Business Maverick


NUM General Secretary calls on mining companies to adopt radar technology as a safety measure

NUM General Secretary calls on mining companies to adopt radar technology as a safety measure
General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers William Mabapa. (Photo: Michele Spatari / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Speaking to Business Maverick on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba, the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, William Mabapa, called on the mining sector to build on its improving safety record by adopting radar technology to detect when a rock might fall underground.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), William Mabapa, acknowledged that significant progress has been made on the health and safety fronts in South Africa’s mining industry, which had a record low of 49 accidental deaths in a calendar year in 2022. This was followed by a milestone that was reached in January, the first calendar month in more than a century in which no South African miner lost their life on the job. 

“We strongly believe that there are accidents that can be prevented through technology, accidents like falls of ground. There are systems that can detect such events in time,” Mabapa said.  

He was referring to hand-held radar technology which Anglo American Platinum has been researching and developing. The premise is that the underground radar will detect a fall of ground — until quite recently the leading cause of death in South Africa’s deep and dangerous mines — in advance, giving miners time to get out of the danger zone.  

There are other initiatives involving radar technology that also hold promise.  

“Companies must invest in that technology because that is the technology that can help us reduce accidents in this country,” Mabapa said.  

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Moving on to other issues, Mabapa said the NUM would submit its wage demands to ailing power utility Eskom by April. The agreement reached in 2022 for a 7% pay increase was only for one year.  

Mabapa would not be drawn on the precise scale of NUM’s expected demands, but said the union’s members would be unlikely to submit any that fell short of the inflation rate, which was running at 7.2% in December and seen as moderating this year.  

“It’s usually the case that they will look for something that is over inflation because if you get any increase that is below inflation, that’s like not getting an increase,” Mabapa said.  

He stated that he expected relations with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to remain cordial. For almost a decade the rivalry between the two unions was a major source of violent unrest and instability in the mining sector.  

But under Mabapa’s leadership, NUM and Amcu have put aside their differences. One result has been a spate of multiyear wage agreements in the gold and platinum sectors, bringing crucial stability to the industry.  

“The interests of our members are the same. We strongly believe that as trade unions we must not be enemies to each other. Let bygones be bygones,” he said. DM/BM


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