Toward the end of the 19th century, explorers found diamonds near South Africa’s Orange River.
This marked the beginning of the chain of events that helped turn South Africa into a mining juggernaut.
Despite the danger associated with the work in this industry, it remains crucial to the nation in terms of employment and gross domestic product.
Today, advanced technology, especially drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have the potential to transform South Africa’s mining economy.
The nation has high unemployment and poverty rate and it remains to be seen if drones in South Africa have the power to help or hurt poverty in the nation.
Mining and South Africa’s Economy
Mining industry accounts for the biggest industry in South Africa and mined goods are the country’s biggest exports.
This industry is a large part of South Africa’s economy as the country is rich in coal, diamonds, gold and platinum.
In regards to this, South Africa has attracted large foreign direct investments in the local mining industry.
Nearly 500,000 South Africans worked in the sector and this contributed to around $22 billion in country’s GDP in 2017.
Drones in South Africa’s Mining Industry
Commercial drone use is gaining popularity in South Africa so much that Engineering News has declared 2018 as the year of the drone.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority has regulated drone use since 2015 and currently allows 24 companies to incorporate UAVs in business operations.
There are somewhere from 30,000 to 50,000 drones in the country, but more the potential for the increase is present.
Almost 340 applicants are waiting for approval of drone-use. For one of the nation’s largest iron ore producers, Kumba Iron Ore, drones are a large part of the business and drilling is high-tech.
The company uses drones and machines to drill holes and drop explosives for excavation.
In previous times, miners would spend long days sitting on construction machines for the excavation process, but drones have sped up and simplified it.
Kumba also uses autonomous drills and is one of only two companies to adopt this technology worldwide.
Drones are also being used to monitor drilling sites, keeping humans away from dangerous working conditions.
The drones outfitted with cameras and scanners can provide data on operations and current conditions in the mine.
Another company that is using for drones in mining is Exxaro Resources Group in partnership with Rocketmine.
Rocketmine uses UAVs for terrain surveying, stockpile inspection, blast monitoring and mapping services and contracts out drones throughout Africa.
Exxaro’s Grootegeluk coal mine is taking advantage of drones for surveying and mapping in order to increase production through better efficiency.
Effects on Human Jobs
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the market value of drone-powered solutions is over $127 billion.
Drones are revolutionizing mining and keeping more people away from dangerous working conditions.
Unfortunately, men and women in this sector are this could potentially be even worse in the future.
“The sad reality is,” writes Robert J. Traydon for news24 “there will be fewer and fewer jobs available in large mining operations as robots continue to take over.”
That sentiment is hardly universal. The drone industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs for qualified drone pilots.
More specifically, this sector could create more than 30,000 jobs yearly. A rather large caveat is that workers will need to be experienced or high-potential drone pilots. Unskilled laborers may receive no benefit from drone mining.
Mining Drones in South Africa and Poverty in the Country
Poverty is a huge issue for the people of South Africa as the nation faces both unemployment and persistent poverty levels.
Over 25 percent of the workforce is unemployed and almost half of South Africa’s people are chronically poor.
South African men and women need real solutions. Mining is a huge part of the economy and any changes in this industry will have dramatic effects on the South African workers.
If mining drones in South Africa can provide more jobs this could be a good thing for the nation.
Unfortunately, the drones could take human jobs and negatively impact poverty and unemployment. It is still unclear how changes in the mining sector will play out overall for South Africa’s economy and people in general.
There is no doubt that drones in South Africa can make working conditions safer and more efficient for miners in the country.
The only question is the real effect drones will have on South African unemployment and poverty.
Drones take away manpower at dangerous mining sites, but also create jobs for drone pilots and others through the supply chain.
It remains to be seen how this resource-rich nation fully incorporates drones and whether these tools ultimately increase or decrease poverty in the country.
Just like the case in many other sectors, the effect of mining drones in South Africa is neither black nor white when it comes to alleviating poverty.
– Sarah Stanley