Underground Mining School
The Lake Victoria gold district has sizable resources and excellent potential for new discoveries, but skilled miners with underground experience are rarer than hen’s teeth. If analysts had reservations about Buly’s economics, they were tied to fears that low productivity and high dilution might make production targets tough to reach, at least in the beginning.
To remedy the problem, Barrick assembled a team of Canadian, Australian and South African expatriates to train and transform hundreds of Tanzanians into productive miners. The expats were carefully chosen, not just for their skills but also for their ability to motivate and train personnel.
Trainees were carefully chosen too, with more 1,000 interviewed for positions. Of the 750 who took aptitude tests, 231 were chosen for training. More than 100 of these are now trained operators.
The expats serve as mentors at the production face, and through training courses conducted on surface and underground. For example, trainees learn to operate LHDs and other equipment on surface before going underground. Safety is given particular emphasis, along with multi-tasking, so that workers learn a broader range of skills.
Expats make up about 21% of the mining department, though the goal is to reduce this to 2% within 10 years. “Our intention,” said Hill, “is to make this a truly Tanzanian mine.” The trainers and their managers have nothing but praise for the progress being made by the Tanzanian crews. Underground training stopes have already turned out their first fully independent, national development crew.
“The Tanzanians are motivated, keen to learn and prepared to work hard,” Meade said. “Thanks to their efforts, we’re well ahead of development schedule and have built a stockpile that is 50% higher than budgeted. This stockpile, and production from underground, will be the mill feed for the next two years until we reach full capacity from the underground operations.”
James Walchuk, manager of Buly’s mining group, is equally impressed. “The two biggest surprises, after the [quality of the] orebody, are the ability to work in Tanzania and the achievement of the underground crews.”
Even so, with grades concentrated in a narrow portion of the mining widths, selective mining must be exactly that. “Sometimes we feel as though we’re working at cross-purposes,” Walchuk said. “We need the tonnes to feed the mill but always have to remember we’re mining for ounces.”
In addition to the hefty stockpile, the trainees are making good progress with respect to selective mining. Longhole stoping is achieving 30% total dilution, versus 43% in plans. Development was also ahead of schedule in May 2001, at about 20,300 m, up from the budgeted 14,150 m. This will make more stope faces available and improve the mine’s flexibility.
Barrick’s Tanzanian crews and their families have access to a variety of health services, including programs to combat malaria and increase awareness of HIV. At present, HIV infections are estimated at 10% of the total population, far below rates in some neighbouring countries.
More than 145 employees have signed up for a home ownership program that provides interest-free, seven-year loans based on 20% of their salaries. Human resources manager Tony Meade says this approach is new to East Africa, though not to Barrick. “The idea is to attract whole families, which makes for better morale and productivity.”
Other social initiatives include upgraded schools, agricultural co-operatives, small business development and training in small business management, as well as programs for women and youth.