rtTo ensure zero harm in underground workings it is necessary to ensure that the underground personnel understand what their actions are on the behaviour of the strata.

To achieve this normal training on Mine Standard, Codes of Practice and Work Procedures is not adequate on its own. Persons need to understand why this standard was introduced in the first place.

After Danie Snyman (Manager, Rock Engineering Support Services for Exxaro) found that too often production personnel interpret ground conditions incorrectly and then implementing control measures that was not only ineffective but also gave a false sense of security to the section personnel he decided to build a rock engineer training centre.

Picture: Exxaro RESS personnel at the entrance to the RETC

The Exxaro rock engineering training centre (RETC) is designed to help production supervisors to understand what factors affect strata stability. It also serves as an eye opener for all personnel, literate and illiterate, using practical models, photographs and sketches to demonstrate why certain control measures are effective and others not.

rt2    rt3 
The first room is designed to teaches underground personnel about stress effects and how to manage it   Koos Wilken explaining the concept of stress using a simple model

The training centre is designed to follow a storyline discussing the different modes of strata failure, specific risk associated with these failures and effective controls to combat losses. The thinking process that a person must go through when conducting a proper rock engineering risk assessment is also included in the storyline. The Training centre is also aligned with the Exxaro rock engineering risk assessment template.

Models are designed and constructed to simulate and translate the complex mathematical concepts as manifested in the rock mass under different loading conditions. These models also had to be realistic and be understood by all levels of literacy.

Snyman using a model to explain how the length of a cantilever affects stability of the strata

Months of planning and deliberations went into designing the models and many sleepless nights transpired but finally one-by-one the models took shape and very positive feedback is received from everyone who passes through the centres' doors.

A model that explain how competent beams in the overburden results in longwall face breaks

Currently the centre houses about 60 models in four rooms but Snyman hope to increase this to at least 100 in the next few years.

The latest addition to the RETC is a six meter wide curved screen on which 3D virtual reality clips are projected

The 3D curved screen is housed in the auditorium

Was all this effort worth it? – Snyman will let Arnot's FOG accident stats do the talking


Below are some photos of the RETC

RETC Auditorium
Jointed sidewalls
Support material specifications

Written by: Danie Snyman
Manager Rock Engineering Support Services Exxaro Coal

On 5 March 2015, the SANIRE Eastern Bushveld Branch, in conjunction with Samancor, held a successful Strata Control Practical examination at Lannex Broken Hill Mine. The day began with a total of 17 candidates and 10 examiners arriving at Samancor ECM Central Offices, where a visitors' induction was conducted and underground plans provided to the candidates. The examination then proceeded to Lannex Broken Hill Mine where the candidates were taken to several underground observation points, from where the MG2 and MG3 ore bodies could be identified. After the underground portion of the practical exam, the candidates and examiners were treated to a delicious snack lunch by Samancor at the ECM Central Offices. The practical exam continued with candidates being individually tested by groups of two examiners for the entire paper, and negative marking was applied owing to the large number of candidates. Overall, the candidates did well, with 7 of the 17 passing the examination and obtaining their SCO Certificate. In general, candidates did very well in the plan reading, average in underground observations, and poor in the geological section. A big 'thank you' on behalf of SANIRE Eastern Bushveld Branch must go to Jimmy Kidd and Samancor for hosting a very well organised practical examination.


SANIRE has embarked on a new initiative to capture a series of video lectures, presented by SANIRE members and fellows who have made major contributions to the rock engineering fraternity. Our intention is to create two or three video lectures per year, which will be available for SANIRE members to view on the SANIRE website. This follows the example set by the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM).  Currently there are nine online lectures available on the ISRM website and the most recent was presented by our very own Professor Dick Stacey (Professor Emeritus, University of the Witwatersrand) on 2015/04/16. SANIRE members are encouraged to suggest speakers and topics for future video lectures.
The first lecture can be watched here...

SANIRE Symposium 2015

SANIRE Free State is hosting a Rock Engineering Symposium: Unpacking the Aspects

Interesting topics from the entire industry: Gold, Platinum, Diamonds & Coal, etc. will be presented

Closing date for registrations and payments: 10 August 2015


Wilma Muller - 057 904 6498 wilma.muller@harmony.co.za  Fax: 086 519 8231


Alida Kleinhans - 057 904 6066 alida.kleinhans@harmony.co.za  Fax: 086 519 9155

Click HERE to register

First Announcement & Call for Abstracts

The First Southern African Geotechnical Conference will be hosted by the Geotechnical Division of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) under the auspices of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE). This subregional conference will provide a forum for exchanging, disseminating and discussing current geotechnical practice in Southern Africa as well as sharing information of recent projects and developments. The venue for the conference will be Sun City in South Africa.

