direct workers into higher value technology-driven jobs such as data mining and data analytics.

  1. Invest even more in R&D and innovation

A greater emphasis on and investment in research and development funded by the mining industry at universities is seen as an important part of the mining sector’s future success. The creation of new academic and research chairs would lead to knowledge development and greater applied research. It is essential to “bring back R&D to South African universities; if not we will remain receivers of innovation and not creators of innovation”. It is, however, important that innovation is not limited to mining, but is extended beyond and benefits broader society.

  1. Building a “Hydrogen Valley”

Modernising the mining industry should take place in the context of broader economic challenges such as the transition in the energy and mobility sectors and platinum could play an important role in this transition. Key aspects of a future sustainable economy could very well be built around hydrogen which will rely on platinum. Given South Africa’s extensive deposits of platinum, stakeholders identified the opportunity to create a “Platinum Valley” akin to the “Silicon Valley” that could drive economic development in South Africa and beyond. There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the discussion for the possibilities of a concerted effort by government and business to have South Africa be a global leader in the hydrogen economy. Business would support and benefit from the establishment of such a new sector and the economic growth that it will ignite.

  1. Towards a new collaborative compact

The group agreed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution and all that it demands is not something that we are in control of, but rather a force that we must respond to. In order to effectively and proactively respond, there is a need in South Africa for greater collaboration. It would also be key to align these collaborative efforts to existing conversations such as the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It was suggested that a platform be created that would allow for more coordinated collaboration. The group recognised the role that universities and scientific institutions could play in convening all necessary stakeholders, including business, government, civil society, academia, and religious and faith-based organisations. A need was expressed for purposeful organisations focused on the long-term, including “patient capital” are critical ingredients to achieve prosperity and sustainable development in South Africa.

Moving forward

At Anglo American, we are inspired by this discussion and the input from influential thought leaders that were gathered around the table and we are committed to deliberate action to promote greater collaboration. Flowing from this discussion, Anglo American intends to continue the conversation by:

  • Assessing the current state of play in terms of existing dialogues, forums, and collaborations to see how Anglo American can contribute to forging unity, cohesiveness, and impact across business, labour, government and civil society
  • Exploring how to elevate and strengthen existing dialogue in ways to make it more effective. For example, conducting a gap analysis to determine needs and requirements for successful collaboration
  • Contributing to the dialogue around the future of work in South Africa in the context of challenges set by climate change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and delivering sustainable economic growth

Anglo American acknowledges the opportunities for greater collaboration with academia and other stakeholders and is committed to contributing to building dialogue and seeking sustainable solutions.

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