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Interview: Coburn Katanda

Interview: Coburn Katanda

A Mine is a complex business to run as it requires careful planning and flawless organization to function smoothly. This month Mining Zimbabwe interviewed the President of the Association of Mine Managers in Zimbabwe Mr Coburn Katanda. Here is how the interview went.

What are the duties of a Mine Manager?

The Mine Manager is responsible for the overall performance of a mining company. Generically, duties include occupational health and safety management, monitoring and evaluation of production targets, budgeting and cost optimisation, human resources and industrial relations management, asset management, stakeholder and environmental management and project management.

How did you climb up the ladder to become a Mine Manager?

Every Mining Engineer goes through a formal, structured graduate development programme. This is tailormade to produce a product that is eventually able to run a mine at any senior management level. My professional journey is no different, having started the graduate development programme at Zimbabwe Alloys Limited. Subsequent to the above, I then worked in various supervisory and managerial roles in several Zimbabwean Companies until I reached the level of Mine Manager.

Due to Covid-19, 2020 was a bad year for many companies, production was relatively very low. What are you doing to ensure that production this year improves?

The COVID-19 pandemic caught everyone unaware across the globe, the Zimbabwean Mining industry included. Adjustments to normal routines had to be made so that lives could be protected and production could be restored under the new normal. During the adjustment and acclimatisation period, mines were not operating at full capacity in most instances.

However, the mining industry has implemented the COVID-19 containment measures with the robustness and proficiency of the highest order. Consequently, COVID-19 cases within the industry have declined significantly since the start of the pandemic and new cases are being managed proactively and effectively.

In addition, the mining industry has embarked on a voluntary but widespread vaccination drive in an effort to support the government’s thrust to achieve vaccination-induced herd immunity in the Country. So the combination of strict preventative and containment measures and the vaccination drive has allowed for some level of normalcy to be achieved. This has allowed mines to operate at normal or near-normal capacity. Thus we expect 2021 to be better compared to the prior year in terms of production.

As the President of the Association of Mine Managers in Zimbabwe. What are you planning as mine managers to ensure production improves to contribute to the 12 Billion mining industry by 2023?

As Mine Managers, our major responsibility is to manage mines so that they perform as designed with respect to all operational and strategic aspects. To that end, we routinely equip our members through on-the-job training and development, exchange of proven practices through structured technical visits or technical papers amongst other initiatives.

In 2021, the AMMZ Council has made membership growth one of its key priority areas. This is meant to ensure that the impacts of AMMZ actions and initiatives are far-reaching and industry-wide.

The AMMZ Council is also working with the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and other stakeholders to review and update the Mining Regulations to ensure that they are current and take into consideration the technological advancements that have been realised within the mining industry since the early 90s. Once completed, the new set of regulations will undoubtedly create an enabling environment for the efficient operations of mines. If mines operation efficiently and at full capacity, then the USD12Bn mining industry will be realized by 2023.

Furthermore, the AMMZ proactively works with all higher and tertiary learning institutions offering Mining or Mining related programmes to develop the curriculum, offer work-related training and provide coaching and guidance to students. This is meant to ensure that these institutions produce a product that can make an impact within the industry and enhance the resource pool available to the Mine Manager in their quest to have operations run effectively, efficiently and safely.

What do you consider to be three major challenges for the mining industry?

The three major challenges in the mining industry are

  1. Low foreign currency retention thresholds impacting adversely on procurement of imported capital equipment and other inputs
  2. Poor infrastructure leading to inadequate support to mining projects (electricity, roads, water, rail)
  3. An uncompetitive and highly volatile fiscal landscape

Mining professionals especially from the large scale see ASM as a waste of time. But looking at forex generated and contribution to the fiscus ASM is leading. Won’t it be helpful to national interest for experts like yourself to engage ASM and help them conduct better, proper mining rather than just say NDEZVEKUPENGA IZVI?

The Large Scale Mines have always supported Artisanal Miners within their spheres of influence. This has seen mines sending out rescue teams and equipment to assist with rescue missions in the unfortunate event of accidents amongst other support initiatives.  The SHE Committee of the Chamber of Mines has always invited small scale miners to their meetings so that they can benefit and contribute towards the promotion of safety at mines.

Following recent major accidents on artisanal mining operations across the Country, AMMZ will be actively working with the Mines Inspectorate on health and safety awareness campaigns targeted at Artisanal Miners.

We have also seen some Artisanal Miners formally engage mining professionals on a full-time or part-time basis to assist them with the technical aspects of their operations. We encourage that more of this be done to ensure that these operations are run sustainably and continue to contribute to the GDP of the country in the long run, without loss of life or environmental degradation.

Word of advice to small-scale miners?