Important Dates

30 June 2015 Abstract submission deadline

31 July 2015 Notification of acceptance for the Abstracts

4 January 2016 Deadline for submission of the Manuscripts

29 February 2016 Notification of acceptance of the Manuscripts

31 March 2016 Submission of final paper

5 & 6 May 2016 Conference

Contact information

Michelle Stegen - RCA (Pty) Ltd - Conference Organisers

Email: events@rca.co.za  Tel +27 11 483 1861/62 Fax 086 653 7108



23–24 April, 2015 - Conference

Elangeni Maharani Hotel, Durban

25 April 2015 - Half Day Technical Visit

Harbour Entrance Tunnel Site Visit and Harbour Boat Cruise


This conference is in response to the Civil and Mining industry being under immense pressure to deliver projects fast, efficiently and as safely as possible. Mechanised underground excavation and support installation is proving to be an invaluable and cost effective tool in the execution of a project. Technology exists for mechanised excavation where tunnels can be excavated from as small as 300mm to in excess of 18 metres in order to access ore bodies, build road or railway tunnels, facilitate the installation of utilities, construct storage caverns for gas and oil, etc.

It is recommended that delegates interested in the mining application of tunnel boring attend both days.

 Registration Form

 Sancot - programme

 SANCOT Sponsor Opportunities Conference 2015(1)

 SANCOT-Second Announcement

harald3Harald was born in 1932 in Hamburg Germany. He went to school there until he was sent to Southern Germany to avoid the bombing during World War 2. Toward the end of the war he returned to Hamburg to help support his family in the aftermath of the war. After school he joined the Post Office in Hamburg and worked there for a short time. In about 1953 Harald came to South Africa, to join the Government Mines Training School and worked at Daggafontein and in the Klerksdorp area. He hoped to study mining at the University of the Witwatersrand, but eventually returned to Germany and studied at the Clausthal University of Technology. While there he was reunited with his best friend's widow, Else, and on graduating, returned with her and her son Jens to South Africa, where they married.

Once here he began work at Rand Mines' Durban Roodepoort Deep Mine in 1963 or 4. During the next 6 years he seems to have been involved in Rock Mechanics. At his instigation, a deep level tunnel on that mine was developed with an asymmetrically arched roof to mitigate stress effects. During the same period Harald completed a PhD at Clausthal, with research on stress measurement using overcoring. The stress regime at depth on DRD was measured as part of this research.

In 1970 he completed his thesis and was awarded his doctorate. Shortly after he left DRD and worked as an independent for a German company in Mocambique and other areas. The endeavour came to an end due to financial problems and Harald joined JCI as its first Group Rock Mechanics Engineer. There were no rock mechanics departments on individual mines in those days.

In the next 5 years the Chamber of Mines Group Rock Engineers Subcommittee and the Rock Mechanics certificate were established. Initially the Group Rock Mechanics Engineers were the examiners for the exams. They also examined the candidates underground during the practical exam.

In 1979 and 80 Harald began building up JCI's Rock Mechanics Department, sending his selected team member to Dr Stan Patchet's Anglo American Rock Mechanics unit in Welkom for training. Several later prominent Mining and Rock Engineers went through this process.

In 1979 he also had a serious motor car accident on the way home from one of the mines and spent months in hospital. He injured his legs, walking with a stick for years afterwards.

The experience of his staff was that he was prepared to back them up against the sometimes ruthless politics of JCI's head office and management.

Harald enjoyed sailing and kept a Muira keel boat on the Vaal Dam, where he often spent the weekend with his family, sleeping on the boat. In the 80s he got his skipper's license for ocean sailing off Durban, but after a couple of experiences of ocean cruising he lost interest in long cruises due to the loneliness and tedium.

He prided himself on being a linguist often correcting the English language of reports and letters. He also participated in Alliance Francais for many years. He was also a stickler for the correct notation of the metric system.

Harald questioned everything and loved debate. He had a wide interest in history, language and culture and loved to discuss these over a glass of wine.

He and his family explored much of Southern Africa in his Jeep Gladiator or Wagoneer, visiting remote natural areas and game reserves. They also travelled widely to Europe, Asia and America.

Harald reluctantly retired from JCI in 1992, but continued to travel and enjoy life for many years.

In the past 5 years he suffered from Parkinson's, which became increasingly debilitating. He passed away on 29 January 2015.

He is remembered fondly by many of those who worked with him, as well his family and friends.

A memorial service was held on the 15 February, attended by a very large number of friends, family and colleagues.

Eulogy by John James

This conference is in response to the Civil and Mining industry being under immense pressure to deliver projects fast, efficiently and as safely as possible. Mechanised underground excavation and support installation is proving to be an invaluable and cost effective tool in the execution of a project. Technology exists for mechanised excavation where tunnels can be excavated from as small as 300mm to in excess of 18 metres in order to access ore bodies, build road or railway tunnels, facilitate the installation of utilities, construct storage caverns for gas and oil, etc. It is recommended that delegates interested in the mining application of tunnel boring attend both days.

23–24 April, 2015 - Conference

Elangeni Maharani Hotel, Durban

25 April 2015 - Half Day Technical Visit

Harbour Entrance Tunnel Site Visit and Harbour Boat Cruise

Click Here to read more

Dear Members
Please follow the link to the latest bi-annual newsletter. Stories and articles are always welcome. Please email Paul Couto at Paul.Couto@Harmony.co.za for enquiries.

