Web Magazine for Information Professionals

EEVL: Round the World

Roddy MacLeod considers Southern African engineering resources.

South Africa may have been cut off from the rest of the world during the years of the Apartheid era, but it is now very much a part of the networked world, and is trying hard to make up for lost time. South Africa has a wired population of over 1 million, and awareness of the commercial possibilities of the internet is relatively high. South Africans have for some time been heavy users of modern communications systems and especially mobile phones, the international cricketer Alan Lamb being one of the best-known advocates in recent years, and many were quick to see the possibilities of the internet in breaking their isolation. Aggressive marketing of ISPs has meant that use of the Internet from homes is relatively widespread amongst some sections of the population. The country also has experience of nationwide internet-based networks in the public sector, an impressive example being the linking of polling stations, which allowed 18 million votes to be processed within 24 hours during the last national democratic election. In some of the surrounding countries, the picture is less rosy. According to a recent UNESCO study [1], for example, parts of sub-Saharan Africa have only one scientist or engineer for about every 10,000 population. Although containing 12% of the world’s population, sub-Saharan Africa has only 2% of its telephone lines [2]. Botswana and Zimbabwe fair better than many countries in the region. For example, Botswana has achieved a teledensity of over 4% (telephone lines per 100 inhabitants) [3] the third highest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, but internet awareness is nevertheless lower than in South Africa. As might be expected, there are some impressive internet resources to be found in the region, however those covering engineering are patchier.

As a starting point for investigation, there are several multidisciplinary regional and South African search engines and directories. Aardvark http://www.aardvark.co.za/ consists of a search engine powered by Infoseek and a Yahoo!-type directory. Around thirty engineering resources are listed in its directory. Ananzi http://www.ananzi.co.za/ points to about one hundred sites in its Mining and engineering section, and a similar number of other engineering sites in its Industry section. Max http://www.max.co.za/ lists a smaller number, fewer still are included in the Search SAO directory http://www.southafrica.co.za/search.html and TheMark http://www.themark.co.za/ has only a handful.


The SA Web-Chart http://sa.web-chart.com/ has a more promising looking category listing structure, but yields few resources in engineering, and when I visited it, Zebra http://www.zebra.co.za/ was only available for site submissions, whilst the Woyaa! http://www.woyaa.com/ South African engineering section was completely empty. Africa Online http://www.africaonline.com/ does not have a section on engineering, being more business and news orientated. Brabys's Online http://www.brabys.co.za/ contains details of many engineering companies, but it does not link to web sites.

The InterneXt Gateway to South Africa http://www.marques.co.za/ has a Science, Tech & Health section, and within it there are links to quite a number of both large and small commercial, professional and academic sites under headings such as ‘Engineering – Electr’, ‘Engineering – General’ and ‘Engineering – Mech’. The ZA Worm Search Engine, http://zaworm.co.za/ which is associated with the InterneXt Gateway, and which claims to search sites in the .za domain (South Africa), was not working when I visited it (on several occasions). Zamnet http://www.zamnet.zm/ is a laudable effort for Zambian services, but is not as well developed as some of the South African-based services.

How about the international directories? There are no Yahoo! directories for Africa, and barely a handful of resources are listed in Yahoo! Regional:Regions:Africa http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/Regions/Africa/, but the attractively designed and relatively new Orientation South Africa http://za.orientation.com/ is much better, listing over two hundred engineering sites in its Web Sites by Topic section. The regional Orientation Africa directory http://af.orientation.com/ lists 49 engineering sites, but some of these are duplicated in the Orientation South Africa directory.

As for South or Southern African engineering subject gateways, I found one or two which bear some likeness to that ilk. Englink, which is also called Eng-Link, http://www.englink.com/welcome.html is aimed at the South African construction engineering industry, and describes itself as "a hub of information that can be tapped by companies in the industry affording them a one-stop engineering shop." It promises a lot, but at the present time delivers little, however the site is currently undergoing major software and Y2K upgrades, and so it may improve.