The successful operation of any mine requires experts who understand the health & safety, environmental, technical and financial aspects inherent to mining. Small scale miners should therefore be mindful of the need to recruit technical and financial experts to help them run the mines safely, sustainably and efficiently.

Zimbabwe does little value addition, in essence we are exporting raw materials, as well as jobs and vast opportunities, is there anything being done to have people for example buy local jewellery?

Moving up the mineral value chain is mostly an economic decision that factors the operating environment and economies of scale.

Zimbabwe has done well in this regard and still can do more. We have a gold refinery at Fidelity Printers and Refiners, the nickel industry had progressed to have Empress Nickel Refinery and Bindura Smelter and Refinery, in PGMs Unki Mining Complex now operates a smelter so does ZIMPLATS. We also had Alaska Copper Smelter back in the day. These developments occurred because the economic situation in the country allowed for such investment and the critical mass of feed for these processes was achieved.

The private sector and government can work together to create the necessary environment that promotes the progression of processes up the value chain.

As a young person, what is your take on using technology in mines

Technology is what drives the world we live in today, mines included. Today is about working smart and effectively, and technology presents a range of possibilities. Personally and professionally I am alive to this development. As the AMMZ President, I am at the heart of the project to review and update our mining regulations to ensure that they allow for effective use of the readily available and applicable technology.

If you are asked by the President of the Republic about five things that should be done immediately to change investor interest what would you advise him?

As was discussed earlier, there is a need to deal with the challenges facing the mining industry.

In addition to this, there is a need to develop a raft of incentives that will attract large capital into the mining industry.

It will be important to expedite the amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act to provide a competitive legal framework for mining. This includes establishing a computerised mining cadastre system for the enhancement of the security of mining titles.

Most LSM mines don’t even have simple basics like websites social media platforms etc or have seriously outdated websites, save for the likes of Caledonia, ZCDC, Premier African Minerals among others. We get to hear about them when something goes wrong and they are firefighting. What advice can you give to fellow managers on the communication front?

The mining organisations that you mention are publicly listed companies that are obliged by the disclosure rules on the stock exchanges they are listed on. We encourage mines to engage their communities in order to strengthen the social license to operate. These engagements will facilitate the provision of information on matters that impact and is of concern to the affected community.

See Also
Winston Chitando

Mining projects impact the local population through employment creation, export earnings, consumption of goods and services produced in the country, Corporate Social Investments among many impacts. The contribution of the mining industry to agriculture for example is immense. The contribution of means to road construction, electricity supply, water supply among other infrastructure projects has been significant and new projects will add to the stock of benefits so far realised.

Any tips to a Chenai or Nhlanhla who is studying to be a Mine Manager like yourself?

The mining industry has many opportunities. It takes patience and dedication to reach the level of a Mine Manager. One should be prepared to learn and grow based on available opportunities. The goal should not be to become a Mine Manager but to be a Mining professional who excels in their area of expertise, specialisation or responsibility. The mining industry opportunities are vast and much more than just a Mine Manager role. So these students should be focused on being a mining professional that makes a difference wherever they go.

I have visited many mines locally and the dilapidation of roads that lead to most of the mines is unbelievable. Are mines are taking their CSR seriously?

The responsibility for infrastructure development and maintenance lays with the central government or local authorities. Mines pay land development levies to local authorities, these should ideally be used to maintain the road infrastructure amongst other things. However, many mines over and above these payments do support local authorities by maintaining roads, repair of road maintenance equipment, provision of fuel among other forms of support.

We recently saw a crane with a +27 telephone number working at a mine in Gwanda yet there are local crane companies available locally for example. Are LSM (Large scale miners) supporting the local businesses by buying equipment, products and services locally?

No comments

What should be done for large scale to reclaim their position as the highest forex earners in the country?

The mining industry remains the largest foreign currency earning contributing over 60% to total foreign currency earning per year. The drive is to grow the industry further, in line with the strategic objectives set by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, ensuring that sustainability issues are addressed so that we do not produce at the expense of future generations or risk future production dips.

There are reports of Corruption in LSM whereby procurement departments only give work to people who give their buyers something (over-invoicing in some instances) have you ever come across such information?

We are not aware of these allegations. Anyone with proof is encouraged to report these cases to the police and other institutions responsible for preventing such crimes.

Beside Managing what do you do in your spare time and family?

I like spending most of my time at home, with my family, watching TV, reading or playing golf.

Developing myself professionally and academically is always at the centre of what I do during the weekends and spare time.

Any parting words?

The mining industry as a whole must be collaborative. Companies must look outside their organizations and build an ecosystem that’s based on the best possible practices that allow miners to maximise their full potential. It’s about taking responsibility and making conscious decisions that enable the industry to move forward as a whole

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