Cassius SelaiFull Name: Rock Star of the Quarter

Position: Rock Engineering Superintendent

Company/ Organisations: Glencore Coal South Africa

Date and Place of Birth: 14 October 1985, Muila Village in Limpopo

Education: BESMEG (UNIVEN); CoM Certificate in Strata Control (Coal); CoM Certificate in Rock Mechanics (Coal)

First Job: Bolt Tester at Kenny’s Strata Bolt Testing

Personal Best Achievement/s:

  1. Obtaining my University qualification, because I was the first to achieve this in my family
  2. Successfully designing a coal pillar extraction and further receiving the CEO award for this work
  3. Presenting and publishing my very first Technical paper at the SHIRMS conference in 2012

Philosophy of Life: Whatever you do, do it with all your might.

Favourite Food/Drink: Simple Pap and Chicken

Favourite Sport: Soccer and Karate

How did your career in the mining industry begin and where are you now?

It began in earnest in 2008 when I joined the newly established Kenny’s Strata Bolt Testing Consulting Company as a Bolt Tester, following the completion of my degree. My job was mainly to conduct the Short Encapsulation Pull Tests (SEPT), and in odd instances to assist with geotechnical logging of the rock cores. It was during this time that I gained more insight into the practical challenges pertaining to support installation that may often be overlooked simply because they are not reported. I am currently practising as a Rock Engineer after obtaining both CoM Certificates in Strata Control and in Rock Mechanics.

Why did you choose Rock Engineering?

In fact, Rock Engineering chose me and all that I had to do was to reciprocate. I have an analytical and inquiring mind, and often felt that I was capable of so much more during my time at the University and at times would get frustrated. After being introduced into this challenging yet interesting field and having progressed through the ranks, I now feel that I am beginning to realise my full potential.

Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?

It all started back in the days when I was doing my third year at the University of Venda. Although we had the Rock Mechanics related modules as part of the curriculum, I never thought that there was a qualification in Rock Mechanics. It was not until Anglo Coal (now Anglo American Thermal Coal) came through to give a presentation on the Rock Engineering issues at their operation, that I realized that there is a qualification in Rock Mechanics. As part of their visit, they would select 2 students to join their operation for some exposure in the field of Rock Engineering. I was fortunately one of the two chosen students to be part of their Rock Engineering team for a period of three months.

During my time at Anglo Coal, I was under the mentorship of the ever hard-working Mr Kenneth Mosetlha, who was then on his way out to establish his own practice. At the end of my mentorship, he then recruited me to be part of this newly established company as a Bolter Tester, an opportunity I could not refuse. It is from this point that I was really introduced to the mining industry and its dynamics.

In late 2008, I sadly had to leave the man who resuscitated my career, to join the then Xstrata Coal SA (now Glencore Coal SA) as a Learner Official Strata Control, under the leadership of Mr Brian Vorster (Group Rock Engineer), who has since relocated to Australia. Whilst working here, I have developed a suite of skills, such as Numerical Modelling, Mapping for pillar extraction, working with Senior Management, Training and coaching, etc. It was also during my time at Glencore Coal SA that I successfully compiled one technical paper as the main author and two as the supporting author under the mentorship of Sandor PethÓ§.

It was through the exposure and experience that I acquired at Glencore Coal SA that I was eligible to register for the CoM certificate in Strata Control Certificate in 2009, which I obtained during the year 2010. In 2015, I successfully completed the CoM Rock Mechanics Certificate in Coal and I am currently practising as the Rock Engineering Superintendent, overseeing 5 opencast operations and 1 underground operation. I am currently busy with my MSc (Eng.) in Mining (Rock Engineering) at WITS University and the Advanced Rock Mechanics Certificate.

What are some areas that you believe will become of increasing importance in the near future of the rock engineering discipline?

Mining in general has evolved significantly overtime and as a result, some of the previous research findings need to be reviewed for their relevance in the current mining environment. In the coal mining environment in particular, a lot of work was previously done by the pioneers in the area of pillar and support designs, which is being revisited. We are faced with a challenge of the coal resources nearing their depletion in the Witbank and Highveld coalfields and it is the duty of the practising Rock Engineers to work with research institutions in seeking viable solutions for future mining. Without delving much into the challenges of mining in the Waterberg area, it is evident that there is a need to devise means of safely expanding the life of existing mining resources.

A number of mining houses are currently mining the old coal pillars using an opencast method of mining, whilst some have resorted to staying away from the Pillar Extraction method of mining because of the inherent risk in the pillar extraction mining method. There is still a lot that we need to understand from the Rock Engineering perspective, with regard to pillar mining using an opencast method of mining, and I believe that we need the same intensity of research that was undertaken after the Coalbrook disaster. Furthermore, we need to fully understand and quantify the risks involved in coal pillar extraction. In this way, we will be able to positively contribute towards prolonging the life of coal mining, and which will in turn allow more time to further explore the Waterberg area for future mining.

What advice would you offer people aspiring to be in your position?

“Work hard and be patient enough to wait for your rewards”.

Who is your role model/mentor?

There are few individuals really who I call a role model in various aspects of my being, i.e. spiritual, emotional and career wise. In my career, Sandor PethÓ§ – my current Manager – is my role model and mentor on so many levels.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

My mentor and role model once told me in the earliest stage of my career that “We need to learn to dance on a moving rug, as change is the only certain thing in our professions” and thus far, that is what keeps me going in this ever-changing working environment/profession.