Monday, 13 July 2015

Copper Cobalt Africa 2015

The African Copper Belt has experienced a huge resurgence of activity in recent years following many years of political and economic instability. Today, a significant proportion of capital spending, project development, operational expansions, and metal value production in the Southern African mining industry are occurring in this region. The geology and mineralogy of the ores are significantly different from those in other major copper-producing regions of the world, often having very high grades as well as the presence of cobalt. Both mining and metallurgy present some unique challenges, not only in the technical arena, but also with respect to logistics and supply chain, human capital, community engagement, and legislative issues.

So the choice of Zambia as a venue for the 8th Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) Base Metals Conference was highly appropriate. MEI has been proud to be a media sponsor for this and the previous two Base Metals conferences in Phalaborwa and White River. Jointly hosted by the mining and metallurgy technical committees of SAIMM the conference, held from July 6-8, was attended by 184 delegates from 16 countries. It was held in the Avani Victoria Falls Resort in the magnificent Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, on the banks of the Zambezi River and a short walk to the Eastern Cataract of the wonderful Victoria Falls, the world's largest sheet of falling water (see also posting of 16th July).

Victoria Falls Eastern Cataract
Barbara and I decided in advance that we would take full advantage of the venue and treat this week as a holiday, so I will not be reporting on technical papers, only providing photos of what makes a conference tick- the people who attend.

And what a wonderful way to start, with a welcoming cocktail party, sponsored by Sibelco Australia, on the evening of Sunday July 5th, on the the Sundeck of the adjacent Royal Livingstone Hotel, where a spectacular African sunset over the Zambezi provided the perfect backdrop (see also posting of 5th July).

Rodney, Kathy and Jackson
The conference was opened the following morning by Conference Chairperson Dr. Kathy Sole, followed by an official welcome from the President-Elect of the SAIMM, Dr. Rodney Jones, of Mintek. Jackson Sikamo, President of the Zambian Chamber of Mines and General Manager of Chibuluma Mines then gave an interesting overview of copper mining in Zambia, its history and future.

The small exhibition provided a perfect focus for delegates to chat over coffee, and it was good to see so many familiar faces, regulars at SAIMM and MEI conferences.

After the coffee break the conference then split into several parallel sessions over the two and a half days, with sessions on mining, leaching, general mineral processing, solvent extraction, electrowinning, operations and projects. The papers from the conference are available in hard copy or on CD (ISBN 978-1-920410-71-1) from the SAIMM.








The beautiful hotel grounds provided an ideal setting to relax and encounter some of the wildlife in the Park, and a 5 minute stroll from the conference centre took us to one of the great natural wonders of the world.



Delegates from Germany and Austria relax by the Eastern Cataract

The excellent lunches served by the hotel pool also gave us the chance to meet new people.

The highlight of the week was a Tuesday evening sundowner on the Zambezi. It was hard to believe that as we enjoyed drinks and cruised serenely on the tranquil waters, a few hundred yards downstream the river took its precipitous plunge 340 ft down the huge crack in the plateau and into the first of its series of gorges.

Arriving back to the jetty just after sunset we were then treated to a braai (BBQ) with local entertainment, sponsored by Trefimet, at the Avani's Boma restaurant.

Local entertainers at the Boma braai
The conference closed at lunchtime on the following day which gave delegates time to appreciate the true beauty of this area via the many tours on offer, such as short helicopter tours of the Falls, walks across the road bridge to view the Falls in their full majesty in Zimbabwe, or, as we did, an unforgettable visit to Livingstone Island in the middle of the river. It was from here, on the very edge of the long drop, that the explorer and missionary David Livingstone became the first European to view the Falls in November 1855. We were joined for High Tea on Livingstone Island by Outotec's Ian Townsend, and Corby Anderson of Colorado School of Mines. Ian retires in November, and felt that he had to attend the conference to "close the loop", as like me his career in the minerals industry began on the Zambian Copperbelt. Livingstone Island was particularly memorable for our dip in one of the rock pools only a metre or so from the plunge into the gorge (posting of 8th July).

A close up view of the Falls with Ian and Corby on Livingstone Island
As I mentioned earlier, outstanding conferences, of which this was definitely one, are dependent on people, not only those who attend, but also on those that organise. I know from experience that small is beautiful when it comes to organisation, so a special thanks must be given to the small SAIMM team, led by Raymond van der Berg, ably assisted by manager Sam Moolla and coordinator Yolanda Ramokgadi, and to Kathy Sole, Camielah Jardine, Nazli Mamdoo and Anna Panana. They provided a truly memorable event.

Sam, Raymond and Yolanda
We look forward to the 9th Base Metals conference. Zambia will be a difficult act to follow, and I am sure that if put to the vote many of the delegates would opt for this venue again; I certainly would.

MEI verdict: as good as it gets. If you attended, what did you think?


  1. A highly technical well attended international conference in a perfect setting.

  2. Loved everything. A month later I am still reflecting on the meeting as well as the setting. Truly awesome. Cheers to the organizers and God for the scenery!


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