The Ananzi directory mentioned above has an associated service called TecNet Engineering South Africa http://www.tecnet.co.za/ TecNet has been developed by Promech Publishing, who publish The SA Mechanical Engineer http://www.tecnet.co.za/mags/mol/index.htm , Materials Handling Today http://www.tecnet.co.za/mags/math/index.htm, Aluminium News http://www.tecnet.co.za/mags/aluminium/index.htm and Stainless Steel http://www.tecnet.co.za/mags/steel/index.htm , in a joint venture with Technical Application Software. It is a bit like an engineering portal, in that as well as extracts from the four journals mentioned above, it has several company and product directories, is developing an engineer’s toolbox, and contains information about conferences. However, it should be noted that directory Web site links are secured by payment rather than quality, and the Hot Links contain far more international, than South African, sites.

Then there is Expo http://www.expo.co.za/engineering.html which showcases South African products. This is aimed at viewers from outside the region, and consists of a number of sectoral expos, for example Construction Expo http://www.expo.co.za/construction.html Electrical Expo http://www.expo.co.za/electric.html Mining and Quarrying Expo http://www.expo.co.za/mining.html and Engineering Expo http://www.expo.co.za/engineering.html The Expos are handy because they link through to the Web sites of many South African engineering companies.

Describing itself as a gateway to the South African building and construction industry, Buildnet http://bi.co.za/buildnet/ has links to a number of interesting sites, including recruitment agencies, publications, publishers and associations, some of which are produced by Buildnet itself. Some sections of Buildnet are better seeded with sites than others, and I came across several broken links, however in general this is a very useful gateway.

In its own category is Mbendi AfroPaedia http://mbendi.co.za/ . This describes itself as ‘Africa's electronic encyclopaedia of business and commercial information’, and although concentrating on business, includes various information profiles of interest on the African chemical, mining, oil, and gas industries. As well as background and detailed information about the industries in question, Mbendi also contains directories of companies, and statistics.

Some of the most rewarding collections of links to South African engineering resources are maintained by the CSIR (formerly known as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) http://www.csir.co.za/ . The CSIR is a very large research, development and implementation organisation at the heart of the scientific and technological community. Its Web site is not only full of very useful information about the CSIR, its structure and operation, but also contains details of forthcoming meetings, seminars, workshops, and courses. Within the pages for some of its business areas and divisions are well-maintained links to building, construction, defence technology, environmental, and transportation sites. CSIR also produces various electronic publications including a magazine, called Technobrief, a Mining R&D newsletter, and a transportation newsletter.

I have found relatively few links to engineering sites within the region included in university engineering departmental Web sites or library servers, and even in the links pages of many professional societies. However, using the aforementioned directories and gateways, and with a little exploratory work, it is possible to find a fair number of Southern African engineering resources of interest. Let us look at the sort of material which is available.

The last time I visited South Africa was several years ago, with a small group of fellow employees from the University of Botswana who were investigating working examples of networked computer cabling solutions. One of the places we went to was the Iscor steelworks plant at Vereeniging, not far from Johannesburg, where we viewed a recently installed network. Iscor is a South African mining and metals company, and what amazed me at the time was the size of the plant at Vereeniging. It took a full fifteen minute car ride to reach the rear of the plant from the front entrance, just about the same length of time that it took me to learn how to pronounce the name of the town ‘Vereeninging’! Despite its size, the steelworks at Vereeniging is only one of five operated by the steel giant Iscor. The others are located at Pretoria, Vanderbijlpark, Cape Town and Newcastle. The Iscor web site http://www.iscorltd.co.za/ gives quite a lot of information about the company, noting in passing that the Vereeniging works specialises in seamless tubes and spring steels, alloy steels and small forgings, and provides background information on the company and its operations. However, I noticed that the site is about to be completely updated to reflect the new directions the company has taken in the last year. Iscor Steel ranks as 30th in the world on the basis of metric tons of crude steel output, but that is only one part of the operation. Sister company Iscor Mining http://www.iscorltd.co.za/mining/default.htm is a world-class South African mining and mineral processing company, and there are various Iscor subsidiaries, such as Suprachem (Pty) Ltd., http://www.suprachem.co.za/ which manufactures organic and inorganic chemical products derived from coal and the steel-making process, and joint ventures such as Saldanha Steel (Pty) Ltd., http://www.ssteel.co.za/ in which Iscor shares an interest along with the State-owned Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa Limited http://www.idc.co.za/

