Full Name: Daniel Francois Malan
Position: Senior Rock Engineering Consultant, Part-time Professor
Company/Organisations: Sibanye Gold, University of Pretoria, University of the Witwatersrand
Date and Place of Birth: 4 November 1968, Bethlehem, Free State
Education: PhD (Mining), COM Rock Engineering Certificate
First Job: Chamber of Mines Research Organisation (COMRO)
Personal Best Achievement/s: ISRM Rocha Medal, Surviving a Fish River Canyon hike!
Philosophy of Life: Best summarised in the Gladiator movie: “What we do in life echoes in eternity”
Favourite Food/Drink: Red Wine, Roasted leg of lamb
Favourite Sport: Lifting weights in the gym
1. How did your career in the mining industry begin and where are you now?
COMRO gave me a bursary to study engineering and I joined them on a full-time basis in 1993. I am currently the Senior Rock Engineering Consultant at Sibanye Gold, but I also do part-time work at both Tuks and Wits where I supervise a number of postgraduate students.
2. Why did you choose Rock Engineering?
It was not really my choice, as the Chamber of Mines gave me a bursary to study electronic engineering, provided that I moved into rock engineering after completion of my studies. Of course, my plan at Varsity was never to move into rock engineering! Luckily, I started at COMRO when famous rock engineers, such as John Ryder, Tony Jager, John Napier and Steve Spottiswoode, were still walking the corridors. I immensely enjoyed interacting with these gentlemen and the rock engineering research we did. As a result, I have never looked back.
3. Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?
COMRO (it later became CSIR Miningtek) provided a good introduction to rock engineering and it gave me the opportunity to do a PhD. I eventually also became Programme Manager of the Rock Engineering Division there. The drawback of this academic environment was that the youngsters who started there never got enough experience “on the face”. Our ability to do research was also questioned by industry practitioners, as many of us never attempted the COM Rock Engineering Ticket examinations. This started to worry me and I joined Groundwork Consulting in 2004. There, I eventually passed my ticket (it took two attempts to pass the practical!). Groundwork taught me much about surviving as a consultant (not easy) and gave me wonderful exposure to platinum rock engineering. Gold Fields approached me in 2011 to join their ranks and this is how I ended up at Sibanye.
4. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that the fraternity is currently facing?
A huge challenge we currently face is caused by the limitations of some of our design criteria. An example I can mention is the difficulty of designing bord and pillar layouts in areas where weak layers intersect the pillars. This has led to spectacular collapses in the recent past. Some of the criteria we use to design deep layouts in seismic areas can also be questioned. It is very disconcerting that no organised research is currently being conducted to improve these criteria. When Prof Nielen van der Merwe wrote his SAIMM paper on Coalbrook in 2006, he asked the question: “Is it conceivable that the most important lesson from Coalbrook, namely that in order to be effective at all, knowledge has to be generated before it is needed, was not learnt?”
A further challenge we face is the loss of expertise needed to write our own boundary element codes for solving tabular mining problems. South Africa was a leader in this field in the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, we are now relying on imported codes.
Philosophy of Life: “What we do in life echoes in eternity”
5. What are some areas that you believe will become of increasing importance in the near future of the rock engineering discipline?
We are currently experiencing a low in the commodity cycle and the mines will probably struggle to remain profitable for the next few years. Our role to assist with the profitability of marginal mines will become much more important in future. Unfortunately, this will make our lives more difficult, as safety cannot be compromised in the process.
6. What advice would you offer people aspiring to be in your position?
Every career has its ups and downs. It is important to have a vision and then to persevere if things do not always go your way. Something that is also becoming increasingly important in modern society (and I still struggle with this) is to maintain balance in your life. Your family and fun activities are the treasures of life.
7. Who is your role model/mentor?
Prof John Napier has been my mentor since I joined COMRO as a student in 1987. I am fortunate to still interact with him, and his mathematical abilities and insight into rock engineering problems are simply awesome. In spite of his brilliance, he has always been a humble man. I have always admired this.
8. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Dr Guner Gürtunca, Director of Miningtek, came into my office in 1995 and all he said was: “Tomorrow I want you to go to Wits and register for a PhD”. Up to that point, I was unsure whether I could successfully complete a PhD. The important lesson is not to fear failure if these opportunities come your way. I am still grateful to Guner for giving me this unsolicited “advice”.