Download the PDF version: pdf  SANIRE Newsletter_Volume 1_Issue 1_January_2015 (4.31 MB)

or download the .pub version to publish the newsletter youreslf: default  SANIRE Newsletter_Volume 1_Issue 1_January_2015 (22.46 MB)

mike robertsDr Michael Roberts

26 January 1950 - 5 February 2015

Mike’s funeral took place on 11 February at St Michael’s Anglican Church in Bryanston. Mike’s wife, Kim, asked if I would pay tribute to Mike’s contribution to rock engineering research, and I was honoured to do so on behalf of our community. William Joughin asked if I would send a transcript of my eulogy to SANIRE. Here it is.

Kim, Lindsay and Georgie, family and friends, I want to honour Mike’s contribution to the science and practice of rock engineering in South Africa. I first met Mike when I joined the Rock Engineering Programme at CSIR in 1993. Mike was initially my mentor, as he was for many other young (and not so young) scientists and engineers. Over the next 15 years he became my colleague and friend.

Mike completed his BSc Honours in Geology at Wits in 1974 and his MSc in structural geology and rock mechanics at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College in 1977. He then joined Randfontein Estates Gold Mine. He became the Rock Engineering Manager in 1981 at the age of 31 after getting his Rock Engineering Certificate.

Mike joined the Chamber of Mines Research Organisation, aka COMRO in 1985 (which became the Mining Technology Division of the CSIR, aka Miningtek, in 1993) and began a career in research that lasted 23 years. Mike’s tenure at CSIR was during a period that was something of a golden age for rock engineering research in South Africa. During this time

  • Mike made major contributions to the research conducted under the auspices of the Mine Health and Safety Council’s SIMRAC programme and the DeepMine Collaborative Research Programme, particularly with respect to the support of the face area of the stope, the most dangerous area of the mine. Stope support was the subject of his PhD in mining engineering, which he completed through Wits in 1999. The methodology he developed became the industry standard.
  • He authored or co-authored more than 50 papers, chapters in three rock engineering textbooks, and many research reports.
  • He was an NRF rated researcher.
  • He was the Manager of the Rock Engineering Programme at CSIR for four years (1996-2000), with a staff of between 70 and 90 scientists, engineers and technicians. Thereafter he stepped back onto the research track as a Research Fellow. He left CSIR in 2008 to join the consultancy firm, TWP.

That’s the data, but let me tell you more about Mike the rock engineering researcher.

Engineering may be defined as “the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences (such as physics, chemistry and geology)”, for example, to construct machines or to mine ore. Rock is often used as a metaphor for something that is strong and enduring. We who work in deep mines (and South African gold mines are, by far, the world’s deepest) know that highly stressed rock can be unstable and dangerous. Rock engineering is the discipline that seeks to master rock: to design and construct shafts, tunnels and stopes so that the ore can be mined safely and profitably. And this is the discipline of which Mike was a master.

Predicting the behaviour of rock is as much an art as a science, and we rely on “rock engineering principles” and often appeal to “engineering judgement”. One of the cardinal rock engineering rock principles is to “mine away from danger”. Mike was a key member of the Rockburst Task Force, which conducted forensic investigations into rockburst accidents. During a four-year period (1995-1998) we investigated over 30 rockbursts that had claimed the lives of more than 100 mine workers. In order to gather fresh evidence, we would go underground as soon as possible after the rockburst. Often the rescue teams were still digging for survivors or recovering bodies, the rock mass would not yet have been stabilised, or the ventilation restored. Mike had an incredible instinct for the underground environment. He usually went underground without clinorule, tape measure, camera, or compass. Like Sherlock Holmes, he would spot clues that most of us would miss (evidence of damage to rock, props, packs and bolts), and reconstruct the sequence of events, and recognise the sins of omission and commission that had contributed to the event. This took courage, endurance, and common sense. Mike calculated the risks carefully with a cool head.

A second rock engineering principle is “don’t resist an irresistible force with an immovable object”. Rather yield, absorb the excess energy, and keep capacity in reserve for another day”. Mike did not only apply this principle when dealing with rock and stope support, but also to people. Mining is a tough industry, but Mike was always quietly-spoken, and sought to persuade and encourage, rather than to command or intimidate.

While I have focused on his work achievements, we were very aware that rock engineering was not his sole priority. There were the four Fs: Family, Fishing, St Francis and Fast cars. Mike worked hard and smart, but seldom late.

Mike, as a representative of your friends and colleagues at involved in rock engineering research, I salute you for:

  • Your contribution to the science and art of rock engineering in South Africa;
  • For developing methods and technologies that have helped to make mining safer and more profitable – there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of mine workers who owe their lives to the technologies that you helped to develop;
  • For training and mentoring a generation of rock engineers; and
  • For being a true scholar, gentleman and friend.

Ray Durrheim

South African Research Chair in Exploration, Earthquake & Mining Seismology

Mineral Resources Competency, Natural Resources & the Environment Unit, CSIR


School of Geosciences, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg