Despite most media reports sounding lukewarm about the outcome of the recent Mining Lekgotla, the shared vision expressed there should herald a new sense of optimism about the future of South Africa’s mining industry.

According to Roger Dixon, chairman of global consulting engineers SRK Consulting, the long-overdue event was “a refreshingly inclusive process” and an exciting start to the revitalization of the mineral sector. “I was worried at first that it would be just another talk shop, but I left the Lekgotla full of optimism,” said Dixon. “In particular, Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya commanded the respect of all participants irrespective of constituency; he gave confidence that he could lead the industry forward.”

Many people have been left deeply wounded by the mining industry of the past, Dixon said, and the healing process will take a long time. But it was significant that the gathering—itself an initiative in cooperation between the Chamber of Mines, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Department of Mineral Resources—also included traditional leaders, professional bodies, women and youth.

The youth in particular, including thousands of unemployed graduates, need support from the industry through learnerships that can turn education and experience into technical competence of value to the economy.

Morongwa Mothengu, senior mining engineer at SRK, emphasized the importance that mentorship should be playing in skills development among young South Africans. “As a young engineer, and also as a woman, I see a burning need for the right kind of mentors in our industry who can identify with our challenges and help us grow and contribute,” said Mothengu. “For their part, youth need to be seeking opportunities and knocking on doors, not waiting on government or anyone else for a break.”

She said the Lekgotla highlighted how much still needs to be done in the fields of safety, training and research so that the sector could regain its global competitiveness. “We need to be developing new technologies to make mining safer and more productive,” Mothengu said. “At the same time, we must grapple with the tension between mechanization and job creation. None of these solutions will be able to stand on its own; our social role as an industry demands that we tackle a range of challenges.”

Acknowledging that “the mining and minerals industry’s strengths helped create what we have today” as a country, Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu urged labor, business and government to “meet on an equal footing, not just for the sake of meeting, but the more clearly to define the road map ahead.”

Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll said in partnering with the people of South Africa, “there can be no higher cause than to make a real difference to a country so important to our business and so close to our hearts.”

“The consensus at the gathering was that a South African brand built on a common vision was imperative for our future as a sector and as a nation,” said Dixon. “Too often we project a pessimistic image to the outside world, when we should be telling our success stories and showing a unified front. The Legkotla’s success will of course be determined by action, but we have now made a very good start.”