By no means did I spend my time in Southern Africa criss-crossing the bushveld and highveld visiting industrial plants, steelworks and mining operations, and in fact, at that time, I had little interest in such things, but on another occasion I visited the town of Thabazimbi in the Northern Province of South Africa, which happens to be where the Thabazimbi Iron Ore Mine, http://www.iscorltd.co.za/mining/thabazim.htm owned by Iscor Mining, is located. The Thabazimbi Iron Ore Mine web site is under construction at the time of writing, and yields little information, but for those who want to locate this exotic sounding town, there is a map of the area at a Yahoo! GeoCities site http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/8028/thaba/thabazimbi.html The area around Thabazimbi is typical bushveld, although close to the mine there are various mountains of iron-ore slag.

Iscor Mining also run operations in Sishen, http://www.iscorltd.co.za/mining/sishen1.htm north of Kimberley, where the reserves include half the world's reserves of lumpy iron, and there is a coal business http://www.iscorltd.co.za/mining/coal.htm and heavy minerals operation http://www.iscorltd.co.za/ihm/ as well. Iscor is only one of many companies involved in the mining sector in South Africa. Mining is one of the most important industries in the whole of the Southern African region. Mining contributes 7.5% of the South African GDP [4] , 10.8% of the Zambian GDP [5], 4.7% of the Zimbabwean GDP [6], and a massive 35.1% of the GDP in Botswana [7]. South Africa accounts for about 30% of the total world’s gold production, and Botswana is the largest producer, in terms of value, of diamonds. South Africa, Angola, and Namibia are not too far behind. Copper, nickel, coal, platinum, cobalt, silver, nickel, asbestos, salt and soda ash are also important in the region.

Despite the importance of the sector, Southern African mining company sites do not exactly abound on the Web. Amongst the ones I located are Ingwe Coal Corporation Limited, http://www.ingwe.co.za/ , Amcoal, http://www.amcoal.co.za/homepage1.html one of the largest coal producers in South Africa, Ocean Diamond Mining Holdings Limited, http://www.odm.co.za/ a marine diamond mining group working offshore in Angola, Namibia and South Africa, Implats, http://www.implats.co.za/ a platinum mining company whose web site yields mostly financial information, Anglovaal Mining Limited, http://www.avmin.co.za/ Gold Fields, which is a merger of Gold Fields Limited http://www.goldfields.co.za/ and Driefontein Consolidated Limited, http://www.driefontein.co.za/ Western Areas Gold Mining Company http://www.westernareas.co.za/ and the associated Randfontein Estates Limited, http://www.randfonteinest.co.za/ Anglo American Platinum Corporation Limited (AMPLATS), http://www.amplats.co.za/ Deton Engineering Pty Ltd, http://www.index.co.za/deton/ opencast consultants Tacmin http://www.tacmin.co.za/ and Shaft Sinkers (Pty) Ltd http://www.shaftsinkers.co.za/.

