Underground mining contractor, Murray & Roberts Cementation, has named Japie du Plessis as Managing Director Designate, taking up the MD position on March 1, 2023.
Du Plessis will succeed the current MD, Mike Wells, who retires at the end of February next year.
Wells’ retirement will mark the end of a career in mining spanning 39 years. After studying Mining Engineering at Wits and graduating in 1981, he spent the first 10 years of his career working for the gold division of Anglo American at the Elandsrand (now Kusasalethu), TauTona and President Brand gold mines.
He joined Cementation Africa in 1994, a company which was subsequently acquired by Murray & Roberts in 2005 and merged with its existing mining contracting arm, RUC, to form Murray & Roberts Cementation.
His move to Cementation brought him into project work and in particular the sinking of the 3-km deep, 9-m diameter twin shafts of the South Deep gold mine, representing, at the time, the biggest shaft sinking contract ever agreed anywhere in the world. The project extended over nine years from start to finish, with Wells acting as Project Manager for part of this period, which he regards as one of the highlights of his career.
While engaged on the project, Wells was involved in devising and constructing a concrete plug to seal off a major water intersection encountered during shaft sinking. A technical paper he wrote in on the methodology adopted earned him the Association of Mine Managers Gold Medal for the best paper of the year in 1997.
After successively serving as Senior Projects Manager, Project Executive and Technical Director, Wells was appointed MD of Murray & Roberts Cementation in 2017. Over his tenure, the company has gone from strength to strength, confirming its status as one of the world’s leading mining contracting organisations, it said. A particular achievement that he takes great pride in is the company’s safety record – it has now gone eight years without a single fatality and recently celebrated six million fatality-free shifts.
In du Plessis, Murray & Roberts Cementation has found a successor to Wells with a similar depth of technical and management expertise, it says.
A Mechanical Engineer, he has spent most of his career in mining. His first assignment after graduating was at Anglo American Platinum’s Amandebult mine, where he worked his way up to the position of section engineer. He then left for a two-year stint with a sugar company in Mpumalanga before joining Murray & Roberts Cementation in 2008. He has been with the company ever since.
Contracts he has been involved with over the years he has been with Murray & Roberts Cementation include Paardekraal 2 shaft and Impala 20 shaft, both in the platinum sector, the Wessels manganese mine, the Booysendal platinum mine and the Cullinan diamond mine. Positions he has occupied include Site Engineer, Contracts Engineer, Senior Project Manager, Engineering Manager and Project Executive.
Over the past seven years, he has had special responsibility for the Venetia Underground Project (VUP) of De Beers, one of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s flagship contracts.
Du Plessis was selected by a panel within Murray & Roberts Cementation that considered both external and internal candidates.
“He was by far the best qualified for the position,” Wells said. “His experience is second to none and he has mining contracting in his DNA. The fact that he is an internal candidate is a further advantage as he has a thorough understanding of how the company works and the culture that drives it.”
Looking ahead, Du Plessis says one of his prime objectives will be to extend the company’s African footprint as the majority of its work is currently in South Africa (although it does have raiseboring contracts in progress in Zambia, Tanzania and Burkina Faso). He will also work to ensure that it stays at the forefront of the move by the mining industry towards ‘green’ mining, digitalisation and automation.
Murray & Roberts Cementation is the African arm of Murray & Roberts’ global mining platform, which also includes operations in the Americas and Australia. The platform is headed by Mike da Costa, who is based in Perth in Australia.