For a long time, South Africa has hinged its prosperity on gold, and the development and economic prosperity of the province of Gauteng gives testimony to this fact. Recent decades, however, have seen production of gold wane dramatically, from an era of having been our majority metal export to now being a small minority at 23% by sales (2022).

South Africa is a country that’s rich in mineral wealth, however, and as a nation, we’re awakening to the economic benefits to be found in that diversity. Manganese is a universal and widely used mineral essential for an enormous range of industries and sectors, particularly in the future economy.

Having enjoyed significant local growth in production and sales over the last decade, manganese is now affirming itself as the leader of South Africa’s mineral renaissance. After all, South Africa is the world’s largest producer of manganese ore, accounting for approximately 36% of global production. Most of South Africa’s manganese deposits are in the Northern Cape, where the manganese mining industry is the province’s major economic driver.

In 2022, the manganese mining industry employed more than 14 500 South Africans and generated more than R 7 billion in tax revenue. The industry has also contributed more than R47 billion export earnings over the last 12 months to the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The Northern Cape is well-positioned to capitalise on the growing international demand for manganese, as the province has abundant manganese resources in addition to a skilled workforce that has a long history of mining manganese. It’s also noteworthy that the rise in demand for manganese is sure to boost South Africa’s copper industry, as manganese and copper are complementary minerals that are frequently used together.

Manganese is a crucial element in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in electrical backup systems and electric vehicles. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in demand for electric vehicles all over the world, and South Africa is in the perfect position to respond to that need.

Analysts estimate that the demand for manganese in lithium-ion batteries will increase by an average of 10% per year over the next decade, and South Africa’s manganese ore production is expected to concomitantly reach about 50% of the world’s additional manganese ore output over this period.

Manganese-rich cathode materials are also being developed to boost the efficiency of electric vehicles. This, in turn, will increase the demand for the metal. In addition to its use in batteries, manganese is essential to producing several other green power technologies.

However, the versatility of this mineral extends even beyond the power industry. As an alloying element, it is essential in various types of steel production (often together with copper) and services the food processing, agricultural, chemical, construction, medical and aircraft industries. Further enhancing its reputation as a green-friendly mineral is that it can also treat wastewater and extract pollutants from soil and air.

The local manganese industry is keenly aware, however, that these exciting opportunities come with their attendant responsibilities. Primarily, there is the need to support local communities by providing jobs and training opportunities. Our people are our strength and United Manganese of Kalahari (UMK) invests heavily in social development programmes such as education and healthcare within its local communities.

The company also wants the manganese mining industry to enjoy the reputation of operating in an environmentally responsible manner. This includes taking stringent measures to reduce water and air pollution and to manage waste products responsibly. Both the government and the mining industry are investing in new technologies to support the growth of the manganese industry. This will not only improve South Africa’s operational efficiency and competitiveness in this field, but will also enhance our environmental sustainability. UMK firmly believes South Africa is already a world leader in that respect.

Given the sudden acceleration of green power strategies in the developed west, the manganese industry is set to provide increasing opportunities for employment and economic growth in the Northern Cape, thus playing the role that gold had done in Johannesburg’s formative years. This will benefit not solely the manganese mining industry but the province, thus boosting the country’s overall economic prospects.

South Africa is indeed fortunate to be in the position in which we have both the material and operational capacity to rise to the demands of a rapidly changing world.

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