Now in its 19th year, the Investing in African Mining – Indaba, conference and exhibition in Cape Town, South Africa, looks as though it will be the biggest ever with around 7,500 attendees pre-registered as of last week, and undoubtedly more late registrants to come in, thus seeing continuing growth since its inception by Sandy Lawrence and her team all those years ago.  At that time it was a bit of a leap of faith on Sandy’s part – no-one had launched a successful specific mining investment conference focused on Africa on the African continent itself, not only that, it was launched in a city with no real direct mining community.

It turned out to be an inspired choice and the event has grown from a little over 1,000 delegates in its first year to its current size, putting a strain on Cape Town’s accommodation at a peak time of year for tourism here – and given the relatively low cost of entertaining corporate events proliferate around the meeting – indeed they have already started even though the conference and associated exhibition doesn’t fully kick off until the Tuesday morning.

The Mining Indaba, as the conference is generally known, nowadays has different organisers, but covers the same ground as a showcase for mining across the whole of the African continent.  While initially perhaps virtually all the exhibitors were mining companies trying to present their potential to an investment audience, and the various African nations which were looking to attract global miners to exploit their mineral potential, the exhibitor mix now is more varied.  It also includes major mining companies, mid-tier miners and junior explorers, but increasingly also manufacturers and service companies seeking to sell their wares and expertise to the industry right across the African continent. It is today truly a totally comprehensive conference and exhibition covering all aspects of the African mining sector.

Why Cape Town?  The seemingly more logical venue would appear to be Johannesburg, one of the world’s major mining centres and the focus for the huge, and globally important, South African mining industry.  However CapeTown, one of the world’s major tourist destinations with its spectacular setting under Table Mountain, had far more destination appeal, even for Johannesburg-based mining executives.  And the attraction of Cape Town in February, when one can almost guarantee excellent balmy weather, to the northern hemisphere mining investment sector based primarily in London, Vancouver and Toronto, cannot be underestimated.  While 7,500-8,000 registrants may seem small by North American standards, by African ones it is enormous.

This year’s Indaba should be an extremely interesting one, particularly given the recent labour flare-ups in the South African mining industry, primarily impinging on its massive gold and platinum mining sector, and the current moves afoot by South Africa’s two top mining companies, Anglo American (which controls Anglo Platinum) – and Gold Fields with its launch of Sibanye to take over some of its South African assets.  Other issues have been covered by my colleague, Geoff Candy in his article looking  at the significance of Indaba for South Africa, and in this context it will be particularly interesting to hear what Susan Shabangu, South Africa’s Mines Minster says in her presentation on Tuesday morning given that she seems to have been a little miffed by Anglo Platinum’s announcement of planned closures, since deferred.  But to an extent South Africa has to recognise that sub-economic mines are going to find it tough to make the savings that make them viable to continue in the light of ever increasing wage and electricity costs in particular.

But Indaba is, of course,  not all about South Africa – indeed  not even primarily about South Africa, but about mining in Africa as a whole – something the original organisers of the conference were at huge pains to emphasise at the event’s inception.  Mining across Africa as a whole will be of huge interest to the audience here in Cape Town.  Africa is hugely rich in resources and to an extent the surface has only been scratched.

It could be the powerhouse for new mine development over the next few decades or so as some of its potential is uncovered and developed.  So many African nations seem to have hugely significant mineral deposits which can bring their people out of poverty and help meet enormous global needs.  Indaba delegates will be able to hear what the countries themselves feel about their mineral potential and how they plan to allow it to be exploited, as well as from those companies which are looking to help develop the sector – two factions which are not always in sync with each other!

Couple this with presentations from noted economic, political and mineral and metal analysts and you have the core of an exceptional conference programme with ideas on the increasing significance of African mining in the years ahead.  It may not be the new frontier for mining, but it is indeed perhaps the continent with the most potential for meeting world metal and mineral needs for the rest if the 21st Century,  And the fact that one has to come to such a delightful city as Cape Town to hear all this is just an added bonus for delegates. This indeed has to be one of the world’s most important, and popular, mining conferences.