CSIR intern, Katlego Matlou, seconded to the Mandela Mining Precinct recently had to gear up in his personal protective equipment (PPE) as he went on his first underground mine visit. Katlego was fascinated by the emphasis on safety, excited by the special underground vehicles and pleasantly surprised by the excellent underground ventilation. Read more about his experiences below.
Thanks to my manager, Michelle Pienaar who is responsible for the Mandela Mining Precinct’s Advanced Orebody Knowledge research programme, my lockdown blues this year were eased with two underground mine visits in the Bushveld Eastern Limb, in the North-West province. The experience was truly remarkable! Everything was fascinating: from how the operations are run and the strict safety procedures adhered to, to the specialised vehicles designed for deep level mines.
Gearing up on underground PPE for the first time was confusing, but being in the company of more experienced colleagues and research partners made the experience easier and less embarrassing.
The trip underground
Modified vehicles were used to transport us underground, and the trip lasted 30 - 40 minutes to get to the stope. While the drive was unexpectedly smooth, I started feeling extremely hot the further we drove down to the point that I felt as if I am bathing in my own sweat due to the humidity. However, I was surprised and pleased to find that the stoping environment is kept cool using the mine ventilation system. I think this is extremely important since most of the mining activities take place at the stope. This makes the underground temperature a lot more pleasant than the above-ground environment under the unforgiving Rustenburg sun reaching temperature highs of 35 degrees. There are numerous measures put in place to ensure the safety all mine employees all the time and the efforts undertaken by mines to sustain human comfort as far as possible underground is tremendous to say the least.
Reaching the stope cleared the blurred vision I had of a mine as a University student. I looked around and smiled underneath my mask: Everything I have been taught in university, all those sketches and diagrams I looked at and had to study, all the structure, the reef, and the meticulous contacts between the rocks are all real and within reach. It was quite incredible.
Through this experience, I reached the point of pure appreciation and awe of the brilliant minds that pursued innovative technologies to extract the country’s mineral wealth. South Africa, and the mining industry is truly an epitome of innovation. I have never been more proud to be a South African. I am forever grateful and proud of my decision for choosing to follow a career in geology. I enjoyed being part of the CSIR mining cluster research team conducting an underground geological survey and learning from my colleagues how to conduct tunnel and face mapping as a geologist. I look forward to my next mine visit.
The Mandela Mining Precinct which is a public-private partnership between the Department of Science and Innovation and the Minerals Council South Africa established to revitalise mining research, development and innovation in South Africa. The Precinct is co-hosted by the CSIR and the Minerals Council.