CFO Riaan Davel explains how DRDGold hopes to reverse a legacy of bad mining

The mine has a unique model for sustainable development, including reprocessing and water management systems.

In the early days of gold mining in Johannesburg, there was limited understanding and focus on the future environmental impacts of mine residue depositioning. In the decades that followed, a second, equally challenging situation arose when a city sprung up around these dumps, with residential communities growing and moving ever closer to the mines.

This was aggravated by the forced displacement of communities and the social engineering of the apartheid era, and poorly managed urban influx and development policies since democracy, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people living in formal and informal communities, much too close to mine dumps.

DRDGold, which was founded in 1895 at the worst of this inconsideration of mining impacts, has decided they were going to take a different approach to mining by rehabilitating the areas damaged by the history of mining. “We are doing our best to do this while trying to minimise the impact of mining operations and addressing things such as dust and water pollution on the environment. We reclaim and treat mine dumps and in the process free up valuable land for reuse,” CFO Riaan Davel said in an earlier interview.

The company’s approach to environmental management is part of its broader commitment to sustainable development. “Our model is a blueprint for sustainable development and value overlap,” Riaan explained. “Our purpose statement is that we want to reverse the environmental legacy of mining and improve the quality of life for the people and communities around our operations.”

The DRDGold model is unique in that it re-mines gold by re-processing the mini-mountains of sand and slime that contain historic remnants.

“A financial-only model may have seen us only remine the dump sites with the highest grade of resources, which will give us the highest return to shareholders and will make a lot of money over a short period of time,” Riaan says. “However, our model is focused on sustainable development, which means we try to remove more material over a longer period of time.”

He explains that, while it generates lower yield in the short-term, the mine gets to operate for a longer period of time, enabling more environmental clean-up.

Another example of how DRDGold is trying to redefine the bad nature of mining is through reducing its use of potable water. “Water is a scarce resource in South Africa, and we use many litres a month to process gold,” Riaan says. “So we set about building our pipelines so we don’t discharge any water into the environment through a closed-circuit pumping system, also saving on potable water costs.”

At the same time, DRDGold wants to make sure that its water distribution network is as good as it can be and so it has introduced other sources of water into the system, including water from its own sewage treatment plant and AMD.

Riaan hopes that, in the next 30-odd years, mining can clean up and reverse the environmental legacy it has. “We would like to think of how we can take this model worldwide and offer it as an environmental solution to other mines.”