Mining expo now the most important platform for an industry snapshot

The Chamber of Mines 2015 Mining Expo and Conference took place this week at the Safari Hotel conference centre in Windhoek. The expo attracted just under one hundred exhibitors covering the entire industry from mining operators, both big and small, to banks, fuel companies, service providers, equipment suppliers, chemical suppliers and even transport companies.

The exhibitors were many and varied, often occupying two or more exhibition stands. For the visitor, the most striking aspect was that both exhibition areas, the hall and the tent, were packed with people all the time. There was a constant throng of people coming and going.
The parallel two-day conference was a somewhat more reserved occasion where some very astute experts made presentations on topics relevant to running a mining operation. The conference also drew a very large audience of several hundred people. All in all, the exhibition cum conference combination proved to be a winning recipe. So much was alluded to by the Chief Executive of the Chamber of Mines when he announced in the programme that the expo will be an annual event from now onwards. This was necessitated by the tremendous popularity of the previous three expos held every second year.
As a window to the industry, the mining expo has become invaluable. I was told this is the only platform where almost everybody who is somebody in mining, has the opportunity to see each other. Stating the obvious in a not-too-obvious manner, I was reminded that Namibia is large, mining officials hardly see each other except when it is by chance in the reception lobby of Epangelo Mining. The only other regular meeting spot is the Chamber’s AGM but often this meeting is not attended by the mine bosses themselves, rather by those working in each company with the issues pertinent to an AGM.
In short, the Mining Expo provides a credible platform where even the most reclusive mine chief can attend, knowing that he or she will be in comparable company.
Except for a few smaller insignificant mines in manganese, flourspar and semi-precious stones, the entire minerals industry converged on Windhoek to make sure their company is flying the right-colour flag.
Since the mining expo is such a representative platform, one does not expect it to be anything other than a national showcase. But it is not only an illustration of the mines themselves, it also provides excellent exposure to all those hundreds of companies who practically exists because they are suppliers to the industry.
And this was very obvious by just strolling through the exhibition. I think it is safe to say the suppliers take this opportunity to meet their clients and prospective clients even more serious than the mining outfits themselves. Of the almost 100 exhibitors, 72 were suppliers indicating just how serious the mines’ business is to all of them. Interestingly, there were four educational or training institutions with a fair number of statutory organisations and representative bodies. It was very noticeable that amongst the exhibitors, the mines are a minority.
Another striking aspect was the high quality of the exhibitions. Particularly the mines, although being the lesser in number, took the opportunity to really splash. Their mining activities were advertised loud and bright. But it was also quite remarkable how many of them, or rather all of them, put lots of emphasis on so-called Corporate Social Investment. Twenty years ago, at any mining get-together, this focus on CSI was memorably absent. Seeing the respect this aspect of mining now enjoys, it supports and demonstrates the notion that community involvement has become one of the key social elements in the operations of any mine.
The suppliers and service providers were not to be outdone as far as exhibition quality is concerned. They also splashed lavishly, but their emphasis was more on what they can supply, or the service they can render, than on technical capacity, or on social involvement.
It is commendable that the Chamber has decided to make the expo an annual event. This says more about the industry than the ability of the Chamber. To me it is a clear signal that the mining industry in general has reached a certain planning and operational level previously unknown in Namibia.
It also means that the Ministry of Mines and Energy, assisted by the finance, and the trade ministries, must be doing something right to entice foreign investment in this key growth industry. Were it not so, I am sure we would not have come to the point where there are one or more significant mines in almost every region.
The only group that I deem under-represented was the exploration sector. I noticed only a handful of exploration companies. Maybe, this says something about future investment.