Orientation South Africa lists a several more within its Mining section http://search.za.orientation.com/cgi-bin/catbr1?za+eg+D622+2 The web site of the massive De Beers, http://www.edata.co.za/DeBeers/ the largest diamond mining company in the world with operations in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, yields little information of interest to engineers. De Beers Centenary AG and the Botswana government are joint shareholders of the Debswana Diamond Company (Pty) Ltd., which has three large mines at Jwaneng http://www.edata.co.za/debeers/jwa.html , Orapa and Letlhakane http://www.edata.co.za/debeers/orapa.html Although these sites contain only a little engineering data, they are worthwhile visiting in order to gauge the enormity of the mining operations from the photographs on view. When based in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, I did not manage to visit Jwaneng, but a glimpse of what life is like there can be seen from the artwork of Joseph Moagaesi, who attends Acacia Primary School in the town, and who has drawn a touching picture http://www.creativeconnections.org/art98/botswana/72.html On the processing side, there is Mintek, http://www.mintek.ac.za/ a metallurgical and minerals-processing technology company.

Some of the above sites contain engineering-related material, whilst others concentrate more on financial details. Unfortunately, there are numerous defunct South African mining web sites, such have been the rapid changes in this sector in the last few years.

Staying with the mining sector, information about the award winning publication African Mining http://www.mining.co.za/ is available, and subscribers can receive an additional weekly email news update. Incidentally, the publishers of African Mining recently started to publish another bi-monthly magazine called African Energy, which focuses on Africa's power industry http://www.africanenergy.co.za/The South African Institute of Mining & Metallurgy http://www.saimm.co.za/ covers mining, mineral processing, extraction metallurgy and metals and materials sciences, and synopses of journal papers are available at its Web site. The Chamber of Mines of South Africa http://www.bullion.org.za/ has a well-maintained and particularly informative site, which includes a mining data library and a number of downloadable publications such as the Chamber of Mines Newsletter. With its World Mining Directory http://www.bullion.org.za/bulza/chaorg/wmdir/wmdmin.htm it can justifiably call itself the "World's Largest Repository of Mining and Minerals related information on the internet". The Web site of the Mine Ventilation Society of South Africa http://home.global.co.za/~minevent/ is small, but that of the Safety in Mines Research Advisory Committee (SIMRAC) http://www.simrac.co.za/ is much larger, and contains a number of downloadable reports. A regional body is the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mining Sector Co-ordinating Unit: http://www.sadcmining.org.zm/

Finally, related sites include the South African Coal Processing Society http://www.sacoalprep.co.za/Default.htm, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) http://www.num.org.za/ and the colourful Fossil Fuel Foundation of Africa http://members.xoom.com/FOSSIL_FUEL/

Several mining professional societies have been mentioned above. Professional associations are normally a fruitful source of information about their respective industries, and the following are some of the most important engineering institutions with Web sites in South and Southern Africa.

Relevant academic servers include:

For anyone involved in research in science and technology, the National Research Foundation (FRD) http://www.nrf.ac.za/ is a very important body as its mission is to support, promote and fund various projects. The large publicly available FRD site includes information, news, events listings, details of publications and contact databases, plus some useful links to other resources. Further information is available to participating organisations.

Lastly, to complete this brief review of Southern African engineering resources, there is the National Science and Technology Forum http://www.nstf.org.za/home.html which has a consultative and lobbying role within South Africa. More details about most of the significant Web sites mentioned above will be found at EEVL: http://www.eevl.ac.uk/


[1] http://www.unesco.org/opi/scitech/ Science and Technology in Africa: Facing the Facts
[2] http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Jun-98/white.html
International Assistance for Internet Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, by Wendy D. White, Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science June/July 1998 Volume 24, No. 5
[3] http://www.satcc.org/memberstates/botswana/profile.html Southern African Transport and Communications Commission : Country Profile: Botswana
[4] Europa World Yearbook 1999, London, Europa Publications, 1999, p. 3210
[5] ibid. p. 3977
[6] ibid. p. 3992
[7] ibid. p. 698

Author Details

Picture of authorRoddy MacLeod
EMC Hub Coordinator
Heriot-Watt University Library
EH14 4AS

Email: R.A.MacLeod@hw.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.hw.ac.uk/libwww/libram/roddy.html