Conversations about Gold

This is Gold is about bringing the industry to life. In this section we feature Conversations about Gold – which highlights key discussions about the industry, People of Gold – which introduces some of the most vibrant and interesting people in the industry, and Places of Gold – which shows the mines that keep the industry going.

People of Gold: SA’s first black Geophysics PhD a Gold Fields bursar

Musa Manzi has come a long way from his days as a boy growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

The Gold Fields-sponsored student turned-academic is the first black South African to get a PhD in Geophysics, and has collected a host of local and global awards for his groundbreaking work on 3D seismic reflection data from the Wits Basin, which are central to South African gold mining.


“Musa’s work has opened up new ways of interpreting seismic data and unravelling the geological history of the Wits Basin. His work is particularly relevant to gold mining companies, as it has opened new avenues of understanding about, amongst other things, the location of methane gas along fault lines underground. This has a direct impact on the safety of mining in South Africa’s deep level gold mines,” says Professor Kim Hein, who acted as supervisor to Musa’s Masters and PhD projects, along with Professor Raymond Durrheim at Wits University.

Musa’s work began as a Masters thesis in 2009. “Between them, Gold Fields and AngloGold Ashanti had acquired a wealth of 3D seismic data over the years relating to the Wits Basin. Traditional exploration techniques using boreholes don’t allow one to see structural complexity at depth, but we pulled in new 3D seismic reflection technology developed for petroleum industry that effectively allowed us to produce a 3D visualisation of the subsurface of the whole mining area. It’s the equivalent of x-raying the ore body,” explains Musa.

 “Our reinterpretation of old data using new technology allowed us to see the faults and fractures underground, which bring methane into mining areas. This allowed us to determine that methane locates around certain faults, so before you open up a mine you can know what areas will be prone to methane,” Musa continues. The work that still remains to be done involves determining the source of methane gas and why these structures are prone to methane transmission.

Musa has recently returned from Sweden where he presented one of several papers that have arisen from the project, and last year won the award for the Best Paper published in Geophysics of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. His international winning research paper is entitled “3D edge detection seismic attributes used to map potential conduits for water and methane in deep gold mines in the Witwatersrand basin, South Africa”.

“The importance of Musa’s work cannot be overestimated. The Wits Basin is the largest gold deposit in the world and the global community has never see such comprehensive 3D seismic data before. He has stitched all this data together to make it meaningful, and his analysis has opened up new levels of understanding and possibility,” says Professor Hein.

These achievements would be remarkable in their own right, but they’re made even more so when one considers Musa’s history. As a matric student at KZN’s Mabayane High School, he taught himself and other students maths, physics and biology because there was no teacher. In doing so he became the first pupil in the history of the school to get 100% for higher grade maths. “I wanted to go to university but I didn’t know how to apply. Wits University picked up on my marks through a proactive programme it has for identifying high-potential matriculants, and I received financial aid. I initially wanted to do engineering but because I hadn’t applied, I didn’t get it, so I did a BSc instead. I didn’t know such a thing as geophysics existed until the end of my third year,” says Musa. By the time he’d finished his Honours degree in geophysics, Gold Fields’ Tim Rowland was in talks with Professor Hein, strongly motivating a project that would interpret the years of accumulated seismic data in a useful way. Musa had to make a difficult personal decision to continue with postgraduate studies. With two nieces to parent and support, he felt the pressure to start earning money. However his newfound passion for geophysics made up his mind when he was offered an opportunity to work on the 3D seismic data project.

“I was very fortunate to be hanging around at just the right time, and once I got going on the project as a Masters thesis I absolutely fell in love with it,” Musa says.

Musa attributes much of the project’s success to the support he received from Gold Fields throughout the project: “Billy Mills, Tim Rowland and Nick King were on hand whenever I needed them and their input was absolutely critical. I could phone them at any point and they’d give me whatever I needed, whether that was expert input or a trip to a mine. Every quarter they would review the work we were doing and the insight of these immensely experienced and talented people was invaluable.”

Musa was recently interviewed on Carte Blanche during their programme on the Orkney earthquake, where he provided insight into the possible causes of the quake.

Source: Golden Age, October 2013